Not knowing your regional language can no longer be an excuse for not knowing your local literature.
Jai Zende’s domestic help is hooked to the audio books he’s been giving her. Every day she comes back hungry for more Kannada audio books by authors such as Santeshivara Lingannaiah Bhyrappa, U.R. Ananthamurthy and Masti Venkatesh Iyengar. “She listens to the audio books with her husband and children every day. For her, it’s not about catching up on literature but about hearing stories. And not just that, now her husband has lent the CDs to a friend who refuses to give them back,” laughs Zende who, along with Jayashree Mantri Easwaran, formed BooksTalk, a Bangalore-based start-up that converts regional language and English books into audio books. Zende’s experiment with his house staff was only an attempt to find out if the idea would work.
It began in November 2009 when Zende and Easwaran, colleagues at Fidelity Pvt. Ltd, decided they wanted to do something in the books domain. They started discussing the project, and quit their jobs to start BooksTalk.
“Around that time I chanced upon The Economist in its audio version. I’d consume about an hour and a half of the magazine every day during my morning walks.” says Zende. Likewise, for Easwaran, mother of a five-year-old daughter, taking time out to read every day seemed like a distant dream. “Listening to audio books that I downloaded from the Internet seemed like a good way to do that,” she says.
It was this need to read that made them explore the audio-book space. “We walked into book stores, only to find a very small number of audio books, that too by international authors,” she says, adding, “there was no sign of any Indian literature out there.”
There are, of course, those who still swear by the smell and feel of holding a book while reading it, but the duo believe it is only a matter of time before people catch on to the convenience of their product. “We need to keep a cycle of awareness-trial-purchase-tell your friends about it going,” says Zende.
Indian language books, they predict, will take the market by surprise. “Most of us have stopped reading our own languages, partly because we can’t or that the lack of fluency makes it laborious,” says Easwaran, describing the times she was close to tears when Bengali artiste Ranjan Ghoshal was reading out Streer Potro by Rabindranath Tagore.
Starting out with two Indian languages, Bengali and Kannada, and English books by Indian authors, they now have on hand 21 finished products. BooksTalk has also converted Rujuta Diwekar’s latest book, Women and The Weight Loss Tamasha, into an audio book.To make these as attractive as books on shelves, there has been a deliberate emphasis on CD covers. Books taken from publishers have the same cover as the printed book but in the case of those taken from authors, covers are redesigned. “For, say, an author like Chandrashekhara Kambar, we have used images of leather puppetry on the cover, and for the Bengali books we have a few artists from Midnapur working on them,” says Easwaran. And instead of traditional voice-over artistes, BooksTalk has used theatre artistes who can bring more emotion into the readings. For instance, the voice-over for Kannada novelist Bhyrappa’s books is by Kannada actor C.R. Simha, while Tagore’s Kabuliwala has been read by Ghoshal. The audio books are available in CD form, with novels broken into 10- to 12-minute bits. They are also available on Flipkart, an online shopping store.
Available at all major book stores and on Flipkart (priced between Rs 95-200).