A young woman’s quest to spread art and literature

IMG_8209Though I’m not a feminist, I definitely respect women who are struggling to make it to the top with sheer grit and that too with undying determination to let nothing come in the way of their dreams.

Recently, I came across such a woman, Shireen Quadri — the founder publisher of The Punch Magazine. It’s a monthly digital magazine started by her just about a year back.

And as I went through the latest issue of Punch, dated January 2018, with actress and activist Lisa Ray pouting on its cover and her never-before published poems spread out in the inner confines of the magazine, I was left absolutely impressed. This digital magazine not just carries the exclusive, it even looks different, suave and sleek.

I got in touch with Shireen Quadri and asked her the crucial question —‘why’. Why did she think of starting this magazine exclusively for the arts and literature, music and poetry? And there she was with this stark ground reality — “In the last couple of years, the number of literature, arts, food, travel, dance, music, theatre and film festivals have mushroomed. From September to March, almost every weekend has some festival or event. But when it comes to the coverage of arts and literature in the mainstream media, there’s hardly anything raring to be different. There’s no single platform that chronicles the global profusion in arts and literature, which serves as a one-stop destination for everything exciting about arts around the globe,” she said.

I had to ask her about her journey. Her simple philosophy, along the clichéd taking one step at a time, relays much. To quote her — “I’m from Jharkhand. I did my schooling from Mount Carmel, Dhanbad, and moved to Delhi to pursue graduation from Miranda House. Then I went to Mumbai University for my post-graduation. Briefly, I worked with Greenpeace India. A little later, I moved to Delhi and got into the marketing and publicity of books in trade publishing. My last job was at Simon & Schuster India. Some of the well-known authors I’ve worked with are Vikas Swarup, Ashwin Sanghi, Amish Tripathi, Kishwar Desai …All this while, I did enjoy my work, but I could see that the space in mainstream media for literature and arts was shrinking and to get space for some of the best books was becoming a challenge. It was the same in arts. There had to be a medium that could bridge this gap. And that’s how I thought along the lines of starting this magazine.”

Quite obviously it couldn’t have been easy; not to be overlooked is the fact that Shireen is in her early 30s, has a family to take care of and the fact that she’s doing something so very refreshingly different is a challenge in itself. How tough and rough has it been for her to start and sustain a magazine of this calibre?

“To work tirelessly without any money is not easy, especially when one doesn’t belong to the city. I love challenges and I believe in hard work. But what has been really tough is the general attitude that only the mainstream media matters. The literature, arts and culture sectors should ideally nurture such platforms…I’m often asked: ‘what is your business model? Have you started making money?’ I understand that it’s difficult to believe that at this stage of my career when I should essentially be focusing on making money, I am spending my limited savings, time and energy on a project that does not guarantee financial rewards. But it’s also true that The Punch Magazine is not a business prospect. I would like people to see it as an altruistic arts and culture project.

She also detailed those exceptions without which things would have been tougher. “It has not been easy but the immense support and contributions from the writers and arts community has been a great source of encouragement. Some very kind words from arts and culture enthusiasts have been said about the magazine. The support from similar sectors has been pouring in. A number of well-known authors, art enthusiasts, established travel, lifestyle and food writers have been generous enough to be the contributing editors of this new venture. It is the warmth and generosity of like-minded people, I believe, that will help the magazine stem any tide. I have immense faith in our collective vision and collaborations.”

On the journey ahead, she details: “The challenge is to make the project sustainable; to make people aware of the best in arts; to give space to new voices in this field; to identify the important stuff that’s taking place in this sphere; to build a community of like-minded individuals who are passionate about arts and see them as the summum bonum of their lives…The idea is to make it self-sustainable over a period of time; the idea is to build a space for this. Since our resources are limited, we do limited stuff. We are choosy, but we are trying to bridge that gap. We strive to acknowledge and appreciate the established voices as well as identify and promote the emerging talents in every field.”

Shireen sounds determined to carry on, to take her digital magazine to greater heights, along that undying earnestness cum commitment that dreams ought to be fulfilled, no matter what hurdles stand in the way or what punches come along the way!

Her rationale — “I’d say the struggle is a part of any such venture dedicated to arts. It’s a self-funded initiative. I have been using my savings. It’s extremely tough, I’d admit… It needs a lot of determination, obstinacy and tenacity to keep up. My husband has been very supportive. We have a five-year-old son and if I’m busy with my work or travelling on work related trips, my husband takes care of him.”
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I have been sitting introspecting: why don’t we encourage more and more young women to start off, get — set — going with their dreams! Why should they go running after the traditional set of careers when there are so offbeat options out there.All that one needs is self -confidence and a compatible companion to give that cushioning. I believe that emotional support is far more crucial than financial support, especially if you going up a new path and too along an unfamiliar terrain.