Books across the border

Updated: Apr 24 2005, 07:13am hrs
Very soon, you might spot a Corner Bookstore in Lahore, Pakistan. It will be a non-commercial arrangement. Well provide the technical know-how, design inputs and lend our name. In fact, I will be visiting Lahore next month to finalise the details, reveals Aalok Wadhwa, chief executive, The Corner Bookstore, the 14-city Indian chain.

We want to set up three Corner Bookstores in Lahore by the year-end, one in a coffee parlour, says Wadhwa, who also has his eye on Indian border cities like Amritsar and Ludhiana.

The Corner Bookstore will also strengthen its presence in the Urdu-speaking belt of Lucknow and Kanpur. The Urdu publishing industry is pretty vibrant in Pakistan. There is big demand for good Urdu literature in India. So well try to tie up with local publishers in Pakistan, says Wadhwa.

Last August, Najam Sethi, chief of Vanguard Books, Lahore, entered into an distribution agreement with Foundation Books of India, New Delhi. The editor of The Friday Times had enthused that Pakistani books would be available in India for the first time since 1965. Indian audiences are keen to read literature, Islamic and philosophy books by Pakistani authors, says Manas Saikia, chief executive, Foundation Books.

Even better, Delhi-based Manohar Publishers turnover from Pakistan is Rs 10 lakh, with their books distributed in Pakistan by Vanguard Books.

Last month, The Pakistan Publishers and Booksellers Association, in collaboration with the Federation of Indian Publishers, organised the Lahore international book fair. About 40 Indian publishers participated in LIFB and over 150 people from the country visited Lahore.

Indian publishers who participated in the fair included names like National Book Trust, Jaico, Orient Longman, Oxford, Sage and S Chand.

Pakistan is a good market for technical and scientific books. Moreover, the textbook market is the biggest in the country, says Ramesh Jain, proprietor of Manohar Publishers.

Manohar is also in talks with publisher/bookseller Feroze Sons of Lahore and is looking at a co-publication arrangement. They are one of the oldest publishers in Pakistan, says Jain.

Meanwhile, Delhi-based Sage Publications has published two books written by Pakistani authors in the recent past. Politics of Identity: Ethnic Nationalism and the State of Pakistan by Adeel Khan has done pretty well in India. We have managed to sell about 400-500 copies in the last five months. The response has been pretty encouraging, says Tejeshwar Singh, managing director, Sage Publications India Pvt Ltd.

Sage also publishes Asian Journal of Management. The material is put together by faculty members of the prestigious Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). We have good relations with a few distributors and stockists in Pakistan. We have done a few special promotions with them in the recent past. The reading interests across the border are pretty much similar, comments Singh.

With Track Two diplomacy gaining ground, publishers feel that books can help remove misconceptions that prevail in both countries. They help in sharing points of view. We come to know their version of a particular subject, says Singh of Sage. Adds Jain,Hordes of Pakistani publishers descend on the Delhi Book Fair and buy loads of books.

But the trade is not without its pitfalls. For one, Indian books are being rampantly pirated across the border. Once the market opens up and the book trade gains momentum, then piracy will automatically be curtailed, points out Jain.

Piracy knows no nationality. This is not particular to Indo-Pak trade, chuckles Singh. As book trade gains momentum, a larger issue pertains to tackling culturally sensitive issues. Pakistanis fear cultural invasion from India, points out an industry source. For instance, books on Bollywood and Indian music have a huge fan follwing across the border.

90% of our books are international ones and as a policy we dont stock non-secular and culturally sensitive books, says Wadhwa of the Corner Bookstore.