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Covers for Indian Books

  • July 9, 2012
  • Maya
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Via Time Out Bengaluru

On the US edition of Behind the Beautiful Forevers, a girl squats in a swamp, surrounded by a slum. Her face, tilted towards a pale, yellow sky, could reflect grief or devotion. The UK and India edition’s cover is the polar opposite – saturated with shades of cerulean, yellow, and pink, its subject is the figure of a boy in motion, running up a flight of stairs: a symbolically hopeful image that recalls the kitsch aesthetic of Slumdog Millionaire. 
Are American readers so wracked by guilty privilege that they’re more likely to pay money for an image of abject poverty? Do Indian readers respond better to stylized, uplifting images of the poor than confront them as stark, hopeless reality? 
A complaint we’ve heard often among editors, designers, authors and intellectuals in the Indian publishing scene is that books by Indians or about India often get the exotic treatment by cover designers abroad. Freelance book cover designer Pinaki De said he thinks the typical Western design reflects a “pigeonholing, [a] very claustrophobic idea of India”. HarperCollins India’s publisher VK Karthika listed “mehndi, the Taj Mahal, bindis, even a sort of Sanskritisedlooking font” as the recurring stereotypical motifs she sees cross her desk from abroad. 
Some authors actively try to ensure that their books avoid orientalist treatment. Sonia Faleiro recalled her ground rules about the international covers of Beautiful Thing: “Firstly, no stereotypes. So, no henna, no precious fonts. Second, if you put a woman on the cover she must have brown skin.” With a dozen editions in print or in the pipeline, there are almost as many covers of Beautiful Thing – variations on a portrait, a crop of a woman’s torso, and even a painting.

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Image Source : Celeste33 /Celeste Goulding

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