The News on Sunday (TNS): As a publisher what do you see as some of the challenges and opportunities of publishing niche literature, targeting a specific readership, knowing full well that as a society we are still a long way from accepting all kinds of ‘writings, especially critical works?
Hoori Noorani (HN): My publishing house has always been an independent, specialist publishing house – this is what I inherited and continue to do. Obviously, as a freelance publisher, if you don’t create textbooks and popular literature, you have problems with marketing and sales, especially in a country where the government is not very supportive of the government. publishing or books. None of the governments have ever really supported independent publishers.
We, specialist publishers and others, face many problems. The first is the increased cost of publishing. The prints are small and the main raw material needed for the edition, that is to say, paper became quite expensive after the loss of East Pakistan. We hardly produce any paper locally and the little we do is of poor quality. Locally produced quality paper is almost as expensive as imported product. The main problem is without a doubt the cost. With the rupee slipping against the dollar, it is reaching unimaginable highs. Print runs remain low unless you publish textbooks or religious literature. If you publish specialized, general books, especially in Urdu, you will be faced with these problems. Some publishers in these fields only print 500 copies of new titles or even reprints. If the print run of a title must be limited to a few hundred, the unit cost is necessarily high. In a society where the general public does not have the purchasing power to buy expensive books, books are becoming a luxury item.
TNS: The stories are transformative, but not everyone can afford to buy books these days due to the high prices. A significant portion of the potential readership is thus deprived of a chance to learn. What do you think it takes to give books to readers who can’t afford them?
HN: Any government that supports reading will subsidize paper and other printing materials to reduce the cost of books so that they can be bought and read. E-books can also play an important role in bringing cheaper and affordable literature to the public. We recently started converting our books to eBooks and making them available at very low prices on an online platform called The Little Book Company.
TNS: The low readership associated with niche publishing has not proven to be a big deterrent for your publishing house. What factors helped you keep going?
HN: When I came to this company, Maktaba-e-Danyal had been around for some time. My father, who started the business, was well respected. On his deathbed, I made him a promise to never let go. So it started with that promise, but then my belief in the books I published and the reason I published a certain type of literature also became a factor. There is a need to educate people and popularize literature that promotes pluralistic, progressive and liberal thinking in society. You could say that it was my faith in what I did, despite all the difficulties we encountered, that allowed me to continue.
TNS: In a dialogue session a few years ago, you talked about self-censorship. Maktaba-e-Danyal has been around since 1967. State-imposed censorship is known to have been blatant when it was first launched. Why do you think our editors and most writers are forced to censor themselves in 2021?
HN: Over time, they say, the situation should have improved. In the case of our country, it has only gotten worse. Even in the darker days of the Zia era, we did not encounter the difficulties we face today. The issues are multifaceted. You have to deal with the establishment, and then there is religious intolerance, so you are always aware of what you write and post. At the same time, you must continue to push the boundaries of intolerance and make room for progressive thinking. You keep doing what you are doing and find ways to play your part. Even if the path narrows, you keep moving forward because not to fight is to be extinguished. Plus, the idea of ââgiving up is unimaginable. We censor ourselves, but we still try to discover small pockets of freedom, a little margin here and there that we can pass.
TNS: Based on your observation of trends in Indigenous writing, would you say that we have evolved as readers and are more accepting of changing narratives?
HN: This is a difficult question because things are happening on several levels. There is the reader who has evolved, and then there is the reader who has regressed because society as a whole has regressed a bit. A whole new generation, born after the Zia era, sees things differently. Society has changed and there is so much intolerance. With globalization and the world increasingly accessible through the Internet and social media etc., part of society opens up to new thoughts and becomes more tolerant. But then there are those who back down. And there is a constant struggle between the two. It’s not like there isn’t a market for niche literature; that’s why I publish Sibte Hasan and many others. Of course, I can’t compete with publishers who only publish popular books.
TNS: The past year and a half has been tough for everyone, but the pandemic has also provided most of us with the opportunity to look inside, dig up old stories, and even write new ones. Have you received manuscripts from writers, especially from the Pakistani diaspora?
HN: This pandemic started off on a very depressing note. There was total containment for the first few months, and we had to rethink our marketing strategy. As with everything, publishing and selling books has moved online. More and more books are sold online rather than in bookstores. Bookstores have really suffered during the pandemic, but publishers and booksellers with previously established online businesses have fared well. We had to learn and rethink to get in touch with the online trend.
With the manuscripts, I was very lucky. I received more manuscripts during this time than ever before. Interest was sparked by what my publishing house went through due to the confiscation of one of my books in January 2020. We were in the limelight because of this incident and were nominated as well. for the prestigious Voltaire Prize. The International Publishers Association created this award to honor a person or organization recognized as having made a significant contribution to the defense and promotion of publishing freedom around the world. It made people realize that there is a need to support a publishing house that does the kind of work that we do, so a lot of people came up with manuscripts. Many were ready to help fund the publications. Some organizations have come forward to show their support during this time. In 2022 and even until 2023, I have many wonderful manuscripts to work on, including some from the Diaspora.
TNS: Maktaba-e-Danyal is also known for its translation companies. In the past, you talked about publishing translations of Russian literature. Do you think the translator should have the same linguistic background as the original story to take advantage of cultural nuances and deep symbolism?
HN: It is always desirable for a translator to be familiar with the language from which he is translating. However, many wonderful translations of world literature have been made from a third language. When it comes to Russian literature, I have the impression that people from the subcontinent translate it much better, regardless of their knowledge of the language. If they know the language well, that’s wonderful. There have been translators from India and Pakistan who have translated directly from the Russian language. I think nuances, especially when it comes to poetry, are easier to grasp when translating from Urdu to Russian and vice versa compared to other languages. This may be a very subjective point of view, but I believe the two literatures are close when it comes to symbolism. It is obviously always good to know the language from which you are translating.
The interviewer is a staff member