Some of you may have read an account of my father’s new book on Vinoba Bhave which I got published earlier this year. This post is about an earlier book, far removed from Vinoba Bhave, by Pitaji which I was instrumental in getting publishing.
Pitaji received his Ph D degree way back in 1961 from Ranchi University- Ranchi then in Bihar- now in Jharkhand. The thesis was a socio-cultural study of Bhojpuri proverbs. It was one the earliest works of its types and the first for Ranchi University. Pitaji had travelled across the Bhojpuri speaking region in Bihar and UP and collected thousands of proverbs. These were classified under different sub-heads. Life, relationships, social structure, professions, entertainment, etc. Ph D degree obtained, the “job” of the thesis was done with. When I was a kid I would see this big, hard-bound thing in the family’s Godrej cupboard and wonder what it was. Over time, I was told that it was Pitaji’ thesis, and when I did not understand that, I was told it was his badi kitab, the big book. And that was that.
Pitaji has been a Hindi teacher, he taught Hindi all his working life. He probably could have done much greater things in life but for his two prime passions; he wanted to raise his six off-springs in a manner that would be exemplary compared to the standards prevailing then and he wanted to devote himself to teaching Hindi. And that meant he had to forgo writing. Totally.
That hard-bound book remained a matter of curiosity for me all through my schooldays.
Cut to 40-odd years later.
On a whim I decided to get “the book” published. Pitaji was sceptical, I persisted. I knew I had to get it published myself, no publisher would touch a thesis 40 years or so old and that too on Bhojpuri proverbs. My father’s student, Narendra Kohli, who is an eminent novelist got the wind of my idea and dissuaded me from a personal publication.
“It lacks dignity”, he said.
I said, “But how shall I find a publisher? I am in Bangalore, in a job and place far removed from Hindi publishing. There is no way I can find any publisher.”
Kohli-ji, who is Delhi-based, asked me not to worry and leave the job of finding a publisher to him. And find he did! He called me a few days later and gave me a Delhi mobile number to call. “This person will do the job. I think it is a good idea to go through him.”
The mobile number turned out to be that of the owner of the Deli-based Vani Prakashan which is one of the most eminent publishers of Hindi books. And Vani Prakashan also happened to be Narendra Bhai-sahab’s regular publisher. I call up Mr Publisher and he has two different deals to offer, both requiring upfront cash investment. That’s in lieu of the number of copies I will get from the publisher. In one deal the book would be published by Vani Prakashan, the flagship company of the publisher. This was a more expensive venture, but was rather prestigious as most of the publisher’s celebrated releases came under this banner. Including the best-selling novels of Narendra Bhai Sahab’s And more interestingly the banner’s logo was designed by the celebrated artist MF Hussain. The other deal was cheaper but the name was unknown (perhaps used to publish theses, or even worse still old Bhojpuri theses, I could never figure this one out!)
So Vani started the publication process. I got myself involved with the cover design. Which finally was my father’s hand-writing on the cover as a kind of watermark.
I was keen that the book was priced at a respectable level. And that the book was hard-bound with decent production values. I need not have bothered about the production values, Vani had a name to protect for itself.
Finally the book was ready and I received some copies in lieu of the investment I had made. Neatly packaged and delivered to Pitaji’s address. Just in time for us to release the book on the day he turned 81. 45 years after he got his Ph D on this work. Our family decided to have a public function in Jamshedpur to release the book on Pitaji’s birthday. That was easier said than done. We needed to find some organization under whose banner we could hold this function. All of us siblings were too scattered across the country do any organizational activity. “Jamshedpur Bhojpuri Parishad” volunteered to do the needful, as long as we footed the bill. Which we did and the program was a grand success.
The highlight of the program as far as I was concerned was that I was invited to speak to the audience as the “producer” of the book. And the catch was given the nature of the forum I had to speak in Bhojpuri. This was my first, and perhaps the last speech in that language (dialect?). Even if I say so, it was not a bad effort at all.
The program got extensive coverage in the local media.
The initial plan was that this book would be freely distributed among all who knew Pitaji. There was no commercial motive behind the project. But at the last minute, on the day of the book release, I had serious issues about this plan. “No way this work of hard and long labour would be freely distributed. Since this book is of major interest- and use- to those who would read it, giving the book away for free did not make any sense. No one ever reads a free book. As a corollary, people read a book only when they have paid for it. And then I decided to “sell” the book. I did not care if no one bought it and I was left with a pile of inventory. “That is OK,” I thought to myself, “at least that way I would not be devaluing the book.” And anyway, the investment I had made was not such a great amount for me for me to lose sleep over.
The only concession I made is to offer a good 30% discount on the book’s cover price of Rs 425, but even at Rs 300 it was an expensive book. I was right, and I got the first taste of my decision on the day of the book release. With much reluctance the organizers permitted me to sell the book. “Crass commercial interests,” they must have muttered under their collective breaths. That evening we sold just 2 copies of the book to an audience of nearly 150-175. Virtually similar audience had come to attend the “Amrit Mahotsav” celebration (81st birthday) of Pitaji the previous year and had made long queues to get a free copy of the hard-bound commemorative book we had released that day.
But I was determined to sell as many copies of the book as possible.
The biggest ally in this “selling” project was the premier Bhojpuri website, www.bhojpuri.org. I wrote to the founder, who subsequently over a period of time turned into a friend, about this book and my plan to sell it. He posted my message on the website and it was also circulated to the Bhojpuri e-group.
Orders started coming in right from day one!
The first order came from Singapore of all the places! This Singapore order snow-balled into an order of twelve copies. I persuaded a colleague traveling into Singapore to carry this consignment with him and arranged to have it picked up by one of the buyers there. The cash was transferred in no time to my account. And that was the beauty, I would get mails from complete strangers who would ask for a copy. I would get it couriered to them and soon enough the money got transferred to my account. Till date I have not had any defaulter, not a single one!
Over time I received orders from Perth in Australia (yet another colleague traveling to Sydney carried a copy and mailed it from within Australia), one from South Africa (the person was traveling to India shortly and he asked me to ship it to an India address. So mercifully I did not have to look for a way of reaching it to this African country. Some orders from England. One from Los Angeles (again shipped via a colleague traveling to LA). A requirement of ten copies from the Bhojpuri Association of North America. They had decided to display and sell the book in a Diwali Mela stall they had taken at Dallas, USA!
Mauritius has a large Bhojpuri diaspora and I got in touch with the Ministry of Culture there. There was also a Prime Ministerial -Mauritius’- intervention of sorts, but that is a matter for a complete post by itself. Over a period of time I got a mail asking me to submit an evaluation copy and then within a few weeks I was asked to courier 15 copies for the ministry-run libraries in this island state. A US dollar cheque including the courier charges arrived pretty promptly.
The word-of-mouth spread and I ended up shipping copies to friends of the early buyers. Over time I have had the books shipped to a Bhojpuri TV channel presenter, a film maker, a research scholar in Linguistics, a housewife, and so many more!
Many would write back and tell me what a wonderful book they had read. And that its publication was a great service to the Bhojpuri language. Some have even become friends ever since! Like Binay Pandey, from Ranchi, the founder of the Bhojpuri Group, Sanjeev Roy, then in Singapore and now in his company HQ near San Francisco, California, Neeraj Chaturvedi from Singapore and Sailesh Mishra from Dallas, USA . Some even suggested that this book be translated into English for a wider audience who knew spoken Bhojpuri but could not read Devnagari script.
But I have a more basic problem. It has been four years now and the initial print run is nearly exhausted. I have just 7-8 copies remaining with me which I would be loathe to sell or even give away. I sometimes wonder whether it would be a good idea to get into a reprint. Perhaps I should. One never knows how big the next requirement would be. But this would be, I suppose, rather unprecedented in the Hindi publishing history; A Hindi hardcover book, pretty exorbitantly priced by Hindi publishing standards, a Ph. D. thesis, and that too on Bhojpuri proverbs going into a second print run!
Maybe I should. If not for anything else, then for the fact that this will give Pitaji an opportunity to write a preface to this second edition to express the “embarrassment” he has had after re-reading his thesis. He told me early on that he feels a little odd to read now something he wrote decades ago, when he was still “young”. And that his perspectives in life had changed.
Pitaji, maybe your perspective in life has changed, maybe you want to rewrite the preface. But that is not because you are old. You are still young going on 85, it is just that time- multiple decades really- have elapsed in the interim years.