A Hindi novel was selected for Booker. But at home, authors like Vinod Shukla receive a misery
HIndian literature is getting international recognition, but at the same time renowned authors at home are not even getting the royalty they deserve. Geetanjali Shree’s sand tombinitially Ret Samadhi in Hindi, was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize 2022. Translated by Daisy Rockwell, the book is the first work of fiction in the Hindi language to be shortlisted for the prestigious literary prize.
The translation of literature into English rarely conveys the beauty and nuances of the language itself. This is one of the main reasons why English translations from other regional languages are often considered insufficient. It is often said that the translated versions do not have the same literary value as the original. Corn sand tomb rekindled hope among regional authors and readers that translations may prove closer to the original novel.
This is great news for Hindi readers, but it also comes at a time when we have just witnessed a new low in terms of publishers exploiting Hindi authors. Actor and author Manav Kaul recently shared a video on Instagram, in which prominent Hindi writer Vinod Kumar Shukla accuses his publishers of paying him hardship for years. The 86-year-old writer, who won the Sahitya Akademi Prize for his book Deewar Mein Ek Khidki Rahti Thi, said he only got Rs 1.35 lakh in the past 25 years from Vani Prakashan, while Rajkamal Books paid him Rs 14,000 a year for six books. Both are leading Hindi language publishing houses.
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The double standards
The publisher versus author debate over royalty is not something new, especially for Hindi and regional languages. For Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’, Jawaharlal Nehru once had to step in when the poet complained about not getting enough royalties for his books. But in this new era where readers are better informed, thanks to social media, and have a direct link with authors, the arbitrariness of publishing houses with regard to payment makes no sense.
Novelist Surendra Mohan Pathak once said in an interview that no Hindi writer can run his house just by writing. Mainstays like Mohan Rakesh and Kamleshwar used to work full time in addition to writing. The trend continues today. Novels and books by inferior English authors can help them earn millions; they are invited to reality shows, literature festivals and films are made based on their novels. But you only realize the fate of a Hindi author when a Bollywood actor posts a video about his situation.
I don’t think any Hindi or regional writer aspires to that kind of fame, but giving them royalties for their hard work and talent is the least the publishers can do. We can feel as happy as we wish for the international recognition of any of our Indian language works, but as committed readers of the language, we cannot ignore the plight of our beloved authors. When this can happen to a prestigious Sahitya Akademi award-winning author, imagine where the small, young and unnoticed regional authors are.
Views are personal.
(Editing by Anurag Chaubey)