Urvashi Butalia and Ritu Menon ran India’s first feminist publishing house for nearly two decades. Pioneers of any kind tell a distinctive story, as Arpita Das finds out.
In early 1984, when Ritu Menon and Urvashi Butalia were on the verge of starting Kali for Women, their friend and fellow publisher, the late Tejeshwar Singh told them, ‘Well, rather you than me to have taken such a risk.’ However, these two determined young women went on to start a press which rapidly became a phenomenon not only in Indian publishing but in the largely untapped field of feminist writing in South Asia. It is surprising, therefore, to hear them both say that they came to publishing ‘by accident’. Says Butalia, “My first job in publishing was as a paster-upper in Oxford University Press (OUP).” Menon too went looking for a job in New York after completing her MA in Literature, and found one with Doubleday as part of their newly formed market research team.
While at OUP, Butalia became involved in the burgeoning women’s movement in Delhi. It was evident that a mainstream press would not concern itself with the movement and with titles informed by a feminist perspective. Her next publishing job at Zed Press, London, where she actively worked on developing a feminist list, set the stage for the inception of Kali for Women. Butalia reminisces, “I hadn’t thought of a name then and it was while talking with friends from Zed and others that the name Kali emerged."
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