India is the second-largest English-language publishing market in the world and Penguin Random House India, a major player in the sector, publishes more than 200 books a year. But Meru Gokhale, it's editor-in-chief, says it is not always easy to publish multiple points of view.
"The thing about great literature is that it can influence people and lives. We are committed to publishing multiple points of view and to embracing diverse perspectives. It's not always easy, in a country of strong opinions and a long tradition of disputation.
"At the same time, publishing is, as you say, a sacred space, and one that continues to inspire respect in this age of fake news and alternative truths. To me, this means the onus is on us as a leading publisher to stand for values that this industry has historically upheld. And today that means that we also need the support of our readers, writers and the media," Gokhale, Penguin's Editor-in-Chief of Literary Publishing, told IANS in an interview.
She said that the publishing house is proud of its legacy but, at the same time, it is also conscious of the responsibility that comes with that legacy.
"So it's never a privilege that we wear lightly. We try to publish writers we believe in, and books we believe will stand the test of time. A glance at any Penguin catalogue will show what I mean by that: Whether it's fiction or nonfiction, literary or commercial books, frontlist or backlist, the thing that leaps out at you is a commitment to excellence, to diversity of content, style and spirit, to originality, to experimentation, and to active representation of all voices," she maintained.
The past few weeks have seen some major announcements by the publishing house -- the acquisition of Priyanka Chopra's memoirs; A.R. Rahman's authorised biography; and more significantly, the acquisition of Hind Pocket Books.
Asked what propelled the publishing house into making some unprecedented moves in the industry, Gokhale claimed "with confidence", that Penguin Random House India has always led the way as far as Asia's publishing industry is concerned.
"We pay close attention to our readers. Decoding literary tastes is very much a part of our work here. Priyanka Chopra's stunning memoir, A.R. Rahman's authorised biography, the acquisition of Hind Pocket Books -- all three things you mention stem from a deep knowledge and respect for what our readers look for in us. We have taken our commitment to Hindi publishing very, very seriously. We have so much to learn from established publishers like Hind Pocket Books, and we are delighted to work with them," she maintained.
Her mother Namita Gokhale, no mean writer herself, is known for championing the cause of Indian languages and has been instrumental in the slow but steady advance of what she calls "Many languages, One literature" at literary events such as the Jaipur Literature Festival and the Mountain Echoes.
Meru said that she always seeks out "voices from Indian languages other than English", because if that wasn't the case, the majority of books would be by writers for whom English is their first language.
"We actively work towards representing the linguistic and cultural diversity of a huge country, because otherwise the only stories that would get told would be those written by a culturally dominant group of English-speaking Indians. It's a challenge," she explained.
She said that publishing is truly an unpredictable industry.
"Five or ten years from now, I have no idea what shape or form our books will take. But I do know that they will not disappear from our lives. As long as the human spirit seeks stories and empathy and escape and solace and learning, we will continue to publish the very best books," she said.
Gokhale has published authors like Srinath Raghavan, Arundhati Roy, Salman Rushdie, Devdutt Pattnaik, Ramachandra Guha, Paolo Coelho, Amitav Ghosh, Jhumpa Lahiri and Mohsin Hamid, among others.
(Saket Suman can be contacted at email@example.com)
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