Thursday, 24 May 2012

Indian National Book Trust… a model for Nigeria to follow

By Anote Ajeluorou

India had long shown its desire to muscle its way into a global player. What with the testing of a long-range missile about a month ago and its flair for computer ingenuity? Indeed, in the world of knowledge economy, the Indian example as symbolised by one company may well provide the roadmap for Nigeria to follow

IT started as pure curiosity to find out what the Indians were up to. They had taken about a quarter of the backspace of the huge Multi-purpose Hall of the University of Lagos, venue for the Nigeria International Book Fair (NIBF) 2012. Indeed, one of India’s top printing company, India Repro, has been providing financial support for the book fair in the past few years. Just like other book fairs around the world, Indians in the book industry have found Nigeria a fertile environment to operate.
  A major Indian government organisation with sole responsibility to promote books and authors also joined Nigeria’s book fair party.
  It is National Book Trust, India, an autonomous body under the Department of Secondary and Higher Education, Ministry of Human Resources Development, was established since 1957. Its major activities include publishing, promotion of books, authors and reading, promotion of Indian books abroad, assistance to authors and publishers, and promotion of children’s literature.
  According to Dr. Lalit Kishore Mandora, an assistant editor, himself a Hindi poet (with the name Lalitya Lalit), who headed the group at the NIBF, said other activities of National Book Trust, India, include organising fairs/exhibitions throughout India (it has so far organised 19 World Book Fairs, 38 National Book Fairs and about 250 regional book fairs), the biennial New Delhi World Book Fair (the 20th edition comes up in February, 4-10, 2013), making books available at the doorsteps through mobile exhibitions (has enrolled about 80,000 book club members), providing assistance to authors and publishers, organising seminars and workshops and running a National Centre for Children’s Literature and publishing books in India’s over 30 languages.
  Mandora also stated that the book trust, although a government organisation, has over 20,000 authors in its care, as it searches out writers from all over the world, and gives them publishing opportunities, and further stated, “good literature makes a man of character” as part of its driving force.
  Clearly a big organisation, Mandora affirmed that the trust paid out over US$210,000 last year to its authors as royalties. Some of its activities aimed at book and author promotion include a Mobile Book Event in which books are taken to people’s doorsteps in vans directly at affordable costs.

WITH India’s cheap printing environment that has become attractive to Nigerian publishers and authors, cut-throat prices as is the case in Nigeria, is absent and thus a major incentive to a flourishing book trade.
  Mandora also stated that readership in India was well assured even for literary texts. He stated, “Book is a friend to all; they keep us from loneliness; they make us think and keep boredom away. Books make one happy. So, we promote books and good writers and reading. India has a great market for books, and great readers, too. We have good readers and buyers of books. Even those in ghettos, they still buy books”.
  This government body, National Book Trust, India, also organises the National Action Plan for readership development among the youth that caters for the interest of young people as critical element in the book chain.
  Also, the National Centre for Children’s Literature, according to Mandora, was established in 1993 among other things, “to monitor, coordinate, plan and aid the publication of children’s literature in various Indian languages. The body also holds the National Book Week in November”.
  Nigerian writers will look at India with envy as the national book organisation has what is called Indian Literature series where writings of “well-known contemporary Indian writers are brought out in various languages”.
  Its World Literature series is an “Anthology of contemporary writing from Asia, Africa and Latin America countries”, which are published and made available for Indian audience.

ONE other interesting area of National Book Trust, India activities is the folklore publication series in which folklores from different parts of India are published with the aim of acquainting other parts of India with such materials for the purpose of integrating and uniting the country in spite of its diversity.
  Also at the Nigeria International Book Fair, a body that is similar to Nigerian Export Promotion Council, known as CAPLEXIL, with emphasis on its printers and publishers’ division, featured prominently. About 32 members of this body had stands at the book fair. Their mission was clear: providing Nigerians with the latest printing opportunities at reasonable costs.
  With the country’s printing industry at a major crossroad in terms of lack of paper or very expensive paper, poor electricity and high import tariffs, the Asian continent has become the printing and publishing hub for Nigerian publishers and authors. And the Indians are raking up big business here. That explained their large numbers at the fair; they virtually print for all the big publishers in the country.
  The trust, according to Mandora, promotes Indian books abroad. As it attends book fairs around the globe, it takes Indian writers along to conduct seminars and workshops and read from their works to global audiences. For instance, the trust was Guest of Honour at Frankfurt (2006), Moscow (2009) and Beijing (2010) book fairs. In these events, a special exhibition of books from India is put up as part of showcasing India’s cultural wealth.
  As Mandora reeled out what his organisation does in promoting books and writers in India, it became startlingly clear how much Nigeria has lost its way in the quest of knowledge. There’s not even a department or division devoted to books in the country much less an entire organisation with millions of dollars as budget (although Mandora shied away from naming the body’s annual budget, which may well be beside the point).
  What is pertinent is that India has a vision to promote books and authors and is actively doing so both at home and abroad. What is more, it takes books to the doorsteps of readers at affordable costs thus tackling the issue of a poor reading culture in the populace, as being lamented in Nigeria.

INDEED, Nigeria may well emulate the Indian example through some sort of intervention in the book industry in the promotion of knowledge for rapid development! Bring Back the Book campaign should be revitalised to play this role and play it actively.

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