Saturday, February 20, 2010
Interview with Hyderabad Book Trust by Purnima (Pustakam.Net)
(దశాబ్దాలుగా తెలుగు పుస్తక ప్రచురణ రంగంలో తమదైన ముద్ర వేసిన “హైదరాబాద్ బుక్ ట్రస్ట్” గురించిన వివరాలన్నీ మాతో (e-mail ద్వారా) పంచుకున్న గీతా రామాస్వామిగారికి మా హృదయపూర్వక కృతజ్ఞతలు! మరిన్ని కాలాల పాటు పుస్తకప్రచురణ రంగంలో వీరి విశిష్ట సేవలు కొనసాగాలని మనస్పూర్తిగా కోరుకుంటూ.. పుస్తకం.నెట్)
Firstly, is there a website for HBT? When I search on google, I arrive at the Telugu blog. Is there a site where non-Telugus can know about your efforts?
No, there isn’t. We were long averse to anything to do with the internet, till it became impossible to function without it, though friends had earlier repeatedly asked to set up a website for us. By the time realization dawned on us, a website was no longer free; the other option was a blog.
I do not think there is a site where non-Telugus can know about our efforts.
How was HBT formed? Can you just tell us the story behind its birth? Also, about the founding team?
HBT was formed in February 1980. We are a group of people, largely `majis’ from different ML groups – who felt the need for a pluralistic and diverse publishing entity. If you recall, 1980 was the end of a decade of initial Naxalite activity. Among the many reasons we saw for the movement losing steam was the lack of reading material in Telugu. Activists were taking decisions, uninformed of major developments elsewhere, thinking and debates elsewhere. Mainstream Telugu publishing was not filling the need at all, concentrated as it was then, on pulp romance and detective fiction. A robust publishing activity could help, we thought.
The main person was C.K. Narayana Reddy (Chittoor), who had by that time, already published several major books like Fanshen (William Hinton), చైనా పై అరుణతార (China pai Arunatara – Edgar Snow”s Red Star Over China), భారతదేశంలో నా జైలు జీవితం (Bharatadeshamlo na jailu jeevitam -Mary Tyler’s My Years in an Indian Prison), పురోగమనం, రక్తాశ్రువులు (Purogamanam, Raktashruvulu – The Scalpel, the Sword), etc. His banner was initially Janata Prachuranalu and later, Anupama Prachuranalu. Along with him was M.T.Khan, the late Veeraiah Chowdhury (son of Kolla Venkaiah), the late C.Bharatudu (Guntur), Cyril Reddy, myself and Vithal Rajan (who resigned very shortly). Cyril and I had just came out from difficult times and wished to involve ourselves in publishing for activists in Hyderabad. M.T.Khan of course, is a longstanding Left activist. Veeraiah Chowdhury, while working as a veterinarian, was a wonderful behind-the-scenes worker. Bharathudu was a Left activist and lecturer in Guntur. Vithal Rajan had come to India a few years ago from Canada, and was working with the ASCI. (he quit the Trust almost immediately)
It was understood that CK and I would be the active workers and the others would help.
What were the aims with which HBT began its operations?
The aims were to publish books, progressive literature in short, though we did not confine `progressive’ to mean only `political or ideological’, but also as something which encompassed daily life – health, education, science, etc.
What is HBT’s USP among other Telugu publishers? How do you people stand out from the other lot?
No comments. This is not for me to spell out. Others have to comment really.
HBT is more than 30 years old. How do you see book publishing as a business change in all these years?
As in everything else, publishing has become modernized. The desk top has replaced the manual composing, printing presses have become first rate, and binding is fast mechanizing. Authors are now keying in their works instead of writing them down longhand. There are far more translators now than before (expansion of education?) but quality is being compromised for speed. Government is now a big player in the market as a purchaser (not just libraries, but various departments – the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan) and there are several publishers who publish only for Government today.
The divide between English and Telugu literature seems to be narrowing and there is more interchange than before.
We ourselves have changed tremendously. Earlier, HBT used to be on the streets literally with books. We were all walking salespersons. Now, we sit in our office and the market sells the books for us. Travel, food and lodging have become more expensive now, cutting into the already low margins.
A healthy feature is the presence of several new and vigorous young publishers on the scene.
What sort of books do you publish mostly?
Narratives of the marginalized, inclusive pedagogy, healthy fiction, discourses on caste, social sciences, children’s literature (very few) health (a very big area for us) – in short, anything which can and should be of use to the movements of the marginalized and the common man.
How do you choose a book to publish/Translate and publish?
I read extensively and also make it a point to meet others who do. In this way, I keep abreast of what needs to be translated. As for original works, we often commission writers from movements in areas like health, environment, etc. Many good MS come to us on their own.
Only Telugu books? Or in English too?
We publish only Telugu books. English publishing is robust and spread over so many countries that we do not need to duplicate it here in Andhra Pradesh. We see the need only for literature in Telugu.
Are the translators arranged by HBT after choosing the originals to be translated?
Both ways. Yes, sometimes, we arrange the translator, and sometimes the translator himself/herself comes to us with the book s/he wants to do.
Have there been any attempts to translate Telugu works into other languages?
This is a coincidence. I have just completed the translation of two novels into English. I thought that with so many years’ behind me in Telugu publishing, with a relative ease in English, and some contacts with the English publishing world, I should do some translations myself. One is a novel and the other an autobiography. Both Telugu books were published by us. This is not a major HBT activity of course, I take it up in the time I can spare personally.
From how many languages have you translated so far?
English, Hindi, Tamil, Bengali and Kannada directly and of course, several other languages indirectly – that is, from English. These would be Marathi, Malayalam, French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Japanese, Persian, maybe a couple of others.
History, Fiction, Progressive Literature, Popular Science, Children’s literature, Politics – How do you manage such a diversity? :) It goes back to – How do you choose a book, again. How do you generally keep track of books from various fields and from various languages?
Again, extensive reading plus the immense goodwill of HBT friends who make it a point to get good books for us.
I saw some of the books by Mahidhara Nalinimohan being published by you in the ’80s (Source: Here). But, as time passed, there is hardly any popular science book in Telugu, from HBT – What do you think is the reason for that?
That’s true. Instead, we have books critiquing science (Vignana shastram viphalam ayye vela). Doesn’t this reflect a change in generational thinking? One no longer sees science as `pure science’ – we see it as a knowledge system that is loaded, represents definite values and supports definite social sections. The fight against superstition and obscurantism is no longer as simple as presented in the 1980s.
However, we do continue to publish on science;
a) విజ్ఞాన శాస్త్రం ఎలా ఎదిగింది (Vignana shastram ela edigindi) Egon Larsen, 1989 (gone through several reprints since)
b) విజ్ఞాన శాస్త్రం – మనిషి విస్తరణ (Vignana shastram manishi vistarana), J.D.Bernal, reprinted 1995
c) శాస్త్ర విజ్ఞానం – అభివృద్ధి – హింస (Shastra-vignanam-abhivruddhi himsa) Claude Alvarez, 1996
d) వాస్తు – నిజానిజాలు (Vaastu nijanijalu) Prof. Kolhatkar, 1998
e) మన విశ్వవిద్యాలయాల్లోకి జ్యోతిష్యం చెదలు (Mana Viswavidyalayalloki Jyothisham chedalu?) Compilation of essays by K. Ashok Vardhan Setti, Y. Nayudamma, SG. Kulkarni, 2001.
f) సైన్స్ పద్ధతి అంటే ఏమిటి? (Science Paddathi Ante Yemity?) By SG. Kulkarni, 2000.
g) విజ్ఞాన శాస్త్రం విఫలమైన వేళ (Vignana Shastram Viphilamaina Vella) – (When Science Fails Us) By Richald Lenin, 1999.
How frequently do you republish old HBT books? Is there a probability that some old book can be republished on a number of requests from readers, now that you are accessible online?
When we think a book could do fairly well (at least sell out 1,000 copies over say, a year), we do republish. Often, we allow other publishers to republish our titles. Prajashakti and Manchi Pustakam have done so.
Being online does not make a difference. How many readers would request a reprint – 5, 10 or 20? It does require a larger number to reprint.
Who are your chief readers – when you publish these books? Which genre is read by the most?
Health is the most popular, followed by readings on caste (writings of and on Ambedkar, Phule, Periyar) and pedagogy. Fiction sells the least.
In over 3 decades, how have been your sales doing?
Over three decades, sales have been increasing, enough to match increasing needs. Our real concern is to have sufficient money in the bank to buy paper. I confess to not having a good business sense and don’t look at the annual sales figures despite the auditors being shocked. If we don’t have money to buy paper, I start pushing sales.
Over this period of 30 years, It somehow appears that the diversity that was felt in the initial and middle years is gradually reducing. Your comments?
Since HBT has so many translations on its catalogue (as compared to original Telugu works), this could reflect on publishing generally, not specifically us. Our range (in terms for what we scout around for) has increased. Do keep in mind that when we started publishing in 1980, we had a whole backlog of great works to choose from, given the paucity of publishing between the 1950s and 1980s. With the backlog worked through, the choice gets limited. (We have published more for children between 2001-2009 than in any earlier period.)
In terms of decades, 1980-90 were very fruitful years – also very good years for peoples’ mobilization. In the latter half of the second decade, much of HBT”s energy was directed towards Nalupu, the forthnightly we ran for 4 years. The third decade 2000-10 also promises to be fruitful – we have an excellent fiction range now, something we did not have earlier.
Can some new author who writes a book which suits your aims, approach you to get his/her book published? If so, how?
Absolutely. We would always prefer a direct approach, because there is no mohamatam involved, and sometimes a mediator could complicate issues with unvoiced perceptions. `Ooru, vada, batuku’ – a recent book published by us, is a new author whom we had never met earlier. He has never published earlier either. We are currently working on a manuscript on Phule, again from a new author.
What is the general procedure for a book review at HBT?
I understand you mean `peer review’? Pre-publication? We generally have three reviewers for any manuscript. We are also careful not to have only expert opinion alone for books that deal with specific themes. For eg. A manuscript on agriculture would also go to someone who does not have much to do with the subject. This way, we get a fairly good idea of the subject treatment, language used, specific areas that need to be brushed up, etc.
Any plans to set up an online store for HBT?
We find that Appajosyula Foundation has been selling all our books online. Does it make sense to duplicate this?
How hard is it to survive as a Telugu book publisher in the age of internet?
Easier, in fact. Information is more easily available, negotiations are easier and much much faster, drafts are circulated at lightning speed to multiple reviewers and the earlier and very tedious leg work has been cut down. The internet has not cut into our sales. Sales is as yet, old-fashioned – at the shop, at the meeting hall, on the pavement, etc.
Do you think that the conventional publishing groups have tough time with many opportunities for authors to publish their books on their own?
Not in Telugu. Authors publishing their own books find it difficult to sell them out; again, some authors feel that those who need to publish their own works and can’t find publishers to do so, are looked down upon. There is absolutely no lack of manuscripts circulating around for publishers to choose from, nor the lack of competent translators, if translation is what is being aimed at.
Who owns the HBT? (if “owning” is possible) How many people work / are involved for the functioning of HBT?
HBT is a private trust, the trustees are C.K.Narayan Reddy, myself, M.T.Khan, Shantha Sinha and G.Manohar. None of us/all of us, do not own HBT. In case we shut down, HBT’s assets are assigned by Government to a trust of a similar nature.
People involved in HBT work go to double digit figures, though we are four employees. Our editors, our reviewers, our artists – we work closely with them. Proofs are done, not on payment, but as a labour of love, so are forewords/introductions written, as are blurbs, etc. Even the blog we maintain is a labour of love by Mandaara Prabhakar. There has been extraordinary and unrecognised involvement of others in HBT’s work.
From when have you been associated with HBT? What was your motivation for it? (Please add few details of your educational background and work experiences)
I am a founder member of the HBT. I had earlier given up postgraduation in Mathematics halfway during the Emergency, joined the ML movement full-time, and later came out from it with the strong conviction that activists needed far more exposure on several issues, for the movement to be truly democratic. While I worked full-time for HBT between 1980-84, I took up organizing a trade union among agricultural labourers between 1985-92, though I continued to give time for HBT when asked for it. There was a gap with my involvement with HBT from 1993-1998 when I was recovering from full time motherhood. Since 1999, while my primary focus is on HBT, I take care to be involved in several other activities at the same time. I feel that it enriches my work here and builds lateral relationships.
Coming to HBT’s blog, no other Telugu publisher has ever ventured into it. How did the blog start? And how did the blog help your cause?
The blog is the brainchild of Mandaara Prabhakar, one of our translators and editors. He had just retired and was keen to take this up on his own. We devised it between the two of us, but the work is all his now. I don’t know if the blog helps us – we certainly don’t get more orders because of the blog, but perhaps more visibility? I have still to assess if visibility helps us at all.
How are the purchasing and reading capabilities of current generation, according to you?
The profile of the current reading generation has changed enormously. Thirty years ago, readers were largely employed and belonged to the upper castes. Today, there is a huge chunk of first generation learners from the BC and SC communities, particularly the latter. While most are employed, wage levels are pretty low. Hence the need to keep prices down and compromise on quality of production.
With the ipods, kindles and all, seems like paper bound books are soon to disappear. What are your thoughts on it?
I don’t think so. Nothing can replace the pleasure of holding a loved book in your hands, of smelling a new book and turning its pages, of being able to read anywhere and everywhere – on the bus, the train, in a meeting, at night in bed, while eating on the table – the opportunities are limitless. How can ipods and kindles match this?
Does HBT have ties with libraries, be it public or private?
We don’t have ties with libraries but do get orders off and on. We refuse to pay bribes and all public libraries give regular orders
What would be your suggestions to inculcate reading habits among people, especially the younger generation?
People with means should endow libraries instead of constructing temples and colleges. Writers should visit villages and hold reading sessions of their books, instead of frequenting five-star hotels.
How about e-books in Telugu? Well, I mean copyrighted e-books for sale. Any plans to venture into this?
I don’t know enough to comment.
(పుస్తకం డాట్ నెట్ పూర్ణిమ గారు గత సంవత్సరం డిసెంబర్ లో జరిపిన ఇంటర్వ్యూ ఇది. వారికి హృదయ పూర్వక కృతజ్ఞతలు తెలియజేసుకుంటూ - మా బ్లాగు వీక్షకులకు ఉపయుక్తంగా, అందుబాటులో ఉంటుందని ఇక్కడ పునర్ముద్రించాము. పుస్తకం డాట్ నెట్ కోసం ఇక్కడ నొక్కండి. )