Passion for the printed word
Badri Seshadri and K. Satyanarayanan are out to change the face of Tamil publishing with their Kizhakku Pathipakkam
Pic. by N. Balaji
Setting new standards: K. Satyanarayanan and Badri Seshadri
BADRI SESHADRI tells his stories like Alfred Hitchcock. Get him started on the vernacular publishing industry, and his riffs on the Yes-Minister-ish bureaucracy and devastating inefficiencies have the sort of humour that needs only the slightest encouragement - and perhaps some wailing background music - to turn into dark and ominous portents for the future of Tamil publishing.
Seshadri's "The Man Who Knew Too Much": "Most firms are just one man who employs a lot of peons to run around for him. No dedicated proofreaders or editors. He does it all."
"Notorious": "The biggest sellers in Tamil books are gemmology, astrology, nameology - basically fraudology."
"To Catch a Thief": "Many publishers don't even pay their authors royalties, so most writers are bank employees or teachers who bang out books on the side."
"Psycho": "The government buys Tamil books for the State libraries the way you buy brinjals - by weight and size. They never buy poetry because there's so much white space on a page they've paid for!"
Sift through the statements, and uncomfortable facts emerge. The quality of Tamil publishing has slipped to levels where five ways of spelling a name are found within a page; where the fact that the ink is on the page today does not imply that it will be there tomorrow; where maybe three of the top 100 publishers even use a computer in their work; where print runs of over 1,200 copies are unheard of; where publishers approach writers with the generous brief of "Write something," print it unscientifically and distribute it half-heartedly.
Seshadri and K. Satyanarayanan, directors of New Horizon Media, which owns the `Kizhakku Pathipakkam' imprint, are attempting to change that. "There is a definite market for good books in Tamil, considering that the rate of literacy is rising and only four or five per cent of the people read English with ease," says Satyanarayanan. Started in February, Kizhakku has published 50 titles already, all tightly edited - with a Tamil spellcheck, no less - and printed on good paper.
Lack of content
"The real vacuum, though, is in the content," says Seshadri, and this is where Kizhakku looks to set itself apart. Its biggest seller has been a biography of Dhirubhai Ambani; "Dollar Desam," a political history of America, is beloved of politicians and policemen alike; its best book, Seshadri says, is on 9/11, incorporating material from Richard Clarke and Bob Woodward; its stock-market primer is set for release; it even has a travelogue on Alaska. "Within 10 days of Veerappan's death, we had a biography out in bookstalls - researched, well-written and objective," Seshadri says.
Kizhakku's policies have raised eyebrows. Publishers look at their catalogue and ask curiously: "What will you print next year?" Their authors are surprised at the assurance of up-front royalty payment for 1,000 copies - no matter how well the book does - and are downright shocked when Seshadri and Satyanarayanan tell them that they could make half a lakh each year from writing books. When Kizhakku put out a set of biographies on Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag - the first cricket books in Tamil that he had seen, Satyanarayanan says - other writers leafed through them and wondered: "Where do you get so much information?"
As directors of Wisden CricInfo India, Seshadri and Satyanarayanan must be used to a million page views a day. With Kizhakku, at least initially, they'll hit far fewer eyeballs, but if it takes off, it may become Seshadri's "Rear Window" into the world of Tamil publishing.
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