A few days after my first translation, The 65 Lakh Heist by Surender Mohan Pathak, was released, I walked into a large chain bookstore to see if it was stocked there. I found it in the ‘Indian Fiction’ bookshelf. Its two closest neighbours were an anthology of love stories edited by Ruskin Bond, and the newest book by Salman Rushdie.
I’ve been browsing through bookstores all my life, but it wasn’t until then that it struck me just how unfair the categorisation was for all of the books displayed in the Indian Fiction category. The Ruskin Bond book should have been under Romance, or maybe under Anthologies. Rushdie’s book should have been Literary Fiction. Many of the other books felt wrong, too — Tagore’s and Premchand’s translations should have been under Classics.
Let’s go back to that book I talked about in the beginning, Pathak’s The 65 Lakh Heist. Pathak writes crime thrillers in Hindi, and has so far written 270 of them, selling over 25 million copies. The 65 Lakh Heist alone has sold over 3 lakh copies in Hindi. Hindi Pocket Books, as they are called, are a huge industry, but no less than Marathi, Tamil, Gujarati, or Bengali popular fiction. This is hardly surprising. The number of people speaking these languages in India is more than those for whom English is a first language.But if this industry is so large, why are the books in the Indian languages not stocked in the “prestigious” chain bookstores in India?
I spoke to Krishnakumar R, of Odyssey, Bangalore, about why there weren’t more regional language books in Odyssey stores, and he listed three reasons. “The publication schedules of regional publishers are not well planned and have less volume than the English publishers. Second, the distributors of these books don’t do a good job of pushing these books to our stores, so we don’t get the books reliably. And thirdly, economics is a factor too — our profit margin on regional language books is definitely less than that on the English books.”Most tellingly, though, he states, “And we also need to stock those products that cater to our target class of people.”Perhaps that’s the crux of the issue — the perception that popular fiction in regional languages is read by a different class of people from those that read English.
We know when the newest John Grisham is coming out, but we don’t even know which writers are good in Hindi. How is it that we, readers of this paper, never hear of the new releases in Hindi/Marathi/Kannada? Why are there no best seller lists or reviews we can refer to?Maybe in a few years, we’ll be as informed about the latest releases in Kannada or Marathi as the English ones. And we can go to the chain book stores, and pick up our own writers from the genre shelf they belong to — and not from the ‘Indian Fiction’ bookshelf.
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