By Mary Ann Chacko & Mosarrap H. Khan, Editors
A. Mary Ann Chacko
Café Dissensus was conceived in our conversations – conversations about failed attempts to publish our writings in online platforms; the desire to hear and learn from friends and colleagues about their daily challenges of balancing research and personal lives; the dream of creating a critical community of inquirers; and above all the thrill of having a space where we could experiment with our ideas.
While this conversation in itself was thrilling, the fact that we are in our late 30s and still working on our doctorates, while most of our colleagues are well-established in their professional lives, dampened my enthusiasm. I was anxious that our family members would brand this new dream as a waste of time and dismiss it as a Tughlak-like venture. I was dreading questions like, ‘Will it directly help your Ph.D.?’
But I had also accepted that we needed these creative/critical digressions to make our graduate studies meaningful. Despite that I must admit I did have numerous conversations and even arguments with Mosarrap about the wisdom of investing time and money in such an undertaking. But our idealism fueled the dream with a sense of urgency and I couldn’t let my fear hold me back for long.
In August 2011, we bought the Café Dissensus domain. But it lay dormant, intermittently creeping into our conversations. Finally, it was the media coverage of the Assam Riots and Azad Maidan violence of July, 2012 that woke us from our slumber. On 15 February, 2013, Café Dissensus magazine hit the (virtual) stands with its first issue: Beyond Mumbai, 2012: Indian Muslims and the Way Forward.
Café Dissensus was conceived as a space that would bring together friends, colleagues, and acquaintances whose work we respected and admired. Hence before the launch of the first issue, we reached out to colleagues, inviting them to join us on this journey. We take this opportunity to sincerely thank our editorial board members for accepting our invitation, for believing in this venture, for joining the team, and lending us your time, support, and writings. We also offer our heartfelt gratitude to Nandini Ghosh, Mahmood Kooria, and Anindya Sekhar Purakayastha, who guest edited the third, fourth, and the forthcoming fifth issue of Café Dissensus magazine. We are also thankful to the guest editors whose issues are due in the coming year.
Shortly after the launch of Café Dissensus magazine, we launched the blog, Cafe Dissensus Everyday. While the magazine is published on a quarterly basis (eventually, we hope to make it a monthly magazine), the blog, we hope, will provide a space to engage with events taking place around us every day. Numerous friends and colleagues, and even strangers-now-turned-friends have been writing blog entries, keeping Café Dissensus alive and vibrant. We cannot thank you enough!
We would like to take this opportunity to specially thank a few friends who have nurtured Café Dissensus as their own: Arshad Alam, Sipra Mukherjee, Ruhi Khan, Mahmood Kooria, Soma Chatterjee, Subrata Sarker, Salil Kader, Abu Saleh, Nadira Khan, Saptarshi Kundu, Moutushi Mukherjee, Rafikul Islam, Saumya Dadoo, Haamid Jaffer (Pakistan), and Sehr Karim Jaffer (Pakistan).
This short reflection will be incomplete if I fail to admit that Café Dissensus has nurtured us as a couple as much as we have nurtured it. This has been especially true these past few months when our marriage has been going through a very tough phase. Hurt and unforgiveness drove us apart. But our promises to ‘leave each other alone’ were broken every time Café Dissensus needed our joint attention. We did not know how to look after Café Dissensus alone and neither could we bear to see it die out. To begin with, Café Dissensus forced us to meet and to communicate with each other civilly. Then, when we did come together to strategize on the future of Café Dissensus, it reminded us of all that had drawn us to each other in the first place, the contentment we find in each other, and the dreams and plans we have quilted together. During one such meeting Mosarrap said, ‘Café Dissensus is our baby. It kept us together.’ I could not agree more.
B. Mosarrap H. Khan
Not all dreams begin in ambition. Sometimes we dream because we love to dream. Café Dissensus was one such dream. We dreamt it one fine day. We recounted that dream periodically and never acted on it for a long time.
Perhaps without our being aware of it, responsibility began in this dream. The Assam Riots and the subsequent violence at Azad Maidan, Mumbai, made it almost impossible to delay the launch anymore. We decided to launch our first issue on the reaction of ordinary Muslims themselves, whose voices never found a space in the mainstream media.
As it often happens, a new venture always lacks credibility. As our culture increasingly becomes celebrity-driven, those who see themselves as self-important hesitate to associate with new obscure ventures. Below I narrate a couple of incidents that showcase the challenge of convincing authors to write for us.
For the second issue on Social Activism in South Asia, which was published in June 2013, we had approached some of the social activists to write for us. Here is an excerpt of a conversation with a social activist, who had initially agreed to write for us. A few e-mail exchanges later:
Social activist: ‘Who are the other activists you are covering in this issue, if I may ask?’
Café Dissensus: ‘… Also, we have pieces from a host of obscure activists. In fact, one of our purposes is to highlight minor activists whose work must be brought to focus…’
That was in mid-May, 2013. We never heard back from the activist again. Not sure, if the silence was a result of the anxiety of being lumped with so-called ‘obscure activists’.
In the same issue, we requested another activist to write for us on an interesting aspect. As we had been trying to collect other pieces, this piece had been lying with us for over a month. Three days prior to the publication of the Café Dissensus issue on social activism, we found the piece had already been published in a reputed national newspaper. Perhaps, the question of adequate readership prompted the author to publish the piece in the newspaper.
However, we would also like to remember with gratitude that there have been others who agreed to speak to Café Dissensus and contribute to it. We are grateful to the late Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer, the well-known Muslim reformer, for giving an interview to CD; to Kavita Krishnan, the noted feminist and anti-rape activist, for speaking to CD; to Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, the acclaimed Academy Award winning docu-maker, for agreeing to contribute a recorded interview of the Pakistani education activist, Humaira Bachal. Despite facing all the challenges, we are touched by such gestures of humaneness and generosity of spirit.
We do not narrate these incidents to demonstrate that some public figures were kind enough to break the mould. Rather, we would like to emphasize that each writer and contributor is equally important and valuable for us. Still, these incidents made it evident that some public figures are ready to go against the grain of dominant thinking.
From the very beginning, our motto was to bridge the gap between the academic ivory tower and non-academic market-place. Being academics ourselves, we knew that most of the people we would be approaching to write for us would be academics. But the idea so far has been to present complex ideas in an accessible language. We must admit we have only partly succeeded in this venture.
As an alternative/independent magazine, we are our own competitors. Since we don’t function under the pressure of making ourselves commercially viable, we have no competitors. We believe alternative/independent media is an act of faith. There is no heady stardom and publicity to be found here. It’s mostly about quietly keeping the fire of zeal burning. Numerous Calcutta-based little magazines are a source of inspiration in this regard.
As we have said time and again, we repeat: we are committed to promote new writers, who are keen on challenging ‘mainstream’ ideas and going beyond ideological ghettos to engage across divides. Please look up our submissions page. We are keen on hearing from you and publishing your ideas, especially in Café Dissensus Everyday, which is updated regularly.
From the very beginning, we wanted Café Dissensus to be a people’s magazine, driven by people. We wanted it to be an open platform. We are still committed to that idea. Our guest-edited issues are not ‘by invitation only’. We invite our readers and others to guest-edit issues for us on any topic they see fit. Please look up the submissions page of the magazine for a detailed instruction about guest-editing an issue and for submitting your writing.
In 2014, we have lined up 8 issues, ranging from ‘Death Penalty’ to ‘Teach for India’ to ‘Muslims in Media’. Issue 5 on ‘Death Penalty’ will be published on 1 January, 2014. Stay tuned!
We are thankful to all our writers both in the magazine and the blog for supporting this unknown venture either by way of writing or giving interviews to Café Dissensus. We hope that your support will continue in the future as well.
Apart from the editorial board members, and other people that Mary Ann has already thanked, I would like to thank my co-editor, Mary Ann, for the calmness, composure, and solidity that she has brought to my more frenzied style of work.
Finally, we are grateful to our readers for reposing faith in a new venture and for reading Café Dissensus. Our readers are our greatest inspiration and support. And it is for you that we are ready to go the extra mile.
We wish you all a Very Happy 2014!!