Kashmir’s pay-to-publish corps of young writers growing

Kashmir’s pay-to-publish corps of young writers growing

Local publishing house receives 5 to 6 manuscripts a month from mostly school-going youngsters

By Hilal Mir

SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir (AA) – Hurairah Yasir’s discussions on faith and doubt with her fellow mates at a boarding school in the northern Baramulla district of Kashmir impacted her to an extent that she decided to write a book. She was in class 9, aged 14.

“I couldn’t resist myself. I wanted to say it all, about my perception of God. I believe that nothing is worth without a belief in the divine,” she told Anadolu.

In 2020, The Merciful Lover and A Faith Snatcher was published by an outside publishing house. The book is about two brothers Imaad, a believer, and Idrees, a skeptic who reconciles with God in the end.

Her second book ready for publication is titled, not unexpectedly, Duniya over Deen (Choosing the World over Faith). For now, Hurairah, who is in class 12, is focusing on her studies to get into the coveted Indian civil services.

You can’t find reviews of her first book anywhere, but when it was published, she was widely lauded. The mere fact that a 13-year-old village girl has written a book on a serious subject was probably deemed to be a feat enough. The book is available in public libraries.

- Self-publishing writers

Hurairah is one of the dozens of Kashmiri young writers who make it to newspaper front pages frequently after paying publishing houses to get their books published. Ecstatic headlines place stress on the author’s age.

After realizing that some Kashmiri youngsters were paying as much as Rupees 80,000 ($980) for an initial print of 10 copies to outside publishers, Shahid Mohiuddin, a computer sciences student at the University of Kashmir, decided to start a publishing house in Kashmir, which offers “affordable packages” for the aspiring self-publishing writers.

The 8000-rupee (US$98) package offered by Shahid’s Wular Publishing House includes 10 print copies and a kindle edition with ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) registration. The publishing house’s editorial staff also copy-edits a manuscript for a small additional fee.

Shahid told Anadolu that several poor youngsters' books were published free of cost and some were given heavy discounts.

On average, the Wular Publishing House receives five to six manuscripts a month from aspiring young writers, most of them boys and many of whom are still in secondary school. The works are scrutinized for plagiarism using special software. The ISDN code of a young writer’s book, which was published for a discounted price of Rs2,000 (US$24.50) because of his family’s poor financial position, was withdrawn after portions of his poetry collection were found plagiarized, said Shahid.

Nearly half of the total 70 titles the Wular Publishing House has published to date are books of fiction, non-fiction, or a combination of the two by young writers, said Shahid.

Since its founding three years ago, the publishing house has rejected about 50 manuscripts, Shahid said, with advice to the writers to “improve the quality of the writing till it is worth publication”.

“We don’t discourage them. I believe it is better that these boys and girls write books than waste time on smartphones. If they persist and work harder, their next book can be better,” Shahid said.

Parents of some of the authors have also funded book releases at cafes, where invited dignitaries deliver speeches. Shahid’s publishing house occasionally lends a hand in organizing such functions.

- ‘Double-edged sword’

The phenomenon of school kids eager to squander all their saved pocket money, or their parents’ earnings, to get their books published is only a few years old. And it is gaining momentum. Huzaifa Pandit, who teaches English at a college in Kashmir, initially saw this as a “double-edged sword.”

“No matter how infantile, how immature these works are, I believed they represented a culture of aspiration, which might mature into serious literature over time,” Huzaifa said.

“But it spawned a rat race in which everyone wants to be a writer. Writing as a shortcut to coolness. I think this will produce caricature, not lead to a flourishing of narratives. Once the mere act of publishing becomes cool, you might lose all motivation to become better,” he said.

- Motivation

A few authors Anadolu spoke to are driven by various factors, not necessarily literary.

The trigger in the case of Seerat Yusra, a class 11 student, appears to be the trauma of growing up as a fatherless girl in a society scarred deeply by a 30-year-old conflict.

She said she has read no book of poetry or fiction. In fact, she has read “no book at all” apart from those in her school curriculum.

“I was inspired by raw inner feelings. I am an introvert but I wanted to share these feelings,” she said. Her collection of 40 poems, My Lost Childhood, is about “emotion, trust, hatred, love and father.” Her father was killed by unknown gunmen when she was three months old. A few English literature academics she had sent her book to for pre-publication review had green-signaled its publication.

She said a local police officer organized the release of her book at her school in Kreeri village of Baramulla district, where several literary dignitaries were present.

Asif Tariq Bhat, who is pursuing an MA in Kashmiri at Kashmir University, was driven purely by literary ambitions. During his college days, he had been contributing poems and short stories to a Kashmiri language newspaper.

“One day I thought to myself why I shouldn't write a novel, a genre that is in decline. But writing a novel in Kashmiri, which more than 90% of the people can’t read or write, was even more ambitious,” he said. Bhat, 23, resisted the temptation to self-publish in his teens.

He said writing a book and writing a good book meant a difference of years. His motive was to “make people aware that a novel in Kashmiri was a possibility.”

The novel, Khaban Khayalan Manz (In Dreams and Thoughts), took a long time to mature. It was published in 2021 by a reputed local publishing house. The first print of 350 copies – not bad in a place where even 100 copies of a Kashmiri book make it a best seller – was sold out. A second print of 400 copies is ready to roll out. From its brief description provided by Asif Bhat, the book appears to be an allegory about a man’s journey to a land he discovers that turns out to be an endless landscape of ruins in the end.

“I can’t write fairy tales,” he told Anadolu, declaring Russian legends like Alexander Solzhenitsyn and legendary Kashmiri short-story writer Akhtar Mohiuddin as his influences.

“I was elated more by the fact that people read my book rather than the small royalty their purchases fetched me,” he said.

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