Books are eternal: DN Malhotra

Updated on Feb 17, 2004 11:18 AM IST

Catching up with one of the legends of publishing in India, DN Malhotra, currently President Emeritus, The Federation of Indian Publishers. DN Malhotra has the right to be satisfied man today. For over last six decades he has been associated with Indian publishing, and has seen the ups and downs of the industry.

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PTI | BySuman Tarafdar, New Delhi

Catching up with one of the legends of publishing in India, DN Malhotra, currently President Emeritus, The Federation of Indian Publishers. DN Malhotra has the right to be satisfied man today. For over last six decades he has been associated with Indian publishing, and has seen the ups and downs of the industry. Though he is still not satisfied with various aspects of the industry and feels there is much scope for improvement, he is also fairly confident of the strides India can take in future. With over 60 million literate Indian and a literary tradition spread over at least 18 major languages, the Indian reading market has an immense potential to grow. He should know, for he has been with the FIP since its inception in 1942.

What led you to take up book publishing?
I started working as a teacher in Srinagar in the mid 1940s. However I wanted to devote more time to books and started the Indian Book Company, which was later renamed Clarion Books.

What led you to the concept of low priced books?
Well as I got to more and more about publishing, I started looking at practices abroad. When I visited London in the early 1950s to attend Penguin's anniversary celebrations, their director Allen lane explained to me the concept, which had originated in Germany. That set me on track. I felt that if any country needed low priced books, it was India. On returning I started the one - rupee series. Soon after Hind Pocket books was born in 1958.

How did the one-rupee series do?
Oh, astoundingly well. We sold out the first 6,000 copies within three weeks, and then we kept on reprinting more and more copies. We printed Bhabani Bhattacharya, Kamala Markandeya, Nayantara Sehgal, Khwaja Ahmed Abbas and many other leading novelists and writers. 

Why do you think it was so popular?
For one, it was low priced. However what also helped was that I set up a book club, which helped in the distribution of the books. Also the quality of production was good. Books were mailed to all who were interested in getting them through post.  Salesmen were recruited all over the country. However despite this more could have been had a mass distribution market been available.

Do you remember the titles?
The first ten books included the Hindi translation of Gitanjali, Tagore's famous work.

Why did you launch Orient Paperbacks when Hind was doing so well?
Orient was started in 1962 to publish Indian literature, act as a window to it. 

Who have been your major authors over the years?
Oh in the initial days, we managed to publish big leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, P Sitaramaiyya, Jai Prakash Narayan.  My company has also published major authors like Premchand, Tagore, Sarat Chandra Chatterjee, Thakazhi Sivashankara Pillai, Krishan Chander, Amrita Pritam…

Which of your books have been bestsellers?
One book that did very well was a romantic novel in Hindi called Jheel Ke Us Paar, which was printed in 1971.

What are the major challenges that Indian publishers face today?
Well he mass distribution network of books is still a problem, especially in the interiors. Accessing books in most of the country is difficult. Postal rates are very high, and while we at the Federation of Indian Publishers have been requesting the government to take action, it has still not happened.

High prices of books are a factor too. Though the quality of production has improved, there is still much to be done.

Challenges from other forms of entertainment has generally meant a shorter attention span for kids. However television etc can never replace books. Books shall always be there.

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