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South Asian American Magazine Making Its Debut - Catamaran

Nirmala Garimella

If you ever looked for a thrill ride on the waters you cannot miss out sailing on a Catamaran. These wonderful boats are popular for their space, comfort and privacy. They are appreciated for their stability, and the speed of a catamaran can give you an excitement and thrill of sailing on a wave. If you look up the dictionary meaning of the term, a Catamaran is defined as a raft of logs tied together. I f you look closer still, at its etymology, you will be surprised to know that it derives its name from the Tamil phrase ‘Kattu Maram’ which means ‘tied wood’.

So where does this all tie up to –you may ask ? What has this to do with the title of this story? South Asian American Literary Magazine makes its debut? Says Rajini Srikanth who along with Shona Ramaya arrived at this choice of name, “We decided to name the magazine Catamaran, since it reflected symbolically, the whole of South Asia. We are all loosely tied together with common histories, culture and heritage. It is interesting how the word itself has been anglicized and adopted into the English Language.”

Coming April 2003, Catamaran will make its print debut in the South Asian Literary scene. The Magazine hopes to bring in new and promising faces, names, stories and pictures of South Asian American Literature from all parts of the country. Its purpose is to provide a literary outlet to all those trying to find a voice through their writing. The magazine has an impressive list on its Board of Directors. Besides Rajini Srikanth, Editor and Shona Ramaya, the Senior Executive Editor, it has literary stalwarts like Tahira Naqvi, Vyvyan Loh, Lloyd Schwartz, Reetika Vazirani and Samir Dayal. The first issue of CATAMARAN will include a retrospective on the celebrated Kashmiri poet, Agha Shahid Ali, who passed away late last year.

I spoke to Rajini Srikanth, the Editor of Catamaran, who is currently Assistant Professor of English at UMass, Boston. South Asian American Literature has always been close to home to Rajini, who has been the co-editor of Contours of the Heart: South Asians Map North America (1996) and co-editor of Bold Words: A Century of Asian American Writing (2001). Shona Ramaya, Senior Executive Editor for Catamaran is working on her third book, "Operation Monsoon" a collection of short stories that will be coming out September 1, 2003. It's being published by Greywolf Press.

NG: How did you come across this idea of a magazine for South Asians ?

Rajini: I have been thinking on these lines for a while. There are magazines in Canada but few avenues for South Asian Creative writing here in the US. It also stems from the number of second generation writers expressing an interest in creative writing as a possible career and one that has good potential. There has been a tremendous change in the writing field. It is no longer incidental in their lives. We now have a critical mass of people who are interested in writing and getting their work published.

NG: There is already a South Asian forum where writers meet here in Boston?

Rajini: Yes, Shona Ramaya, our Senior Editor is very much involved in it. The forum has been important and is validating the interest shown in writing. It is a place where ideas are shared, the use of language is discussed and writers look for feedback in their work.

NG: About the name itself, how did you arrive at Catamaran?

Rajini: Initially we had two different names before we arrived at this one. We thought of ‘Work In Progress‘ because it set the stage for people who were on their way to bring something to shape. An art activist group in Boston had already announced themselves with that name so we dropped it. Then we thought of ‘Write Out’ but many of us were not happy with it. At one point Shona and I sat for more than 2 hours brainstorming and we decided on Catamaran. You see, Catamaran derives its name from the Tamil Phrase ‘Kattu-maram’ which means tied wood. It is interesting how it has been anglicized and enriched the English Language. The word also has a lot of energy to it, a sense of adventure. In every issue we will have a small explanation of the name to remind readers of the common heritage of South Asian Nations

NG: Tell us more about the magazine, circulation, deadlines, funding etc ?

Rajini : Catamaran is semi annual and so will come out twice a year. The first inaugural issue will be out in April 2003 and the deadline for submissions is December 7, 2002. It will be 40 to 50 pages depending of course, on the number of contributions we receive. We will first be circulating it internally among those who belong to various South Asian American groups and not on the newsstands until we build a strong subscription base. We are anticipating around two years before we can establish ourselves and build readership. Initially, we will be funding it ourselves. The cover page will be in four colors and we will be working on the design soon.

NG: What will be criteria for acceptance? Would you accept controversial and politically incorrect works, for instance?

Rajini: The idea is to encourage young writers who are trying to find a voice and who definitely show potential in their work. We also don't want to be known as a magazine in which everything gets published. We want to maintain a good quality of writing and we have therefore instituted a strong editorial board of established writers. We will try to strike a balance between finding a work of excellent quality and having the potential to be good. Shona and I will do the initial screening and then it will go through the editorial board who are specialized in their respective areas. We are also willing to help a writer develop on his/her writing and offer guidance. Controversial articles are welcome but we will not encourage fundamentalism, bias and prejudice. It is a difficult question. Let me give you an example. Many years ago in the New Yorker there appeared a short story by Eudora Welty called “Where is The Voice Coming From?” Welty adopted the voice of the white racist who had killed Civil Rights Leader Medger Evers. It was written in this manner to give a glimpse into the mind of the man who harbored such feelings. It is a tricky question whether such a story can be called politically incorrect. But it was artistically conceived and was accepted. So it is a difficult question.

NG: What is your main interest behind this venture?

Rajini: My main interest is to involve every South Asian American community in the writing process. As someone who has fought to establish the validity of South Asian identity in America, I want to make sure that every South Asian community participates in this venture. When I had written Contours of the Heart: South Asians Map North America, I had the opportunity to meet and make many contacts. Take for example, writers like Nurul Kabir, a Bangladeshi American, or Sociologist Nazli Kibria, also of Bangaldeshi Heritage and Tahira Naqvi of Pakistani descent, and we hope to attract more South Asians American writers. We hope to solicit contributions from all South Asian American Writers in America.

NG : What are the rewards of writing?

Rajini: (smiles) It is really a hard process. One is, of course the sheer intellectual reward of being able to manipulate language: You get to craft a language and put down complex issues in print. There is also the emotional reward of getting your story told. It is very important and gives you a lot of emotional satisfaction, so it is a combination of an intellectual and emotional reward.

Catamaran invites submissions from writers of South Asian American dentity (India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and the Maldives) in the areas of poetry, personal essays, short fiction, travelogues, one act plays etc. Send in your submissions to editors@catamaranmagazine.com. For more information click here

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Rajini Srikanth

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