A bilingual quarterly, Pratilipi is one of the best online magazines featuring contemporary Indian authors. They cram a lot into each issue (see this issue’s table of contents and staggering list of contributors), with a wide range of pieces, from Ashwani Kumar’s piece on Experiencing India’s So Called 26/11 (this issue’s focus is “violence”) to a fragment of Krishna Baldev Vaid’s A Broken Mirror (sorry—pun is all theirs) to and interview with Minakshi Thakur from HarperCollins India about HC’s new line of books published in Hindi.
This interview is pretty interesting, especially in terms of what Minakshi has to say about the Hindi market:
The one big gap we identified was that most books in traditional Hindi publishing is not produced keeping the reader in mind. Also there is hardly any culture of editing there. The books are poorly produced. They look uninspiring. The big challenge for us was to unlearn certain things we swear by in English publishing and learn things about the Hindi reader afresh.
We had to understand things like – given a choice your reader would borrow books and read than buy them. The buying capacity needed to be understood. Competing with the Hindi market price points would pose a huge problem as we were aiming at the same quality as Harper’s English titles. [. . .]
About the big Hindi publishers like Rajkamal, Vani and Gyanpeeth I would say there is a lot to learn from them and much more not to borrow or learn from them. On the one hand we should be thankful that whatever we have read so far in Hindi – all the great authors and their lovely books – is because they have been there. On the other what we cannot tow their line on is state govt. subsidies and library orders. We cannot go that way or do books solely for that. We will produce books for the discerning audience; we shall produce books to create an interface between the writer and his/her readers. Again it is going to be very difficult and daunting and a slow process. We cannot claim that Harper Hindi will become huge or pose a threat to any of the big old Hindi concerns in two years’ time. It won’t. Also we don’t have the time to play rivals. There are better things one can invest their time in. The attitude has to be right and a lot of experiment in the market would be required to find a breakthrough. The Hindi market needs a definite facelift. We must break away in certain ways and give the reader something in a way that hasn’t been tried before and most importantly at the price they can afford.
It’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out. In the article I wrote for the Frankfurt Book Fair about Indian Publishing I focused a lot on what impact the big multinationals will have on Indian publishing.
It’s great that HC is publishing Hindi translations of authors like Doris Lessing, but I have to admit, that for all the good corporate publishers might bring about in terms of distribution channels and general professionalization of the industry, I’m a bit wary of corporate execs talking about giving any market a “facelift,” especially in the same paragraph in which they say that they have to change the market because they can’t do books solely for “government subsides and library orders.” (Although I have to admit, the translation of that sentence is a bit wonky and confusing.)
So, like I said above, it will be interesting to see what happens to the Indian book market over the next few years . . .