How London Turned The Spotlight On The Land Of Rig Veda


Saiswaroopa Iyer was at The London Book Fair, 2017, where she witnessed a growing interest in Indian literature.

“You guys have had Krishna for 4000 years, but we are just beginning to know him. So, that is a novel world for the American readers.” This comment from Porter Anderson, former journalist and Editor in Chief, Publishing Perspectives, moved me. Porter Anderson was speaking at The London Book Fair, held in March. A discovery at the Fair, a pleasant one, was the growing interest among the western audience for Indian literature that delves into our itihasa-purana corpus.

The pleasant surprise, beyond the AuthorHQ talks, was a series of talks (sponsored by Amazon Kindle and others) that had successful authors, mostly self-published, share their valuable insights and experiences. Those in the global publishing industry would already know that India is one of the chosen destinations for low cost printing, but with 125 million (and growing) English language literates, western publishers have started to look at India as a market.

At the very popular Kensington Olympia Exhibition Hall, the unique celebration of books and the Publishing industry unfolded. The London Book Fair, a gathering of key players in the Publishing industry, is reputed to be the only international book fair that has an author focus. I got the opportunity to be a part of this unique literary spectacle, thanks to Ritesh Kala of Read Out Loud Publishing. Being an author, I was waiting to attend the Insights Seminar series and discovered that there were many successful authors and professionals eager to share the secret ingredients of their success with writers aspiring to make it big in the world of words.

Author HQ included authors like Rachel Abbott, LJ Ross, Adam Croft and Mark Dawson as speakers. These authors have made it to the six figure (or more) sales, not through some magic formula, but through a carefully crafted path of perseverance and professionalism.

As a former entrepreneur and a start-up advisor, I was fascinated with the world of self-publishing. An average writer should not miss the opportunity to learn the publishing process through its DIY (Do It Yourself) characteristic. There were talks on focusing on marketing, writing craft and publishing. The other useful session was on rights that an author signs away in a publishing agreement. The speaker who represented the Society of Authors, however, was in her own admission, wary of the many exploitative clauses that traditional publishing agreements have in them. She also admitted her bias, as in her experience, she only came across the problematic situations where authors were exploited.

An interesting session on the opportunities in the Indian Book industry included Nielsen, National Book Trust (NBT), India, in the panelists. While the statistics on the buoyant demographic dividend and increasing population of literates were promising, the Nielsen survey also pointed to the lack of readiness among the young Indians to read. Baldeo Bhai Sharma, Chairman, National Book Trust (NBT), India, in his delightful speech in Hindi, remarked that we commit the mistake of treating a book just as a commodity. He reiterated that in the land of the Rig Veda, books should be treated as key contributors to civilisation and as the pillars of life values.

Speaking about India’s vast linguistic diversity, he added that a language is not just a tool for conversation or interaction, but also a unifier of empathy and sensibility in a society. He spoke about the national book promotion policy being undertaken by the government, which aims to promote reading, encourage young writers, women writers and establish a network of key players including libraries, book sellers and distributors. He also mentioned the efforts of NBT to make literature available to remote areas of the country through mobile libraries. The world looks upon India as the second largest English reader market and seeks to work with us. Are we ready to shake off the (artificial) inertia we have about reading?

The final India sessions by the Sahitya Akademi and Pen International Organization presented readings by award winning Indian writers and poets. It opened with Arundhati Subramaniam’s poems about polytheism, in her words, a unique nature of Hinduism that allowed the devotee to choose a personal deity, or an Ishtadevata. Readings and recitations from Kuladhar Saika and Yeshe Dorjee Thongchi were part of the session. I feel more motivated to pursue newer opportunities, balancing the sentiment of writing with the level-headed activity of branding and marketing. An event of this magnitude is needed in the Indian literature scene. With the advent and penetration of technology paving the way for the democratisation of the world of publishing, I hope our land of Rig Veda regains its glory and heralds the world into a new era of literature.

— Saiswaroopa Iyer is an IITian and a former investment analyst turned author.