It is a prolonged, painful wait for at least 12 Pakistani authors to hold a copy of their respective books that are gathering dust in storehouses in India. With the relations between the two neighbouring countries remaining frosty, it is unlikely that the wait will end anytime soon.
It all started in last week of August when Pakistan unilaterally decided to stop the postal exchange with India – the decision coming in the backdrop of heightened tension between New Delhi and Islamabad that touched a peak following Balakot air strikes on terror camp and India scrapping the special status of Jammu & Kashmir.
Islamabad “partially resumed postal exchange” last week but did not lift the ban on parcel exchange – the route via which such books were delivered to Pakistan. Budding writers and new publishing houses in Pakistan prefer to get their books printed in India due to low cost and better quality. The books are then sent to Pakistan as parcel mail.
Islamabad-based Daastan, a ‘self-publishing house’, which gives platform to budding writers from Pakistan, India and other countries, said books of at least 12 Pakistani authors are lying stuck in India.
Sidra Amin (24), who along with Ommer Amer (27), founded ‘Daastan’ in 2015, said that since 2017, at least 60 per cent of their titles have been printed in India.
“While it costs on an average around (Pakistani) Rs 1 lakh to get hundred copies of book published in Pakistan, the cost is just Rs 25,000 in India. Even after we include postal and custom charges along with currency value difference, it is still 40 per cent cheaper to get books published in India. It takes 30-45 days for books to reach us via postal services once we have placed an order with the Indian publishers. Now at least 12 titles of Pakistani authors are lying stuck. As publishers, we are suffering monetary loss and a loss of reputation. For the writers waiting to get a glimpse of book, it is nothing less than heartbreak,” said Amin.
“Such decisions (to stop postal exchange) are not going to help anyone. It only harasses common people on both sides,” she added.
There’s a reason why Pakistani publishing houses prefer postal services over private couriers to get books delivered. “A 10-kg box sent via post costs (Indian) Rs 3,500 (PKR 7,000) while the private couriers charge Rs 10,000 or more. Yes, the private courier service will deliver it faster but for us what matters more is cost,” she said.
Among titles from Daastan, now lying stuck in India are ‘Maa Tere Naam’ by Sadia Khalil in Urdu, ‘Bleed Breathe Sing’ by Komal Salman. Daastan even got published Indian Urdu author Asrar Jamyee’s ‘Tanz Paaray’.
“In case of Indian authors, we have now told the printers to directly send books to the authors. But now it will be too difficult to sell books of Indian authors in Pakistan and vice-versa. As sales decrease, the royalty to writers will also decrease. The immediate crisis is for Pakistani authors,” she added.
The publisher said that the prices of books have increased exponentially, “as they are now being imported via the US and UK”.
Navsangeet Kaur, founder-cum-owner of Chandigarh-based White Falcon Publishers, echoed Amin’s views. Kaur had shipped four boxes weighing 10-kg each for Pakistan, but they are now lying stuck at Delhi’s Foreign Post Office (FPO).
“This decision to stop parcel exchange is ridiculous. When Daastan owners informed us that books haven’t reached them, we checked with Delhi FPO and got to know that Pakistan has decided to stop postal service. We had shipped four boxes via air-parcel in October first week, spending Rs 3,500 on each box. Private couriers deliver it in 2-3 days but they ask for Rs 9,000-10,000 per 10-kg,” said Kaur.
She said that when Chandigarh post office booked their parcel for Pakistan, they had no idea that postal exchange between the two countries was not taking place. “They haven’t delivered the parcel and have failed to return the boxes to us. If the service was stopped, why did they book it at all? We have lodged a complaint with India Post,” Kaur added.
She said the business is going to remain affected for months to come. “We have put 7-8 titles, orders for which we received from Pakistan, on hold because we have no idea how they will be delivered. Neither us nor the publishing house can pay double the price for courier,” she added.
With no word on when Pakistan will start accepting parcels or merchandise, authors, publishers and printers have no idea about what lies ahead.