FOR 34-YEAR-OLD Sharad Ashtekar, seeing pirated copies of books translated by his publication being sold on the roadside was one of the best moments of his career.
But bigger than that was meeting noted Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari and purchasing Marathi translation rights of the author’s two best-sellers, Homo Dues: A Brief History for Tomorrow and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century.
By August 15, Ashtekar’s humble publication house, based out of Maharashtra’s Chandrapur district, will release Harari’s 21 Lessons… along with other trending English titles translated to Marathi, such as Mark Mason’s Everything Is Fucked, Pranay Lal’s Indica: A Deep Natural History of the Indian Subcontinent, Duncan Clark’s Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built and Yusufji Salim’s Ambedkar: The Attendant’s Details, among others.
Ashtekar, a Class X dropout from Nashik’s Ghoti village, fell in love with reading as he went about selling newspaper in trains: one of the many odd jobs he worked through his initial days.
He also made a living selling bhel, then clothes, to working in a bank.
Books continued to retain his interest, propelling him to attempt the enterprise of door-to-door sale of books in Chandrapur.
“It always occurred to me that Marathi language publishing didn’t offer its readers translations from non-fiction titles. Out of the state’s 36 districts, close to 22 don’t have proper bookstores,” Ashtekar says.
Two years ago, with the idea of giving regional readers a slice of globally-acclaimed literature, Ashtekar started his own publishing house, Madhushree Publication.
With an in-house staff of only two and by outsourcing translating, editing and proof-reading tasks to freelance journalists, Ashtekar has brought at least 17 titles across genres under his belt: history, biography, autobiography, current events, reportage, travel, popular science, environment, business. The books are sold through a network of booksellers but also on e-purchasing platforms such as Amazon, Flipkart, BookGanga, among others.
Last week, Ashtekar signed contracts with Nobel laureates Daniel Kahneman and Venkatraman Ramakrishnan for translating their books Thinking, Fast and Slow and Gene Machine: The Race To Decipher The Secrets of Ribosome.
At a time when the publishing industry is exposed to threats from digital reading platforms, Ashtekar is positive that his venture will gain momentum.
“We select books based on their relevance and popularity in the literature space. Moreover, I know nothing better than selling books,” he says.
His publication’s first book, Swati Chaturvedi’s I Am A Troll, has sold about 4,000 copies so far. For Harari’s 21 Lessons…, Ashtekar plans to publish 5,000 copies.
“After books by our publication were pirated and sold, it brought us recognition in the market and gave me confidence of its success,” he says.
However, Marathi language market is price sensitive, he adds. Which is why, a copy of Harari’s 21 Lessons…, originally priced
Rs 700, will be sold for Rs 500, whereas most other books are sold between the range of Rs 250 and 300. Harari had signed Ashtekar’s copy of Homo Deus with the words, ‘The future is in your hands’.