Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Commentary - Will Hindi Literature have Best Sellers again after decades?

For several decades after independence, the phrase ‘Hindi bestseller’ had acquired the status of an oxymoron. The reasons are many – being associated with the freedom movement, the ardour for Hindi cooled, the publishers began to depend on bulk supplies to institutions and libraries, often paying a pittance to the writers. Add to it the sharp turn towards ‘elitism’ that Hindi literature took in the 1960s and you begin to get a very rough idea of this rarely investigated decline. But Hindi was growing on a simmer – with big leaps in literacy, the newspaper circulation figures exploded by the 1990s and continue to grow even though Hindi pulp fiction saw a decline in the new millennium.  It has indeed taken around three generations or more after independence to meaningfully utter the phrase ‘Hindi bestseller’ even though we may only be at the threshold of a phenomenon that may face further hiccups.

The good news comes from some unlikely sources – according to a recent report in the press, ‘Hindi-language books are having their moment on Amazon’ seeing a 60 per cent growth of sales in the last six months. On the other hand the selection of books saw a 40 per cent jump in the same period bringing more titles into the market. If this is not enough there are some new stars emerging in the Hindi literary sphere – they are still pygmies compared to a Premchand or a Renu but they have begun to create a significant body of admirers and buyers. A report on some of them such as Ravish Kumar [yes, of NDTV fame], woman writer Anu Singh Chowdhary, Divya Prakash Dubey and Satya Vyas have opened some new literary avenues for popular [but non-pulp] Hindi literature. And this is by no means the end of the list.

Looking at the figures from Amazon.in, one wonders if Hindi literature has all along suffered from a supply chain glitch at the hands of the conventional publisher-retailer. This is a matter that requires a close study and no conclusions can be drawn in a hurry. But the very fact that an impersonal sales portal proves more successful in selling Hindi books certainly tempts one to wonder. Perhaps the most striking thing about the Amazon report is the transparency of the figures. It is generally impossible to get precise figures from Hindi publishers who have forever complained of a perpetually dull market.

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