KARACHI: Sindhi literature has become a story in itself. But not a story that anyone would ever want to write. It is a sad story of plagiarism, proof reading errors and piracy.
According to Jan Mohammed Khaskheli, a wellknown short story writer and critic, at the most 20 per cent of books are sold. “Creative literature has almost finished and today’s writers are experts at cutting and pasting,” he said, while explaining the lack of interest. There have been cases in which new writers have pilfered material from books published 30 years ago and passed it off as their own.
Indeed, the proof lies in sales. Publishers lament that they are down about 40 per cent in prose and poetry across the province. Writers, intellectuals, poets and publishers said that a large number of books are published but they are sitting on the shelves.
It does not help that barely any marketing takes place, except for a few sad launches with soggy sandwiches and tepid tea, attended by straggling groups of readers, who are more friends of the writer than fans.
Rauf Nizamani, a writer and intellectual, fondly recalls the olden days when booklovers scoured for Sindhi books at stalls in Karachi. Now a large number of books may be published but very few people buy them. “I still remember when a large number of stalls were set up at the shrines of Shah Latif, Sachal, Shah Innayat and other sufis during their anniversaries and the sales went into the thousands,” he told The Express Tribune.
There used to be weekly meetings of the Sindhi Adabi Sangat at the district and tehsil levels, where fervent admirers hotly debated creativity. “But critical discussion has almost vanished,” Nizamani laments.
Jan Mohammed Khaskheli recalls the days when Sindhi literature and its poets and writers were even prominent in Urdu circles. “Different items were referred to and discussed at the Progressive Writers Association of the Sub-continent and the Pakistani Awami Adabi Anjumun,” he said. Not any more.
Part of the problem is that there seems to be no inspiration or institutional backing. But if the writer is good, books will sell. “If a publisher brings out a book by Ali Baba and Amar Jalil, I think copies will be sold within a few months,” said Taj Joyo, a writer and former secretary of the Sindh Adabi Saghat. Only Joyo argues that standards are improving. He gives the example of a 20 per cent improvement for the Sindh Language Authority stall in Hyderabad where over the last one year around 800,000 books were sold.
Publishers Hamid Sabzoi said that New Field Publications, Sindhica Academy, Kacho Publications, Roshi Publications, Kaveeta Publications, Shah Latif Chair, University of Sindh, the Culture Department, Sindh Language Authority and Zaib Kitab Ghar are among those who have published a large number of books. On average eight to 10 new books are published every month in Sindh. It takes from Rs90,000 to Rs0.1 million to get them into the market.
“Quality wise the books are very good, but their content is declining with each passing day,” he said. He feels that sales used to be much better in the 1990s when leftist movements created demand for such literature. A lot of work was translated in those times as well.
Saleem Ahmed, a manager at Kathiwar bookstore, Urdu Bazaar, told The Express Tribune that he has kept his prices reasonable (Rs100 to Rs400) because of competition. But despite this, sales are down by half. Not a very happy ending.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 13th, 2010.