Last month or so, while traveling on work, I found myself seated next to a gentleman who was in the publishing business. Oh, that’s great, I said, what kind of stuff do you publish then? Well, mostly Kids fiction. I get my content in from China. I reprint here and sell. China? That sounds strange, I thought. Surely, we in India have a far wider base of Indian authors writing in English, and surely some of that must be fine writing for young people?
He saw the surprise on my face and hastened to explain that content that came in through China (possibly sourced from elsewhere) came in very cheap, and he couldn’t afford to source and then produce original content, although he would love to. The reason –Pottermania notwithstanding, Indian parents just don’t want their kids to read, certainly not story books. They can shell out for the encyclopedias and GK books, but fiction, that’s surely just a waste of time. For good measure he added that since the kids fiction market was so small, he had started dealing in cookery, which was a much more promising market.
Now what I know about the publishing business could be compressed into one word (zilch), but surely it’s a sad state of affairs when we don’t recognize that our children’s minds need to grow beyond just mugging up history dates and capitals of countries. Books expose us to a whole new world beyond what our schools can ever teach us. I remember when I was growing up, Amar Chitra Katha brought out the Mahabharat in 42 volumes, one every month. My sisters and I used to wait eagerly at the beginning of every month, for my dad to bring in the new issue. I am sure many kids today can’t tell Arjun from Bheema. (I am not making this up)
Every generation ofcourse likes to say, Oh in the good old days, but sometimes I wonder that in this relay race to get ahead, where we have enlisted all our kids, and we egg them on relentlessly towards the finishing line, are we even noticing that somewhere along the way the baton is being dropped.
I used to think this is a uniquely Indian phenomenon, this tendency to tie up the blinkers securely and forbid any sort of originality starting from school. I read however this interesting post by Chris on his blog Strange Stuff. Looks like things are not so different even in the land of the Queen.
An update : Today's Hindu literary review carries an article by writer Ranjit Lal where he talks about the children's books publishing industry, how it suffers on many counts some pushing into each other - reader disinterest, moralistic writing, poor production and publicity all coming together to form an abyssmal children's section.