Sahitya Akademi : only one in the world publishing in 24 different languages

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Established more than 50 years back, Sahitya Akademi is known for some of the finest literary works in as many as 24 different Indian languages. The closest to them is a Chinese publisher which publishes in 16 different languages. Here’s more on this literary giant. Rakesh Sharma With more than 5,000 live titles in 24 different Indian languages (including English) and almost 400 titles added every year, Sahitya Akademi is contributing to the Indian literature in a big way, told Rakesh Sharma, deputy secretary, Sahitya Akademi (National Academy of Letters), Ministry of Culture, Govt of India. Their books in English and Hindi contribute a turnover of 33 percent each while books in Bengali, Telugu, Kannada and Maithili contribute to 4-5 percent each. “The rest of the languages contribute to just 2-3 percent of our turnover,” informed Rakesh.

“We also organize Best Literature award in 24 languages and once a book is awarded, we take their translation rights and translate and publish them in other 23 languages. Every year, this is a big project for us,” he added. But since, translation from one regional language to another is difficult, all the books are first translated into core languages like English or Hindi and are then translated into various languages. “This takes time but the results are worth it. Sometimes, a book takes 2-3 years time for translation,” added Rakesh.

Besides, they also organize Literary Translation awards annually apart from Bhasha Samman for significant contribution to classical and medieval literature. “It is given for unrecognized languages in India like Garo, Khasi and other tribal languages,” explained Rakesh. There is also a system of electing eminent writers as Fellows and Honorary Fellows. They have also established fellowship in the name of Anand Coomaraswamy and Premchand.

The Sahitya Akademi was established in 1954 as a national organization to work actively for the development of Indian letters and to set high literary standards, to foster and co-ordinate literary activities in all the Indian languages and to promote cultural unity through them. Though set up by the government, the Akademi functions as an autonomous organization.

With Centres of Translation in Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Kolkata and Delhi and a project office for the promotion of Tribal and Oral Literature in North Eastern Hill University Campus, Shillong, Sahitya Akademi is looking for more imaginative projects on the anvil. They are also eyeing an international species-dimension through the Akademi’s cultural exchange programmes with other countries on the globe.

Reasonably priced and excellent production always keeps their books in demand. “Our books are very reasonably priced between Rs 25 and Rs 1,100 but we never compromise on quality. Since our books are so reasonably priced, the issue of piracy does not crop up,” told Rakesh. “Since we are celebrating 150 years of Rabindranath Tagore this year, we are offering additional 40 percent discount on his books.” Their bestsellers are obviously the books on Rabindranath Tagore.

Talking about the average print runs of their books, Rakesh replied the initial print runs of most of their books is 1,100 copies but for books in languages like Maithili, Dogri, Nepali, Kashmiri, etc, the print run is 600 copies. However, for children books, the print run is lot more.

Apart from books, Sahitya Akademi also offers CDs of documentary films on famous Indian writers. “We have around 100 such CDs in our collection,” told Rakesh enthusiastically. They also publish two quarterly journals – Indian Literature in Hindi and Samkarini Bal Sahitya in Hindi, with a subscriber base of 3,600 copies each. “We have annual sales of around Rs 9 crores a year, despite our books being low priced,” told Rakesh proudly.

The distribution network of Sahitya Akademi is huge with sales offices in all strategic locations like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata, besides a network of more than 200 distributors all over the country. “We also export our books to countries like US, UK, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, etc,” informed Rakesh.

More recently, Sahitya Akademi has tied up with a Chinese publisher to translate their books in Indian languages and vice versa. The organization is actively involved in publication and promotion of literary works and readers can definitely expect many more quality literature from their stables.

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