“What’s the point?”, I remember thinking when I first saw the mail on the Kerala Scholars eGroup asking for volunteers for a new blog on Kerala. Would there be an audience? Will there be people willing to contribute? Will there be stories to tell, pictures to share, ideas to convey, that haven’t been shared already?
This was around the time I had been reading about the rich and diverse literary history of Kerala for my own work. Freshly inspired, I signed up as a volunteer. I remember being specifically impressed with the little magazines of Kerala, which were a sounding-board to the mainstream periodicals that had thronged the literary scene by mid-20th century. They defied the editorial and publication norms that were dictated by the big players—Mathrubhumi, Malayala Manorama, and others. At a time when communism almost entirely dominated the cultural and literary realms, the little magazines questioned this hegemony. They published debates, editorials aimed to critically engage a reader, give them a different perspective on history, spark thoughts. They began not because they were promised a wide readership, but out of passion. Together, they inspired a generation of thinkers, poets, film makers to see society differently. Back then, with only limited subscriptions, these magazines struggled to survive.
The online platform of the 21st century comes with immense possibilities. However, if one engages with the literary spaces in Kerala today, two things seem evident—first, the absence of platforms that cut across differences in ideologies; and second, the prominence of Malayalam publications over English ones. The former is a serious concern as it reflects a primary commitment by some artists, authors, intellectuals, and other creative minds towards politics, rather than towards the people, while the latter excludes an ever-growing section of non-Malayali community who share a cultural, literary, and academic interest in the region. In either case, these discussions remain limited to their own political and linguistic circles, only seldom penetrating to wider audiences.
Ala has been about half a year in the making. Today, we are more convinced than ever that there needs to be a platform promoting good-faith and open-ended dialogue over sermonizing.The editors of Ala come from diverse academic, political, and regional backgrounds, and we hope to use this as our strength. We believe that content must be contested with other content, a rational argument with a counter-argument, a picture with a picture!
With this in mind, we begin this humble endeavour to create a space to share your ideas, thoughts, opinions, images, and experiences on or about Kerala and to help you present them to a diverse audience who share your interest in the region. We hope Ala will serve as prompt to engage with Kerala, its people, their stories, our culture from new, unexpected perspectives and in a fresh light. This is my answer to the question “What’s the point?” that I had when reading the first mail about Ala. For other answers, we turn to you.