says Sanjay Mago, CEO, sales and marketing, Om Books International in conversation with Smita Dwivedi at their opulent three-floor newly opened bookshop in Darya Ganj. He shared his unbiased opinion on books….business…and bestsellers. Om Books International is one of the largest English language trade publishers in the Indian subcontinent and has been a leading force in the Indian publishing and retail industry for several years. Headquartered in Noida, the company in over the last five decades; has established an international distribution network in the UK, the US, the Middle East, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Germany, France and Spain. It has an equally well-established distribution network under the name of Om Book Shop in Delhi, Gurgaon, NOIDA, Mumbai and Bengaluru.

“We opened this unit on September 4, 2014 and it serves dual purpose - we use it mainly for trade and we attract genuine retail buyers as well. There are 3,00,000 books displayed covering myriad genres and authors. And there are over one lakh titles, which we have in our inventory. Darya Ganj is hub of book buyers and sellers, so we are enjoying this environment. But, we have not promoted this bookshop till now… as we are still in the process of improvisation. Nevertheless, it will be done in a big way, during NDWBF 2015, where we are planning several promotional activities to introduce Om Books- Darya Ganj to the whole industry.”

About his entry into this industry, Sanjay shared, “I was only 16, when I joined book business in 1980s, when things were very different from now. I learnt everything by my own real-life experience. There was never a second thought or another choice for me to do anything else, but today I eat, sleep and breathe books. In today’s world, in any field a person cannot be successful unless one has a passion for the job and I feel equally passionate about books.”

Sharing more about Om Books, he added, “We have published popular and literary fiction including best-selling titles like Two Mothers and Other Stories by Khalid Mohamed, Three Sisters by Bi Feiyu (Man Asian Literary Award, 2010), The Kept Woman and Other Stories by Kamala Das, Delhi OMG! by Vinod Nair, Newsroom Live by Prabhat Shunglu, The Company RED by Shantanu Dhar, to name just a few. Amongst other genres, several cinema-related titles (under the imprint Spotlight) including Still Reading Khan by Mushtaq Shiekh; Shah Rukh Can by Mushtaq Shiekh; AR Rahman: The Spirit of Music, an authorised conversational biography by Nasreen Munni Kabir; I’ll Do It My Way: The Incredible Journey Of Aamir Khan by Christina Daniels; Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam: The Original Screenplay compiled by Dinesh Raheja and update Jitendra Kothari; The Original Screenplays of Lage Raho Munna Bhai and 3 Idiots; Bollywood in Posters by SMM Ausaja (shortlisted for Vodafone Crossword Award 2010 for non-fiction) are published.”

“We create bestselling authors, instead of buying bestsellers. For example, the book The Mahabharata Secret by Christopher C Doyle was a great hit. We do promote such books as they offer experiences besides expanding one’s knowledge.”

It is evident that reading habits have declined drastically over last decade. But according to Sanjay, one should always look for growth options, no matter whether the situations are favorable or not. That is why Om Books also publishes monographs and co-editions on art and architecture and photo essays. And other categories that feature in their publishing list are fashion and lifestyle, biographies, narrative non-fiction, mind, body, spirit, cookery and children’s books (under the imprint OmKidz.) Currently, they have eight bookshops in Delhi/NCR and planning to have more. Om Book Shop is a part of Om Books International, which has been a leading force in the Indian book market for several years.

“We have about 1,00,000 registered customers with the Om Book Privilege Loyalty Programme which offers them points, exclusive discounts and viagra women special offers. We also aim to popularize the Gift-a-book idea across our stores and deliver services like Dial-a-book which allows the customers to shop from their homes; and the efficient and helpful staff in the book stores assisting them in finding the right book or the right gift for the right occasion,” he added.

The conversation would have been incomplete without asking his views on online vs. brick and mortar bookshops and Sanjay shared, “Yes, online book selling has affected our retail sales. Huge discounts that are being offered online has to be taken seriously as it’s ill-practice. We need publishers’ support as well. We need to have certain guidelines to fix minimum price of a book. There should be a competition between offline and online sellers, but it has to be healthy. And premium products should never be offered with huge discounts as it makes real unpleasant situation for book retailers.”

“Selling books is not an easy business, but it is not difficult too,” he concluded.

The Federation of Educational Publishers in India (FEPI) organised a seminar on Challenges and Opportunities in Publishing Industry at Guwahati which was sponsored by the National Book Trust, India. The seminar was very well attended by booksellers, distributors and cialis available in india publishers from all over North-East India. Prof RS Dhillon welcomed the delegates and while introducing RK Gupta, president, FEPI, Prof Dhillon spoke a few lines about his achievements in the book publishing trade and as president of the federation.

RK Gupta said that problems faced by publishers are common in all parts of India. He said frequent changes in syllabus have become a major concern for all the publishers. “Even there are changes in the middle of the year. The problem of unsold books by booksellers and schools, rise in paper prices, rise in postal rates are some other problems which the publishers face continuously. To provide books in remote areas of the country is major challenge for private publishers. In spite of all these problems, Indian publishers are producing cheaper books when compared with foreign publications,” he said.

The basic problems of high freight cost and the time taken for the delivery of books from Delhi apart from issues like online book sale by flipkart, Amazon, etc. were also discussed.

A small book exhibition was also organised by the federation in which the following publishers from Delhi displayed their books: Laxmi Publications Pvt Ltd, Prachi (India) Pvt Ltd, Souvenir Publishers Pvt Ltd, S. Chand & Company Ltd and Jiwan Books International (P) Ltd.

The FEPI also organised a seminar on Challenges and Opportunities of Online Bookselling at Hyderabad. The seminar was very well attended by booksellers, distributors and publishers from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. The proceedings of the seminar were conducted by Ish Kapur, general secretary, FEPI. RK Gupta, president, shared the dais with Radhey Shyam Sharma, a veteran of book trade from Rajkamal Book Centre, Hyderabad.

Neeti Verma, sales director, Journals, e-books and Online Resources, Taylor & Francis India, shares her take on what she thinks about printed books and if those would sustain themselves over digital versions today. Ten years back, the online publishing business was a small set of business, with licensed content given to libraries, institutions, research institutes and labs. Taylor & Francis saw a lot of potential in online business and 5-6 years back, it became equivalent to the print business, doubling the business prospects. But, the sales approach to selling online products had to be different as the product is not tangible. It is delivered as well as seen online. So, a group of sales people were niche trained for online sales as here there is a fight for time and space. Discoverability of content is important and so people need to be constantly trained on that, said Neeti Verma, sales director, Journals, e-books and Online Resources, Taylor & Francis India, who has herself trained many sales people for the online business.

Neeti“But there is a fine balance between e-books and the printed books. Newspapers are being read, though news is available online. People read newspapers for the analytical articles. Though in books, the content is same for print and e-version. But, print will prevail…it is a slow-moving process,” she said. “Since, T&F is a reference publisher, it is easier for readers to go online, search what they require and work on an e-environment. But, the company has maintained the fine balance between both the versions and it is a content provider where medium really does not matter,” she added.

The year 2014 has been dominated by many new developments for the publishing industry in India. While universities across the country have been grappling with the concept of open access and the feasibility of turning a traditional model on its head while still remaining lucrative, publishers have enabled smaller, bite-sized content for use outside the context of articles and journals, leveraging supporting data, graphs, tables and charts to their advantage as separate entities in their own right. The mobile and smartphone technology became a rage providing knowledge on the move at universities, libraries and institutions. The most significant publishing trend has been the widespread acceptance of reading devices, which has further accelerated the growth of e-books. The T&F online content is available on all digital formats, such as mobile phones through iphone, Blackberry and Android services that cover 68 percent of the smartphone market and also includes tablet support.

Talking about their online resources, Neeti informed that they have around 2,000 journals, 45,000 e-books, 20-25 encyclopaedias which run on databases, 6-7 niche databases and archives with back issues of 2,000 journals. “Some of the institutes like IITs and IISERs have started asking for e-versions only as they are gradually migrating to e-libraries,” she said. And T&F ensures that it is easy for people to use online resources. “The company’s focus is to create robust systems in place. We believe in instinctive technology rather than trained technology. Our licence agreements make it mandatory to train the users but our websites are user-friendly, which really do not require much training. We are aggressively investing into people who can train and advise them,” added Neeti.

Neeti is optimistic about the digital business with the new government in place, which is no longer shying away from digital medium. “They are ready to experiment though treading cautiously,” she concluded.

–Varsha Verma

–India Habitat Centre language festival Samanvay The fourth edition of Samanvay: IHC Indian Languages festival was held successfully at India Habitat Centre from November 6-9, 2014. The theme of Samanvay 2014 was Bhashantar Deshantar: Translation Transnation and it focused on Indian languages which have a transnational presence. The central idea of the festival this year was to bring together authors and translators across languages and national borders. This year edition of Samanvay kindled a discourse on how languages and selves belittle borders and boundaries and mingle with each other. Rakesh Kacker, director of Samanvay, expressed pride at the opening ceremony of the festival and said that the festival which started three years ago as a rendezvous for different Indian languages has attained new heights. “IHC had always wanted to create a platform where authors of different languages could come together, their works could be discussed, and readers and aesthetes could interact with them. This platform shall endeavour that people come to know, enjoy, and appreciate the beauty and nuances of different languages and ensure that the audience is able to relate to the feelings underlying their writings and voice their views on them,” he said.

Ashok Vajpeyi, the eminent Hindi poet and literary-cultural critic, delivered the inaugural lecture. Vajpeyi was later conferred the Samanvay Bhartiya Bhasha Samman Award as well, an award that was constituted by Samanvay two years ago to be given in a language every year. Vajpeyi amused, beguiled and at the same time amazed the audience with the sheer directness of his speech and the clarity of his thought. The following session was a tribute to the literary giants UR Ananthamurthy, Rajendra Yadav, Nabarun Bhattacharya, Khushwant Singh and Bipan Chandra who passed away this year.

The opening session of the day 2 saw the panelists voice their opinions on the schism between serious literature and popular literature in India while the second session revolved around the principal theme of the festival Bhashantar Deshantar: Translation Transnation. Other interesting sessions included that on languages of Bastar - Halbi, Dorli, Bharti et al and ‘Kiska Shahar, Kiski Zuban’.

The opening session on Day 3 was on poems while the second session focused on Konkani literature. Other informative sessions threw spotlight on Hindi, Sanskrit and Punjabi. The session Kahaani Filmi Nahin Hai witnessed a packed audience as the panelists comprised of Bollywood bigshots – actors Vinay Pathak and Saurabh Shukla, screenwriter Sanjay Chouhan and film-maker Anusha Rizvi. Moderator Mayank Shekhar, who is a film-critic, elaborated how the word ‘filmi’ in Mumbai connotes a background of Bollywood personalities.

The concluding day of Samanvay began with a session on the love-hate relationship between poetry and the idea of nation. The next session ‘My Body, My Text’ had India’s leading activists discussing issues concerning LGBT community and women. In the session on Malayali columnist KR Meera elaborated the challenges of translation that the Malayali literature, even literature of pan-Indian nature, faces. While, the session on Bangla that followed revolved around the theme ‘One language, two countries’. The penultimate session was an extremely informative session on Right to Information Act.

India Habitat Centre’s Annual Languages’ Festival Samanvay is held in collaboration with National Book Trust, India.

In this ambiguous world, each one of us is constantly in the race to create an identity. Janani Rajeswari S features four authors who have tried to explore this concept through their books in different forms and ways. On one hand is an author who delves into the life of Manipur, another one talks of mother-in-laws, while another focuses on Indian Americans while one on manual scavengers.

For a life of dignity

Book: Unseen
Author: Bhasha Singh
Publisher: Penguin Books India

Bhasha SinghFirst brush with reality It all began with an article on manual scavengers. “Being a journalist, we wish to explore different angles to a subject. I was shocked when I came to know that this heinous act of manual scavenging still exists in Jhunjhunu in Rajasthan through Sreelata Swaminathan, a co m r a d e . I t wa s unimaginable that caste exists in such a barbaric form,” says Bhasha Singh.

After that, there was no stopping and has grown to become the biggest irony to expose why it exists even in 2014.

Women as manual scavengers

The book traces the personal accounts of Bhasha Singh who interacted with the women who are still into the practice in various regions of the country. The whole practice has its roots in caste and gender exploitation in the cruelest form, according to Bhasha. “Owing to the casteist mindset, we think that people belong to certain castes should clean dry toilets, open drains, septic tanks, sewer, etc,” she adds.

More so, patriarchy was essentially the reason why women are asked to clean dry toilets. “One could also blame it on their caste, family and the political-socio set up,” she’s quick to add. They are carrying night soil from many generations and this caste system has made them believe that they are meant to do this work.

Also, it becomes a legacy that is handed on to the daughters-in-law by their mothers-in-law. In her book, Bhasha points out that some daughters-in-law were welcomed into their husband’s home with a broom and the basket used for manual scavenging. Ironically, there was a sense of pride in this act till they realised the need for liberation from this act.

Path to freedom

‘Safai Karamchari Andolan (SKA)’, a community-based organisation is dedicated to the cause has been a catalyst for change. “They were able to bring this issue into limelight at national level with more than three decades of endless effort. It focuses on women from the manual scavenging community,” reveals Bhasha.

“Their intervention has strengthened the urge to get rid of the hell. Women are liberating themselves and dry toilets have been demolished. So, the situation has changed and improved. But still septic tank cleaning is there and sewer cleaning is done manually.

Success stories that went beyond obstacles

But struggle is not all as the book also records success stories. “You can find Narayan Amma in Anantpur, Santosh in Haryana, Meena in Delhi, Kusmi in Patna and so on who were also doomed for generations to this practice. Their initial battle is with themselves - that they can do something other than cleaning human shit,” explains Bhasha. She adds that these women made up their minds that their daughters and sons would never do what they did.

“Issue of dignity and conviction are foremost. First, they speak openly about the issue, they then decide to come out from the hell and then they stick to it for life,” she points out.

But the path to rehabilitation is never an easy one. Obstacles come in the form of family set-up and caste hierarchy. “They (women) try to discourage them by saying that other world is not possible,” she says. But these women manage this front and in many cases they become co-operative also. But the biggest hurdle is political apathy and castiest administration. Their rehabilitation benefits are not given to them.

“The State and leaders are shamelessly in denial mode. They have not even utilised the money allotted for rehabilitation. It was with the force of people movement that the Union Government brought in the new legislation,” she reveals.

The future and winning the war

The tale of Narayan Amma from Andhra Pradesh is that of a woman who fought to make her state manual scavengingfree.“ She came out with vision of Wilson Bezwada—a new beginning,” says Bhasha. She assures that it is also happening in other states.

On a personal front, Bhasha says that this exercise changed her life entirely. “Now I think I am also a solider to end this inhumane barbaric practice. It has helped me understand the process of De-caste and its importance. Being a writer I can report and visualise how things are moving and how justice should be restored. I wish this book to become a weapon in this crusade,” says a confident Bhasha.

In the hearth of Manipur

Book: On a Fine Day, You Can See India
Author: C Balagopal
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers India

C BalagopalBalagopal began his professional career as a probationary IAS officer in Manipur in the late 70s. “My book is an anecdotal account of my first impressions about the land,” he explains. It was mélange of awe, discovery and revelations. “I believe that IAS, IPS officers possess a very rich source of personal accounts. However, we are not great chroniclers,” he admits. But for a person known to be a natural storyteller among his friends, Balagopal reveals that finding his own voice was the greatest challenge while turning a writer.

A refreshing take on Manipur

The work on his debut novel began nearly four years ago and was completed in just two months. But what was the need for such a refreshing account?

“When I was in Manipur in the 70s, I tried locating books about the place. But I only found books that are written before Independence. However, why would you read the old account about the state? We all want to read something new,” he points out. Thus, Balagopal goes beyond the geography of Manipur chronicling his experiences. So, he keeps the tone conversational while spicing it up conversations, incidents and anecdotes.

“This helped me think as a 25-year-old at 60 years which is otherwise very difficult,” he adds. The idea behind the book was essentially to present a worm’s eye view i.e. a common man’s take on Manipur. So, he chose to make common people the characters of his book. For instance, Nair Saab created a police wireless on a shoestring budget with available local materials. Or sample the ‘Magic Jeep’ from where we could speak to anyone, district officers and so on.

A closer view

He admits that Manipur, according to him, was always shrouded in mysticism and is no different today. “Manipur is not too far or different from other parts of the country geographical but really more psychologically. So, people from the North-East are still not considered part of India,” he adds. He says the fact that people from the North-East region are not Indians is deep-seated. “Back then, out of the 30 IAS officers posted, not even one was a Manipuri. It felt like a colonial administration,” Balagopal explains.

Bridging the gap

Going a step further, the book offers solutions to some existing problems such as creating jobs for the Manipuri. He ends the book with an essay on what Manipur is. Balagopal says that it was an interesting addition to his book. “My editor felt that is was a cut off from the old accounts about the region,” he says.

He further adds that the response has been well resonating. “I have tried to keep the book biased yet not biased. Many people from the region have thanked me for that and I am grateful for it.” Further, he hopes that his book would motivate more babus and ex-babus to write their experiences in various regions across the country.

The ‘real’ Americans

Book: The Americans
Author: Chitra Viraraghavan
Publisher: Fourth Estate

Chitra ViraraghavanChitra Viraraghavan has been into in some form or the other. But her association w i t h f i c t i o n b e g a n w i t h writing short stories. This w a s a r o u n d nine years ago. Talking about her foray, she s a y s : “ M o s t writers’ lives are shaped by the fact of their being readers from a very early age. Mine was no different. All the reading gives you refuge; it also shows you what is wrong with the world. Most writers are uncomfortable people and write from a place of discomfort, of wanting things to be different and better, somehow.”

Indians or Americans?

Her debut novel The Americans explores the life of a particular group of people who are constantly are torn between two different societies and constantly trying to create an identity for themselves.

“I’ve had the opportunity to observe these people, both in the US and in India, when they come visiting to either of the nations. They come here and are ‘Americans’; but their identities back in the US are not so clear-cut,” she begins explaining. In a sense, they are ‘American’ to all of us. She adds that it might be a matter of pride for them. However, the book tries to delve into what really is their social position in their adopted homeland. “Also, I thought it was high time an Indian writing from an Indian point of view turned the gaze back on this community, members of which are always advising us and writing about us,” says Chitra.

The Americans’ identity

Talking about Indian Americans and Indians, naming the novel ‘The Americans’ seemed interesting. “The title was meant to be somewhat ironic trying to speak of the distance between perception and reality in terms of identity. It was really about wanting to belong, of not belonging to a place and the effect it has on a person,” she explains.

So, how would Chitra define ‘Identities’? “In the modern world, identities are constantly negotiated, aren’t they?” she asks. She adds that when you have a sense of otherness from the mainstream, the quest to belong to an invisible majority that is predominant in the world becomes critical to one’s sense of identity. “This is a phenomenon that exists as much in India as elsewhere in the world. Every aspect of life comes to be defined by one’s distance or closeness to that so-called ideal position. This is what I’ve tried to explore from different points of view and situations in my book,” says Chitra.

Protagonist and others

Tara is the heroine of Chitra’s book in every sense. She is bound to the USA to meet her sister’s family. She is the linking character in the novel with the ten other characters in the book. Each of the ten narrates his/her own stories from their own point of view. “Tara is the character that holds the narrative together in different ways,” she says. So, is Tara inspired by someone whom Chitra knows? Yes and no, clarifies Chitra. “As far as I used my experiences of living and observing things in the US to create her. She, like many of the other characters in the book, has some very dramatic things happening to her, things that could happen only in fiction,” she says.

Each character is unique. While a majority of them are entangled in web of making sense of their identity. Some are embroiled in a world of their own like little Rahul who is autistic.

“In a way, I suppose this character could symbolise all the others. Each one is trying to make sense of a world that bewilders them in some way, to which they do not fully belong for various reasons,” says Chitra. According to her, it is an attempt to present different characters in widely differing situations and allowing the emergence of the questions of identity from that.

The Mummy-ji tales

Book: Mother-in-Law: The Other Woman in Your Marriage
Author: Veena Venugopal
Publisher: Penguin Books India

The break and ‘Mother-in-law’

Veena VenugopalFor journalist Veena Venugopal, writing books happened organically. An avid blogger on reading and books, she was approached by her first publisher to do a collection of essays on the topic. “It (Would You Like Some Bread With That Book?) was a fun book and my only focus was on keeping it honest and interesting.”

Her second book came in the form of The Mother-in-Law: The Other Woman in Your Marriage. “ C h i k i Sarkar of Penguin wanted someone to write on the unique Indian phenomenon of mothers-in-law. I wasn’t sure as my relationship with my mother-in-law was at times okay and at times rocky. But when I started talking about the book, every time someone heard mother-in-law, they jumped in to say that I should write about them,” she reveals. Simply put as ‘Pentheraphobia’ (Fear of Mummy-ji).

Reality bites

Though initially she researched for a funny book, Veena realised that certain experiences are often dark and very traumatic. “I realised that a lot of people were desperate to talk about their situation. A marriage is a bit of a windowless box. You can’t talk about your mother-in-law too much to your husband because he eventually feels defensive about her. Your own parents would rather not hear the gory details and feel bad because unless there is abuse, their advice is largely that these things happen and you should ‘adjust’,” she explains.

Largely written from the daughterin- law’s perspective, some characters are juxtaposed. What, according to her, is ‘Mother-in-law’? “Control freak, obsessed mother, confused custodian of culture and traditions. I discovered that this is the worst generation for Mummy-ji conflicts,” she says. The gap has widened because of educated and worldly daughters-in-law and Mummy-jis who are still stuck with pre-liberalisation values. So, the educated, urban, Englishspeaking, middle-class women married to Indian men are the heroines of this nonfiction work who talk about their lives.

The accounts range from shocking to harrowing ones. “Keisha is a victim of mental and physical abuse, as well as a survivor of marital rape. Her mother-inlaw was witness to most of it. Keisha was treated like a domestic help at home. It was shocking because Keisha is someone like us – if you passed by her in a street you’d never guess the trauma she has gone through,” she says.

The ‘Adarsh bahu’

The concept of ‘Adarsh bahus’ also varies from region to region. “The north Indian mother-in-law has rather rigid notions of how she should dress and conduct oneself. She is often adamant that the daughterin- law should be a housewife and not a career-oriented woman. The south Indian mother-in-law is a little easier on both these counts,” she explains.

While asserting the concept of ‘Adarsh bahu’ on one hand, on the other hand they offer solace to these traumatised women. “It’s a bit of a vicious cycle between real life and soaps. Keisha revealed that watching soaps made her feel she wasn’t the only one suffering and that her life was normal,” says Veena.

Read and accepted?

Veena reveals that it was a difficult book to write. “The response has been great so far by reaching out to two kinds of readers: those who feel grateful that their mothersin- law aren’t as bad as some of those in the book and those who feel happy that there are other people who are going through similar stuff,” she adds.

The book offers other solutions that might help the daughters-in-law. On the future, she opines, “My sense is that in another generation, when these young, educated daughters-in-law become mothers-in-law, they would be far more liberal and emotionally less high strung. For now though, the era is modern but Mummy-ji is not,” she says.