Not A Typo, But A Purpose: decoloniszing our bookshelves
By Anjana Ashok, UG 22
Team ‘decoloniszing our bookshelves’, Vika Mujumdar, Madhushree Kulkarni, and Kimaya Kulkarni, is a collaborative community project focusing on making literature and art by authors of marginalized and intersectional identities more visible.
The Elevator Pitch
Vika, Madhushree and Kimaya are three friends pursuing different majors at different universities. One thing they have in common: they all wanted to read more books written by brown female authors. This brought them together for the initiative. What started as an excel sheet of books written by Indian women, women of color, indigenous women, and non-binary people slowly became a database that grew into ‘decoloniszing our bookshelves’.
The project began as a small-scale one, engaging with people the team personally knew were interested in the initiative. But thanks to social media, specifically Instagram, their platform grew, and their volunteers increased, “It was really heartwarming to see so many people enquire about our work, and then volunteer, even though we weren’t offering any monetary compensation at this stage,” Vika said.
Tackling The Online Realm
Social media is a key factor in the extension of their initiative. They use it to talk about a variety of current issues, and they have resources about mental health, ableism, and how to be sensitive towards it. By compiling resources and having them all in one place, it is easier to educate ourselves. “It’s a great place to build a community and connect people who otherwise wouldn’t have been connected. It’s a space where these people can speak up.” they told us.
But as it is with all things, there are both pros and cons to using social media to expand their platform. “Social media is also an ecosystem where the vertical hierarchy of power gets implicitly maintained. Personally, for us it was a little tough to expand our reach beyond a point. On Instagram, for example, you don’t get enough boosts unless you pay for promotions.
We’ve also observed certain trends—if we post about fundraisers or charities, we don’t get much interaction on our post, but at the same time if we put out those ‘ask me anything’ questions, then we get high interaction.”
Further, they realized how the algorithm can affect smaller accounts, and how they needed to even be mindful of things like which hashtags and stickers they use in order to reach a wider audience. “It’s both a two-way street, a bane and a blessing.” they said.
Fortunately, they have not experienced any instances of online trolling, but they have a policy and protocol in place to use if such an event occurs. Their initiative is one which speaks about sensitive issues the volunteers may hold close. It’s important that their social media page remains a safe space and nobody gets triggered by hateful comments. “The whole point of building a community is that people can openly share and express themselves.” they said firmly.
‘decoloniszing’: A Purposeful Typo
An interesting and important detail to note is the spelling of the organization’s name. Though it may not be obvious at first glance, if you look closer, you’ll realize that the word ‘decoloniszing’ is spelled with both an ‘s’ and a ‘z’! “When we were making notes to plan this out, Kimaya and Madhu used the British spelling with an s, and Vika used the American spelling with a z. So, we thought, why not use both!” they explained, “We decided to put the s and z together, because this is about creating our own language. It’s also why we don’t capitalize any letters— because no single narrative holds precedence over others.”
When they say ‘decoloniszing’, they’re using the word as a broadly- they have no exact definition for it, because everyone comes with a different perspective and it’s important to focus on that. They still remember what one of our volunteers said: “You cannot define what emancipation means to someone else”. They’re trying to find different sorts of meanings in narratives, and what decolonization means for different people.
Though a majority of their readers and volunteers are in the USA and India, they don’t have a specific target population. They all look at different areas and they don’t want to restrict their reach. “Everyone is welcome, and everyone can contribute. And more importantly, it’s never too late to start.”
For example, Madhu, wants to focus on prompting a multiplicity of narratives- to focus on gathering information and experiences from people who have first-hand experiences, and to normalize respectfully listening to those people who have lived through narratives, though they might not have degrees. “We want to encourage people to start trusting and promoting decentralized modes of knowledge production.”
In tandem to withthought, ‘decoloniszing our bookshelves’ has recently started working with another team in a partnership — an initiative called Bilori, for collating academic and non-academic information in Marathi. They believe that scholarship in regional languages should be promoted.
Their initiative is a coming together with multiplicity, one that unites people from different backgrounds and provides a safe space for lesser-known literature, issues, etc. They have volunteers from varying backgrounds, who have met for this organization. It is indeed a special thing, and there are moments in which one realizes just how special it is.
“We think one of those very special moments was the first time we got someone on board.” they said towards the end of the interview, “It helps to know that someone finds this labor valuable. In fact, someone texted me today and they were very supportive. When our volunteers say ‘I’m so glad you chose me’- it’s a moment you realize you’ve reached someone. While bringing people aboard, we feel very grateful for the trust they place in us.”