Sunday, May 31, 2009

The New Big Thing



In an exclusive interview, Paul Vinay Kumar, Executive Editor of Westland Limited and Tranquebar Press shows the way to make it big in the publishing world

Tell our readers a little about Westland Books/Tranquebar Press.

Westland Limited is a growing Indian trade publishing and distribution house, which includes EastWest Books and the new Tranquebar Press. Westland publishes general trade books: our list of titles includes books on food and cooking, spirituality and self-help, health and wellness, popular fiction, history and architecture, general reference, travel and a host of other subjects.

The group has several decades of experience in book retail and distribution, and to move into publishing was a natural transition. With a young, energetic team of editors and designers based in Chennai and Delhi, Westland Limited is one of the few publishing houses in India to bring both the North and the South together. Westland is the publishing and distribution arm of Landmark Ltd, the company that runs the Landmark chain of bookstores in the major metros across India.

Tranquebar Press gets its name from the tiny, beautiful coastal town in Tamil Nadu (now called Tharangambadi) where Indian publishing and printing really began. Our emphasis is on new writing and experimental work of high literary standards in any genre. Our list of authors includes Jeet Thayil, Saeed Mirza, Ruchir Joshi, Daljit Nagra, Susan Mridula Koshy, Arun Krishnan and many more.

Generally speaking, when Tranquebar Press goes through a certain manuscript what does it look for before it hands down the verdict?

Like every other publishing house, the focus is on interesting subjects and fabulous writing. The genre of the book determines the relative importance given to these two criterions. Tranquebar's emphasis is on unusual literary fiction. Unlike many other publishing houses, we publish a reasonable amount of poetry.

Also, we believe very strongly in the importance of translations, especially in the context of a country like India where there are so many people divided and united by language. Our fundamental belief is that we want to publish books which, in a world filled with some may say too many books, make a difference and bring readers something new, meaningful and memorable.

As one of the leading English language publishers in India, do you think the era of printed words is coming to an end?

Emphatically no! While we're planning to do audio books and are actively starting to look at e-books, we view these as supplements to draw in new readers and not as a replacement to books. No technology--however exciting--can ever match up to the experience of curling up with a book under a blanket, the smell of paper, the tactile experience of turning the pages, the satisfaction of going back to an old book where the dog-eared pages mark old memories, and the sheer joy of organising books on one's bookshelf.

Having said that, I think the e-book market is yet to come of age in India. We're still trying to work out the four factors that will ensure the growth of the e-book market: an affordable reading device; content (at the right price); a great selection of content and e-books that are easy to use

As an ardent e-book fan I don't expect paper books to become obsolete--they'll co-exist and publishers such as Westland will offer combined packages, so that our readers get the best of both worlds.

In the South-Asian sub-continent, where people speak so many languages, what role do you think translated works can play in bridging the gaps between cultures?

It is absolutely essential to have translations in our part of the world. There is so much richness and diversity of literature just waiting to be read. In India, we have this completely appalling situation where we know the names of the great contemporary writers, but we are unable to read them except some short story published in some anthology! One of the great things that this virtual explosion of publishing in English over the last ten years has achieved is that a lot more translations are now available, though in my view this is still not enough. I would love to be able to publish more translations between say Bengali and Tamil, Gujurati and Telegu so that readers who do not read in English and Hindi (the two most popular languages for translation) can read more of what is being written in other parts of the country. Having said which, I also believe that the present generation of people whose work and social life is mainly in urban English speaking worlds are losing the ability to read in their mother tongues, which is tragic.