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Tongue Twisters

It is a busy time for poet and translator Neelabh Ashk. The son of noted Hindi litterateur Upendranath Ashk,he has just finished translating Salman Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence into Hindi,but his work is far from over.

Written by Paromita Chakrabarti |
July 18, 2009 12:08:23 am

It is a busy time for poet and translator Neelabh Ashk. The son of noted Hindi litterateur Upendranath Ashk,he has just finished translating Salman Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence into Hindi,but his work is far from over. There are Namita Devidayal’s The Music Room,VS Naipaul’s A House for Mr Biswas,three books by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe,all of which have been commissioned by leading publishing houses to be translated into Hindi. “I think publishing in Indian languages is coming into its own,” says the 65-year-old freelancer,who has also translated Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things.

“In a country where the primary spoken language is not English,it is lopsided not to publish in Indian languages,” says Minakshi Thakur,editor of Harper Hindi that came into being last year. What began with 11 books now has 40 titles a year. But regional-language market is tough to crack. As Thakur says,“The Hindi market is highly price-sensitive. It’s a market where hardbacks are available for Rs 100-150 and paperbacks for Rs 30-50. We cannot match those prices but can manage to come close. We will give the readers better-produced titles and value for their money.” Vaishali Mathur,senior commissioning editor,Penguin,agrees,“Also,the distribution across a varied cross-section of readership offers its own challenges.”

Harper Hindi is banking on best-selling books of Paulo Coelho,“mass-market fiction” like Mukul Deva’s Lashkar and contemporary Hindi writing by Sara Rai,Teji Grover and Indu Jain. The difficulties in pricing and distribution notwithstanding,they are “planning to graduate to Bengali in a year”. Penguin too has an extensive list in place. The Hindi translation of Nandan Nilekani’s Imagining India called Ubharte Bharat ki Tasveer had a first print run of 2,000 copies and went into reprint within a few days of its release. The English title is priced at Rs 699,but the Hindi comes for just 295. There are also the Hindi and Marathi translations of Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Shashi Deshpande’s Go Kiss The World.

Westland,meanwhile,is bringing out an anthology of Kannada literature and has also published two of Jeffrey Archer’s books,A Twist in the Tale and Not a Penny More,Not a Penny Less in Tamil,Marathi,Malayalam and Telugu. They have also sold the rights of Devdutt Pattanaik’s Seven Secrets From Hindu Calendar Art to Prabhat Prakashan for a Hindi version of the book. “Hindi literature has always enjoyed a larger market than English. Selling 10,000-15,000 copies in Hindi is a cakewalk,but the same is quite a challenge for us. So a lot of careful planning needs to go in to it,” says Renuka Chatterjee,chief editor,Westland. The solution,says Gautam Kapish Mehra of Rupa,which was among the earliest to get into Indian-language publishing,is to control the price points. “The target audience varies from community to community. For books in Hindi,you should ensure that the quality is better than those available,but the price points should be low,” he says. It is a formula that the publishing houses are struggling hard to work out,but there is no backing out. As Chatterjee says,“The scope is huge. It is no longer about making a representative list. It’s about tapping the market and working on its own terms.”

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First published on: 18-07-2009 at 12:08:23 am

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