Facilitating the New Era of Trust and Honor in the Publisher-Author Relationship

Vani Prakashan Group’s CEO Aditi Maheshwari has achieved yet another significant accolade by being conferred with the distinguished title of ‘Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters’ by the French government. This prestigious recognition reflects her outstanding contribution to the realm of Hindi publishing, coupled with an unwavering dedication to amplifying the voices of marginalized communities, including the LGBTQ+, Dalits, Adivasi, and feminist groups within the Hindi language. In an informal chit-chat, Smita Dwivedi engages with Aditi Maheshwari to glean insights into her perspectives following this esteemed acknowledgment.

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On behalf of the French government, H.E. Mr Thierry Mathou, Ambassador of France to India, recently conferred the insignia to her. The French government distinction Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters) is conferred on “persons who have distinguished themselves by their creativity in the field of art, culture, and literature or for their contribution to the influence of arts in France and throughout the world.” Some noted Indian recipients of this honour in the past include Shahrukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai, Richa Chadha, Raghu Rai, Ebrahim Alkazi, the late Habib Tanveer, Upamanyu Chatterjee, and Dr Arshia Sattar.

Spotlight On The ‘Prakashak’

Expressing her gratitude, she added, “Vani Prakashan Group is at the center of an inclusive Hindi and Indian languages public sphere. None of it would have been possible without the support of our authors. The French history and thought have a deep impact on the Indian languages’ literature and thought. It is a moment of great honor that my yatra as a prakashak has been awarded the prestigious Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres. Like the French, we too stand by the ideals of liberty, equality, fraternity and most importantly, democracy. I look forward to the continued cooperation between the French and Hindi publishing industries.”

When queried about her sentiments regarding the accolade, she expressed, “I perceive all the recipients as representatives of their respective industries. I don’t view them as independent entities. Consequently, I consider myself closely aligned with my industry. Thus, I believe this award is also a testament to the recognition of Hindi language publishing, and I humbly accept it on behalf of the leadership that has prepared me for larger roles. I am elated, particularly because, for the first time, I have witnessed a noteworthy spotlight on publishers, specifically the Prakashak – the creators of books. It was a profound honor for me that the French Ambassador, in his speech addressed me out as a Prakashak.”

In 2021, Vani published Marjane Satrapi’s French graphic novel Persepolis, which won Publishing Next’s 2022 Best Printed Book of the Year runner up spot. In 2020, she commissioned a new translation of Simone de Beauvoir’s iconic text The Second Sex. She plans to commission many more translations in the coming years, focusing on promoting feminism and plurality of voices.

Keep Doing It To ‘Just Get It Done!’

After completing her studies in the humanities in India, Aditi pursued a Business Administration program with specialization in Finance and Social Media in Scotland, U.K., in 2012. In 2013, she decided to return and join the publishing house her grandparents had found and her parents ran, Vani Prakashan Group. She started as an editorial intern at the house of Vani 14 years ago and has now been appointed as the CEO of the Group.

On asking about a memorable aspect of her journey thus far, she recounted, “Upon returning from London after completing my education and a brief stint in employment, I enthusiastically proposed an ambitious book production idea to my father. To my surprise, he simply nodded and challenged me to go out and sell 500 copies of any book. I picked up the runners from the office because probably picking up books was not my thing at that time. As I ventured into numerous bookstores, the reality dawned on me that this endeavor wouldn’t be a cake walk. Persistent in my efforts, I encountered a turning point when Priti Paul, the owner of Oxford Bookstore, generously provided us with space for 12 events – 12 ADAB. This program played a pivotal role in generating significant interest in Hindi books. The invaluable support extended by Saurabh Dwivedi of India Today Digital further fueled our initiative. It was one of the first accomplishments as a Hindi book promoter. My ideas about this business also got sober schooling.”

A Shout-Out To The National Book Policy

In the realm of inheritance businesses, there exist both blessings and challenges. One perceives it as a mixed bag, encompassing the favorable and less favorable aspects highlighted by associations with both friends and non-friends. For a Prakashak – Hindi publisher, each day unfolds as a roller coaster ride – with books landing on reviewers’ tables, the meticulous management of expense reports and finances, and the navigation of contemporary digital challenges. What are the challenges she wants to highlight?

“After delivering an exceptionally wonderful, inclusive democratic National Education Policy (NEP 2020), I think this is a moment for GOI to acknowledge that we need a National Book Policy as well.” She stresses that for the National Education Policy to function properly, it is paramount to have a well-defined National Book Policy. I am currently drafting the concept note and will be presenting to the authorities. Our languages must be allowed to play an important role in the cognitive development of children. There has to be due recognition given to the richness of multiple languages in India. The government needs to step in to ascertain that there is infrastructure and funding available for translations between different Indian languages. The different akademis must be revitalized, and we need to go back to our roots of creating sahitya ghosties. And yes, there has to be zero tolerance for piracy and plagiarism,” she said.

Challenges For Women In Publishing

“Talking about gender equality is often limited to discussions that don’t result in significant change. In the Indian language ecosystem, gender bias persists. I want to highlight my parents’ progressive mindset about four decades ago. They decided that if they are blessed with daughters, they would support them in pursuing meaningful lives rather than marrying them off at a young age. This was a stand against societal norms and my sister and I can not thank them enough for this,” she shared.

“Despite being in a legacy business, I encounter a Teflon ceiling (not Glass)—a barrier that’s tougher to break and more painful when you try. While facing gender-based attacks is disheartening, we would like to be evaluated on the same field, with same rules based on performance, decision-making abilities, professional qualities, and skill sets. The subtle character assassination, where biases are garbed, is the worst aspect. Working at the grassroots level, I witness the daily struggles of our female staff, from editors to housekeeping executives. We will continue to make this ecosystem better” added Aditi.

Inspiration To Move On

“I draw inspiration from influential women in publishing, including my grandmother, mother, and Sheela Sandhu Ji. The inception of Vani was shaped by my grandmother, Shiromani Devi, in 1963. After my grandfather’s early demise, my grandmother took charge, and my mother, Ameeta, significantly contributed to its growth later when she joined. Both worked tirelessly,” she shared.

Freshness & Newness Of GenZ

Talk to her about the generational change she has brought to one of the largest Hindi publishing houses, and she talks about overhauling the systems, hiring experts from across industries including English, more transparency, and building a diverse list. “My father started building the list from scratch. The base was there. For me, it was important to diversify it as I firmly believe that Hindi has a huge capacity,” she said.

For young enthusiasts joining publishing, Aditi shared a message, “Young people today are talented, curious, and really good at what they do. It is a challenge to keep them hooked and interested in one kind of activity. However, excellence demands patience and practice. So, I hope that the talented and curious young brigade takes the time to improve their skills by practicing and sticking with what they love. Continuity is the key.”

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