In the boys club that is publishing, Urvashi Butalia came in and made the business of books a woman's game with her feminist publishing house, Zubaan Books.
Cosmo: So, tell us a little bit about Zubaan...
Urvashi Butalia: "We first set up in 2003, growing out of Kali for Women, India's first feminist publishing house (I was one of its two founders). Eventually, though, we split. Zubaan was born from the idea of having a voice, a tongue. Very often, we end up publishing books with women that have stories to tell, but may not have the skills to tell it. That's why Zubaan isn't your quotidian bookhouse."
C: What need does Zubaan fill that no other book house can?
UB: "We are quite unabashedly a politically motivated publishing house—we wear our views on our sleeves, and aren't embarrassed by them. We are feminists! We're also not constrained by the mainstream. We do not follow a model of publishing where some authors are stars and others are just run-of-the-mill. We truly believe all our authors are fantastic. That's not something you see at most publishing houses."
C: What issues is Zubaan trying to address through its literature?
UB: "For us every issue is a women's issue—we've published on everything from nuclearisation and history to feminist theory and praxis! Basically, our premise is that writing is empowering, subversive and liberating, and women's voices have to be out there. And since women can't be slotted into one category, we try to have a mix of the erudite and elite as well as marginalised minorities."
C: Was there ever criticism about what Zubaan was trying to do?
UB: "One of the most consistent 'criticisms' (if you can call it that) is that we publish 'only' women. And our response that women are one half of the world does not convince many people, although sometimes people do look surprised when we say that."
C: How has the publishing house made a difference?
UB: "I think the biggest thing we've done is to open up a space for women's writing, to show that such writing is wide ranging and full of nuance and variety, and to build up a knowledge base about women."
C: What advice would you give someone starting something of their own?
UB: "If it means enough to you, give your damndest—there's nothing quite as satisfying as doing what you believe in."