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‘Cool’ alternative culture finds a voice in Indian e-journal
NIDHI GUPTA  1st Jul 2012

The website features indie musicians like Harsha Iyer from Chennai

ver heard of a musician from Chennai called Harsha Iyer? Ever wondered who is behind the Tattoo Republic? Ever meditated on feminism's foray into art, in the form of Valerie Solanas' S.C.U.M. Manifesto or Judy Chicago's Menstruation Bathroom? These are just a couple of snippets from a vast oeuvre of very interesting information to be found on an online journal from India called Helter Skelter.

Started in 2010 by editor-in-chief Arun Kale, the website, much like the Beatles' song, has been consistently making much noise, headlining raw acts and novel forms of expression that have emerged in the country today. "We cover everything from indie music and films (even commercial films that are worth writing about), travel, books, theatre, social issues, youth issues. There are a lot of creative young people doing a lot of great work in the country, and we want to talk to them and feature their work," he explains.

The site is designed in clean minimalist tones of white and black, with a simple interface and archives easily accessible. Along with covering the usual events that get tagged as alternative culture (such as the indie music festivals that have taken the nation by storm), Helter Skelter also houses two curious comic strips: Ack! by Monsoon Company that renders Mahabharata in all hilarity in the 21st Century, and Testimonial by Nishant Jain, where two stick figures interpret our myriad pop cultures.

Time is a series of scientific musings by Siddhartha Lal that aims to chart the human race's journey through time. Latest on their block is a New Writing section where they will feature short fiction and poetry from writers around the country.

Alternative culture often is anti-‘establishment’ in the sense that it encompasses everything that deviates from the norm.

Kale began his stint with journalism at the age of 17. After two years of copy-editing and reporting, he started Split, an online magazine with a focus on indie music. Five years later, he decided he wanted to diversify into other forms of culture and thus started Helter Skelter.

"Ever since I knew what a magazine was, I've wanted to start one of my own — right from school. When I first heard about the Internet, before email, before anything else, the first thing that occurred to me was that I could start an Internet magazine," he says. And did we mention that he has a degree in biochemistry that he has completed after dropping out of college twice?Image 2nd

Alternative culture has become a buzzword synonymous with 'cool'; often it is anti-'establishment' in the sense that it encompasses everything that deviates from the norm. And yet, "does not have to be far removed from reality, or even an effort being made to reinforce our identity. It is just an effortless, sweeping, natural result of the interaction of various groups in society," as one of their writers, Sneha A. says in an article decoding this construct.

Kale says that Helter Skelter was never started with the intention of converting into a print format. Being online has a gamut of advantages, from preservation of content for posterity, to low costs and increased visibility. "People are used to getting stuff for free online, and don't like to pay to consume news, which also means that making money through a magazine is much harder to do online," he rues.

At the same time, he feels there is scope for a balance to be struck. "Hybrid publishing seems to be the thing to do now, with publications that take advantage of both print media and the web. We do not have plans of putting out a print version of the magazine as of now, but we are looking at publishing books in the near future — maybe as an extension of our New Writing initiative or something else entirely."

For now, as Kale summarises, Helter Skelter is a mixed bag of engaging art, ideas, and voices; an independent review of culture, with a global perspective. It must be visited, for its polished prose, smart voices, and stronger opinions — and to witness the divergent converge.

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