OUP Posts

Literati – “A look at the world of books, publishing and writers” ( 2 June 2014)

Literati – “A look at the world of books, publishing and writers” ( 2 June 2014)

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose My monthly column, Literati, in the Hindu Literary Review was published online ( 31 May 2014) and in print ( 1 June 2014). Here is the url http://www.thehindu.com/books/literary-review/literati/article6069748.ece?textsize=small&test=2 . I am also c&p the text below. 

In translation

I am reading a terrific cluster of books — Rakhshanda Jalil’s A Literary History of the Progressive Writer’s Movement in Urdu (OUP); A Rebel and her Cause: The life of Dr Rashid Jahan, (Women Unlimited); and two simultaneous publications of the English translation of Angaarey — nine stories and a play put together in Urdu by Sajjad Zahir in 1932 (Rupa Publications and Penguin Books). Angaarey includes contributions by PWM members such as Ahmed Ali, Rashid Jahan and Mahmuduzzafar. As Nadira Babbar, Sajjad Zahir’s daughter says in her introduction to the Rupa edition: “The young group of writers of Angaarey challenged not just social orthodoxy but also traditional literary narratives and techniques. In an attempt to represent the individual mind and its struggle, they ushered in the narrative technique known as the stream of consciousness which was then new to the contemporary literary scene and continues to be significant in literature even today. …they saw art as a means of social reform.” She says that her father did not consider the writing of Angaarey and the subsequent problems they faced as any kind of hardship or sacrifice; rather “it provided them with the opportunity of expressing truths simply felt and clearly articulated.” It is curious that at a time when publishers worry about the future of the industry, there are two translations of the same book from two different publishers.

Translations are a way to discover a new socio-cultural and literary landscape. Last month, the English translation of Joel Dicker’s debut novel The Harry Quebert Affair (MacLehose Press), which has created one of the biggest stirs in publishing, was released. A gripping thriller, originally in French, it has sold over two million copies in other languages. A look at some other notable translations published recently:

Mikhail Shashkin’s disturbing but very readable Maidenhair (Open Letter), translated from Russian by Marian Schwartz, about asylum-seekers in Switzerland.

Juan Pablo Villalobos’s Quesadillas (And Other Stories) translated from Spanish by Rosalind Harvey is about 1980s Mexico.

Roberto Bolano’s The Insufferable Gaucho (Picador), a collection of short stories, translated from Spanish by Chris Andrews.

There is a range of European writers to be discovered in English translation on the Seagull Books list, Indian regional language writers from Sahitya Akademi, NBT, Penguin Books India, OUP, HarperCollins, Zubaan, Hachette, Navayana, Stree Samya, and Yatra Books.

Oxford University Press’s Indian Writing programme and the Oxford Novellas series are broader in their scope including works translated from Dogri and Konkani and looking at scripts from Bhili and Tulu.

Translations allow writers of the original language to be comfortable in their own idiom, socio-political milieu without carrying the baggage of other literary discourses. Translated literature is of interest to scholars for its cultural and literary value and, as Mini Krishnan, Series Editor, Oxford Novellas, writes, “the distinctive way they carry the memories and histories of those who use them”. Making the rich content available is what takes precedence. Within this context, debates about the ethics of publishing a translation such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1926 prose translation of Beowulf (HarperCollins), 88 years later, seem to be largely ignored though Tolkein described it as being “hardly to my liking”.


Linguistic maps available at http://www.muturzikin.com/ show the vast number of languages that exist apart from English. In the seven states of northeast of India alone there are 42 documented languages. Reports such as http://w3techs.com/technologies/overview/content_language/ all indicate that content languages (all though with strong literary traditions) such as Hindi, Marathi, Sanskrit, Punjabi and even Irish are used by less than one per cent of websites. Google India estimates that the next 300 million users from India won’t use English. It isn’t surprising then to discover that Google announced the acquisition of Word Lens, an app which can translate a number of different languages in real time. For now users can translate between English and Portuguese, German, Italian, French, Russian, and Spanish. Indian languages may be underrepresented on the Internet but, with digital media support and the rapid acceptance of unicode, an encoding which supports Indic fonts, translations will become easier. Soon apps such as Word Lens may expand to include other languages, probably even circumventing the need of publishers to translate texts.

DU-Photocopying case (ongoing), Sept 2012

DU-Photocopying case (ongoing), Sept 2012

A few days ago some publishers (OUP, CUP and Taylor and Francis) filed a case in the Delhi High Court against a photocopying unit on the Delhi University campus. It has generated a fierce debate, particularly on how to define “fair use”. Over the next few days I will be posting some links/articles explaining this debate.

To start with, I am reproducing Sudhanva Deshpande’s original article on the debate. It is a perspective and an entry point. A version of this was published in the Hindu ( http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article3911970.ece ) on 19 Sept 2012.

Whose Copy, Whose Right?
Sudhanva Deshpande

Aakar Patel, in his diatribe against the students and faculty members of Delhi University on the photocopy issue (‘Pages Apart’, Sept. 11 http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article3882460.ece), makes a number of erroneous assumptions. I address here some of the most important.

1. That students indulge in ‘copyright theft’ by photocopying course material. Not true. Laws are not absolute, and there exist exceptions and limitations to virtually every law. The Indian Copyright Act has two explicit provisions that allow for educational exceptions. Copyright lawyer Lawrence Liang shows that ‘Sec. 52(1)(i) allows for “the reproduction of any work by a teacher or a pupil in the course of instruction” or as a part of questions or answers to questions. Further, Sec. 52(1)(a) allows for a fair dealing with any work (except computer programs) for the purposes of private or personal use, including research.’ Legally, students and teachers are on firm ground. In fact, by claiming huge damages, it is the publishers who are trying to subvert the educational exceptions that are available in law. This is typical of corporations – use shock and awe tactics to illegalize in public perception a perfectly legal practice. All for private profit.

2. That the photocopies being done are always and only from books. Amazingly, Patel does not mention journals even once. Journals, especially in the sciences and law, are often prohibitively expensive. Libraries are being forced to cut down on journal subscriptions. Libraries typically get single copies of journals that they do subscribe to. How is a class of even 50 expected to read from a single copy in the library? And what about books that are simply not available in the market, at whatever price?

3. That it is always entire books that are photocopied. Not true. In most cases, it is only a small part of a particular book that the student is asked to read. Take the M.A. Sociology syllabus from the Delhi School of Economics, where the shop under litigation is located. Students are recommended 544 readings. Of these, not counting journal articles, we have been able to ascertain the prices of 296 books. Patel cites the Indian prices of 13 books, which cost, cumulatively, Rs 9,042 (ave. Rs 695 per book). At that average, 296 books should cost Rs 205,720.

But what do the books cost in fact? Taking the lowest prices (even when the book is not available at that price), the total comes to Rs 577,902. Even after taking out all books that cost over Rs 2,500, the student will have to spend Rs 277,956. Not exactly small change.

Note, too, that the prices of science and law books are significantly higher.

Also, publishers bring out new books in hardcover format, which are significantly more expensive than paperbacks. No publisher expects individual students to buy these, but targets institutions and libraries. Only after a book recovers all its investment is it brought out in a cheaper format, which, for academic books, can take a few years. If the hardcover does not earn enough revenue, a paperback is not issued at all. I know. I am a publisher.

Some of the discussion of this issue (on the blogosphere etc.) has centred around whether there should be a legally permissible limit to how much of a book a student might photocopy. The Indian Copyright Act is clear on this. There is no upper limit prescribed. In other words, legally, in certain circumstances, a student can photocopy an entire book, if it is ‘in the course of instruction’.

The publishers claim that they would withdraw the case if the university agrees to let collecting societies keep track of what is photocopied and pay accordingly, on a per-page basis, which revenue would then be distributed to publishers and authors. This is a model in force in several western countries which have more maximalist copyright regimes than ours. In India, however, as we have seen, the law allows for the educational exception, so what the publishers are demanding is already subverting the law. In addition, there is the question of economic and social realities. An additional payment for reading material (for which the student is already paying photocopy charges) would, contrary to the publishers’ claim, pinch students from economically disadvantaged sections.

The publishers’ claim, if implemented, would result in reducing the ‘gene pool’ from which academics, researchers and the intelligentsia are drawn. So it is not the students who are killing the goose that lays the golden egg, as Mr Patel claims. On the contrary, it is the publishers who are doing so.

4. That the publishers are responsible for ‘commissioning and publishing’ studies. Well, yes. But only after universities pay academics salaries and provide facilities to carry out research in the first place. And at least a part of the university budget comes from students’ fees (not to mention taxpayers’ money). OUP and CUP, ironically, should know this better than anyone else. They would be nothing without the universities whose names they derive so much prestige from.

5. That students are selfish, violent, immature. Well, maybe some are. But then so are many corporations. And their Directors. And lawyers. And CEOs. And Heads of States.

6. That open access publishing is not a realistic option. Not true. In the sciences, there already exist a large number of open access, peer-reviewed journals of the highest standards. And books? Readers might want to download a free pdf of a LeftWord title here: http://ddkosambi.blogspot.in/2011/12/many-careers-of-dd-kosambi-pdf-version.html. We have also published many of our titles under a Creative Commons license.

Alternatives to copyright and the rule of monopolies exist. Assuming, of course, that we see knowledge as a right of all humankind, not merely as a means for profit-making.

(Sudhanva Deshpande is Managing Editor, LeftWord Books, and an actor and director with Jana Natya Manch, Delhi. He can be reached at sudhanva@leftword.com.)

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