Interview of Aditi Maheshwari, Director Vani Prakashan,Christian Weiß ,publisher of Indian books in German translation with Namita Khare 

Namita Khare 

Today we have Christian Weiß and Aditi Maheshwari with us. Perhaps both of you would like to say a few words about your publishing houses as a starting point. Please, Christian Weiß, publisher of Indian books in German translation.

Christian Weiß

Photo source: https://www.rnz.de/kultur-tipps/literatur_artikel,-Literatur-Auf-der-Esoterik-Welle-surft-er-nicht-_arid,259054.html Foto: Friederike Hentschel

 

My publishing house is Draupadi Verlag and it was founded in 2003. Its focus from the beginning was on Indian literature, especially in Indian languages Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, and so on. Over the time, it expanded to other South Asian countries, to German literature and to literature from Africa, but the focus is still Indian literature. Until now we have published more than 150 books, among them more than 21 books as direct translations from Hindi to German, and … six from Tamil, six from Bengali, and so on.

Aditi Maheshwari

Namaste. I’m Aditi. Thank you, Christian, for introducing an already popular Draupadi Verlag to us. When our Indian language publishers go to Frankfurt Book Fair, they always have Draupadi Verlag on their itinerary as a point of meeting, because they really see that your publication list has a very, very bright point for Indian languages literature. Glad to meet you here. And I am Aditi from Vani Prakashan group. And Vani Prakashan has been publishing majorly in Hindi language since the last 58 years. It was established in 1963. And we published over 7500 books so far. It is amazing to see how as we are nearing our 60th year, we’re also diversifying our portfolio into various Indian languages, including English. And a lot has been happening on the translation front, ah in the sense that we’ve just sold about 38 books as Chinese translation rights. We are doing a white knight series from Norway to English as a part of the Vani’s white knight series.

We’ve just done Persepolis in Hindi. It just came from press. And it’s been translated from French to Hindi for the first time and this one is looking very exciting for everyone. Especially the young readers here and graphic novels is very new in Hindi. In fact, from German, Franz Hohler – please excuse me if the pronunciation goes wrong somewhere – his book, Das große Buch. The Big Book and which has translated into Hindi as Meri Badi Kitaab. It’s, it’s about children’s book, that are not done traditionally, in our part of the world. So we found that, there was a cultural difference and therefore, you know, more to talk about it in this evening. So how do we fill these gaps? That’s one of my concerns, of course with Namita ji we published Herta Müller’s Nobel Award winning, I mean, her portfolio is so big but we did Atemschaukel as Bhookh Ka Vyakaran, the Grammar of Hunger in.

Namita Khare

So both of you publish a lot of translations, where do you see the position of translated literatures in your countries? How are they placed? How do you see that it will have a better placement?

Christian Weiß

I think Germany has a long tradition of translating literature, especially from English and from French. Translating from Indian languages has not a long tradition. It’s quite a new phenomenon. And, but I think in the last decades, it has grown. And also at the universities, there are more courses now on literary translation. And so in this way, I think situation has improved. It’s better now than let’s say 50 years ago. And so, here I can see how Heinz Werner Wessler, Ines Fornell, Almuth Degener they are all wonderful translators and these people that they can help us to, to produce more translations in the future.

Namita Khare

Aditi, the focus areas of Vani Prakashan is translated literatures. How do you see German literature or let’s put it in a larger context, European literature in translation in the Hindi speaking world?

Aditi Maheshwari 

I think the history of German literature getting translated into Hindi has been beautiful. The list that is out there, not only through Vani, but through other publishing houses has been very, very encouraging. Sometimes the encouragement doesn’t come really from the sales numbers, it may not be commercially very viable all the time. But at the same time, these are the books that bring so much diversity and variety to our list, and makes us a truly international, forward looking publishing house that believes in seeing as many stories as possible. So as far as that is concerned, I am very positive about you know, translations. The biggest point, however, is about getting the funding for paying the translators, which is one of the most important key areas that I think our Indian languages program lacks in a big way.

Heinz Werner Wessler

The Indian book market is still much depending on governmental institutions that buy the books and how is the market is it really true that people are interested in foreign literature? I mean, how many copies would you sell? Many argue that the Bengali book market is much easier, rather few people read Hindi books, the younger generation switches to English anyway or they doesn’t read at all. How do you react to these statements?

Aditi Maheshwari

So it is true that books are competing with not only books right now, they are competing with Netflix and Amazon Primes of the world. And as we are getting the situation in India right now is that maybe we are loving and hating each other in our mother tongues, but we are aspiring and dreaming in English. So it is becoming harder by the day to push the books in Indian languages, especially on the metro bookstores specially to get a bookshelf space for even important big names. For example, if you walk into a shopping mall and a bookstore there, it will be very hard to find literary piece on a bookshelf, whereas you may find Mark Manson’s book, which is an American bestseller a self-help book on a complete window space. So this is the situation whereas however, you know there is a multiple reality kind of a scenario in India. If you go to the second tier and the third tier town, for example, my team is exhibiting at this moment at Lucknow which is the capital of Uttar Pradesh biggest state in India and is a Hindi speaking state. So they are having amazing footfall there. In fact, a lot of books have run out and we are sending new stock from Delhi.

Heinz Werner Wessler

I’m happy to hear this. How would you say what is your ratio? How do you comment on the success of Yugma publications in Hindi? They’re really selling in the street cheap editions, paperback editions? Do you compete with them or is Vani Prakashan more a publication house for high literature? Like Herta Müller and all these nice German authors?

Aditi Maheshwari

In fact, when we did Herta Müller, we did it in hardback and paperback edition both. So both the editions brought together. In fact, a lot of books have been done in such a way that the paperback, hardback and student editions they are all done together. Because, as I said, we are living in a multiple reality world. So in Vani Prakashan, we are doing paperbacks in a very big way. Because it’s very accessible for general reader and hardbacks. Of course, they have to be done because our government policy requires us to do hardbacks if the government libraries want to buy those books.

Heinz Werner Wessler

Is publishing still much dependent on government libraries and government institutions to order books in larger numbers?

Aditi Maheshwari

Not really, not really it’s a part of the boutique portfolio wherein general readership is as much as a part of the government purchases, of course, the government is the biggest buyer in our country, no doubt about that. Social media have done so much for making sure that the books are reaching out to the younger audience. That has really helped us, because we are very active on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. But at the same time, we are also making sure that we are participating in these small and big book fairs that are happening in nooks and corners of the country, we are doing about 40 book fairs every year, and we are participating in, and they range from, you know, a small book fair at the college level. And the New Delhi World Book Fair, which is the largest in the country is happening virtually though, and we have our own online bookstore. And we are we are making sure that whosoever comes into the shop of Vani Prakashan doesn’t leave without a book. So it has to be a book for everybody. Whether it’s a housewife or kid or a scholar or a student, or a connoisseur of literature, whosoever maybe they should have a book from Vani.

Heinz Werner Wessler

Christian, may I ask a question to you, you will be happy, very happy to have heard from Aditi that she knows about you and the Frankfurt Book Fair and the importance of Draupadi Verlag. You have published many books and we all appreciate this very, very much, but it’s a small market segment you serve. Do you think you can reach out to the larger public?

Christian Weiß

If I want to compete with international stars like Arundhati Roy, that’s simply out of reach. They sell millions of books, and I will never do that. But when we speak about Hindi literature, I would like to refer to Uday Prakash and Geetanjali Shree as examples. I can tell you some numbers. So from Geetanjali Shree, Mai and Uday Prakash, Doktor Wakankar. I think in Hindi, it’s Aur Ant Mein Prarthana I could sell more than 1000 copies. So you can say this is not much compared with Arundhati Roy, but I think it’s quite okay. That was possible because both of them Uday Prakash and Geetanjali Shree came to Germany. And then we had reading sessions with them. And, and Germans like to do that they like to go to a reading session, and then here, meet the author talk with them. And then if they like this reading session, then they buy the books. So and and in this way, I’m quite happy. The most successful Draupadi book was by Baby Halder’s. That is not from Hindi. I think it was originally written in Bengali, and then translated from English. I think you know that Zubaan brought that out, Baby Halder, A life less ordinary. And Draupadi Verlag could sell more than 2500 copies. A bigger publishing house we are collaborating with, Unionsverlag, brought out a licensed edition of the Draupadi title and they could sell more than 5000 copies. So for this book, more than seven thousand.

Heinz Werner Wessler

Unionsverlag also publishes E-books on your behalf…

Christian Weiß

Yes, Draupadi Verlag and Unionsverlag are cooperating, and we reach out to another and more broader public in this way. Some of our best books we give to Unionsverlag. E-book editions come out under the label of Unionsverlag. I’m quite happy about this cooperation.

Heinz Werner Wessler

E-book edition. Do you also go into the growing E-book market, Aditi?

Aditi Maheshwari

Yes, we have E-books as well as audio books. So we have about 300 audio books out in Hindi. And we are doing it on Google Play Books and Kindle both.

Heinz Werner Wessler

Christian maybe one question more, since you mentioned Uday and Geetanali Shree. We as translators from Indian languages have been taught the linguistic skills, but we don’t learn the art of translation in our study programs, which is a big problem. I think it’s also a problem with translations from Hindi into English. I’ve seen a lot of bad English translations of Hindi novels. I think there is harm on the image of Hindi literature because of this. There is a lack of professionalism, and at the same time of career options. What I see in the world of Hindi in the German speaking region – in recent years, I have seen how three young and gifted talents gave up. Wonderful young persons who were very good in translation. They went into other professions because you cannot make a living with Hindi. It’s different from Chinese or so – with Chinese you can always find jobs. Hindi is without much job perspective, except very few academic positions – other Indian languages are even more problematic.

Christian Weiß

I agree with you, I really tried to promote these young people. And, but even for me, it’s not easy to survive. If you are translator from Hindi to German, you have to find means of survival. Maybe it’ll be better in another ten years. We should nevertheless encourage young people to translate books and we should try to support them.

Heinz Werner Wessler

Aditi Maheshwari, you mentioned the problem of funding of translations into Indian language and from Indian languages on the international level. This issue has been raised some years back from governmental institutions. The Indian Literature Abroad (ILA) scheme was created, about 15 years ago or so, there was a lot of effort put into it, and we were quite optimistic for some time about it – but it never really materialized, it kind of expired before it was born. Is there is a hope that finally something similar to this, and in a more functional way, will come up in future?

Aditi Maheshwari

We are really hoping for it. We submitted a letter to the education minister, and we really wanted to draw his attention towards this important point: Where is the attraction for an international translator to look at books from India, if they are not paid well? Of course ILA was conceived by some very important literary figures of our country, but somehow it just died in bureaucracy and I really hope that the government revives that project. I totally understand the space from where Christian and Draupadi Verlag is coming. It also has to do with the role of English. English translations, of course, may not be helping the real texture of the original Indian language. However, if English is the link language, then so be it, then we have to really take that route if it helps the book and the author,

Salman Abbas

Do you think you have in the future any chance of having real tough competition in your area? In terms of Indian translations? Translations, from Indian languages into German? Are you having a monopoly over it?

Christian Weiß

I don’t have a monopoly. I never had it. And I think I will never have it. I like to cooperate with other publishing houses. If there were other publishers who would do the same thing on the German book market, which means publish direct translations from Indian languages, we could make agreements and I would certainly welcome that. For the time being, however, there is no such publisher on the German market.

Heinz Werner Wessler

Aditi Maheshwari, if I may ask, how do you finance all these translations into Hindi? Is this market segment basically paying out? Is there occasional funding from other sides?

Aditi Maheshwari

Honestly, if we had to pay the translators on our own, then our list would be so much focused on very, very big names or on internationally acclaimed books, but when we are finding the finer voices. Tomas Tranströmer came to our list nine years before he was awarded with the Nobel Award. Such things are happening only because of the virtue of these amazing translators, like Namita Khare we have here. because they are the ones who are opening our windows to the linguistic world that we don’t understand. As far as the payouts are concerned, they are not becoming as commercially viable as they could. For example, Christian talked about Uday Prakash ji and Geetanjali Shree ji. They are top on the list of Hindi authors right now. Their books do well, but my concern is about those finer voices that are contemporary, that are in the queue.

Christian Weiß

I heard that Seagull Publications is doing a lot of translations from German literature. And I heard they get much money from the Foreign Office in Germany. Did you try to get funding from the foreign office for translation and publication?

Aditi Maheshwari

Yes, a couple of projects got help, in the sense that they helped us with the translation costs. For example, Goethe Institute supported Herta Müller’s translations. Naveen Kishore from Seagull is looking at a bigger list. And because I go and teach at his school each year, I understand that there is a logic in that list. And there’s a huge commitment. So whereas his Indian contemporary list is not as strong as his international translation list, I think it’s the focus that matters.

Chandrika Kumar

A lot of book shops have closed in recent years. New shops are not coming. In the shopping malls also, there is very little space for literature. Someone who wants to read something really good, serious, important has to depend on online portals. Ordering books online and going into a bookshop are different, the common space of reading culture is dwindling with the bookshops.

Heinz Werner Wessler

I think these are two questions, one on the changing book markets, and on the effect of the corona crisis on this transformation. And the second is in general on the changing habits concerning reading and on the future of the book in general.

Aditi Maheshwari

I totally relate with you when you say that the bookshops are dwindling, especially in the Corona pandemic leashed out the independent bookstores, which are actually the places of real discoverability. It’s not the corporate bookstores, because the corporate bookstores will always be looking at the bestsellers list, at the self-help list, at the commercial lists. So the independent bookstores have taken a backlash and what hurts me the most, because I also have four bookstores running in four different cities of the country is that the pressure we have to sell more stationery because of the GST guidelines, which are so complicated. And I see my bookseller bookstore managers constantly trying to convince me that this this part of the store should be given to the daily or notebook section or a toy section, or, you know, it hurts every day. But the commercial cycles that our society has gotten into is painful. When we talk about discoverability I really think that’s where the social media has to be put to use. Because even though the online bookstores are very limiting in their scope, as far as we can go out and see the books and understand which author has been doing what kind of work.

Christian Weiß

I’ve heard that there are so many festivals now Jaipur Literature Festival and Hyderabad and I heard that there are…. every year there are new festivals, and it’s a chance for you to sell books.

Aditi Maheshwari

These literature festivals have opened up the arenas for discussion about the books they have given a new exposure to the authors. But if I have to talk about sales, they have not been very encouraging at the literature festivals. We just found that wherever the literature festival was happening, we’ll sell about five to 10 copies of a big bestseller book, whereas in a book fair, we will sell about 200 copies of that same book where there are no events happening around that book. I don’t know how to explain this. The Jaipur literature festival is so prestigious for an author to be there, to talk about the book, to have a book launch and to get all the press mileage one could get. But there are no sales happening there, maybe about 20 to 50 copies. Whereas on the New Delhi World Book Fair, where there is no large scale event happening, we sell about 200 to 250 copies of the same book.

Heinz Werner Wessler

Christian Weiß, do you sell a lot during these author readings? Is this this wonderful reading culture that Aditi was speaking about in Germany that is it a myth or is truth?

Christian Weiß

We have quite a lot of smaller literary festivals in Germany. For example in Heidelberg, that was a festival and two years ago Sara Rai was there and that was a wonderful reading program.

Heinz Werner Wessler

Maybe you should explain, you sent her around three weeks all over Germany. So you have your network to send there too. And it works on a half private basis, but it works very well.

Christian Weiß

Yes. It’s a low budget issue, and it works only because of a network of persons devoted tot he course. Sara Rai had about 10 to 15 readings or so in Germany.

Christian Weiß

In a good reading session, I can sell 50 or 100 copies. Another important sales tool are book reviews. If one of the big newspapers or magazines like Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Neue Zuercher Zeitung or Die Zeit publishes a review, I can sell 100 copies or more within a short time, but it’s very difficult to get access to these newspapers.

Heinz Werner Wessler

But you have made it, you have made it quite a number of times. haven’t you?

Christian Weiß

Yes, and that’s it’s really a success story – but marketing is hard work. Reading tours, festivals and newspapers and radio is also important – we have very literary review programs on radio in Germany – the combination of these makes the sales. Otherwise, sales in bookshops are rather low. The large publication houses dominate the bookshops.

Heinz Werner Wessler

Do you see the future for Draupadi Verlag in the cooperation with the big publishing house like Unionsverlag?

Christian Weiß

The book shops are still important, but it’s very difficult. The big bookshops, they order books from the big publishers. And the well-known international authors, the stars, and the big bookshops, they don’t like small publishers. And it’s very difficult for me to get there. They don’t like Indian books because they know that they don’t sell big numbers.

Heinz Werner Wessler

And at the same time, the big the big players of the German markets hardly ever publish a translation from Indian languages except Alka Saraogi’s Kalikatha: Via Bypass many years back…

Christian Weiß

…in the last 50 years, there was only one novel one Hindi novel translated directly from Hindi to German, published by a big German publishing house, only this one.

Heinz Werner Wessler

The small publication house A1 publication house in Munich managed to have Kiran Nagarkar on their list. Kiran Nagarkar has quite a name. He was not with a big publishing house, but he was with a smaller one. So there are these cases, but it’s not very common.

Aditi Maheshwari

I went all the way to Munich, to meet the the head of Hanser Verlag. This was in 2012, again, and we had a long discussion about how he’s looking at E-books, how he’s looking at the Indian list. For somebody who’s produced books of over 13 Nobel laureates, I really found Hanser’s list very interesting. At the same time, I understood that the size of a publishing house can be a huge hindrance in opening up their gates to yet undiscovered literatures and new voices in general. In fact, Aufbau publishing house once told me that the translated literature list in general is rather small, not many translated books make it to their bookshelves. The Indian market is slightly different in the sense that translated literature does find to the bookshelf, the problem is that the bookshelf in itself is shrinking.

Namita Khare

Aditi, basically I want to report to you that during this meet, the side, which is planning to translate from German into Hindi, we are contemplating whether we should translate German crime fiction into Hindi. So I’m now coming to you as a translator. How do you see it as a publisher? Do you think it is a good idea to do crime fiction in Hindi?

Aditi Maheshwari

I understood on my trip to Germany that there are dedicated bookstores to sell the crime fictions that are constructed as if they are a crime scene. They are actually selling the entire experience of crime fiction reading, which is so big and so beautiful in Germany. We saw some Hindi translations of Scandinavian crime fiction in the past, but I don’t think they did as well as they did in English language. We would love to know how we can culturally communicate about the entire story to convince the reader that this is the story to be read after our own homegrown Byomkesh Bakshi. And of course Surendra Mohan Pathak, their books are still selling like hotcakes. So we have to understand how we can bridge these things. And of course, new markets should be explored.

Heinz Werner Wessler

High quality literary detective stories are quite common on the German market nowadays. When I see Anjali Deshpande’s Hatya, I feel something similar is coming up in Hindi as a kind of genre.

Aditi Maheshwari

The gap between the so called high and the so called popular is reducing by the day. The overall understanding that popular is bad, because popular is made popular by the sheer number of acceptance has to be revised. We have to start respecting the popular because it has a huge potential of becoming a classic tomorrow. So that is the kind of ideology shift, at least I can see that Vani Prakashan is becoming a part of.

 

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