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Getting Published In India:
Chasing Rainbows On The Road To Hell
Colin Todhunter

Can anyone help me? I’m a bit confused. When people tell me that something has definitely been done, and then I find out that it hasn’t, then why did they tell me it had been done in the first place? To be told one thing, only to find out that the opposite is true is an all too common experience in India. “The Truth” is all too often elusive; you know it is out there (somewhere), but, somehow, can never grasp it.

This is the kind of logic that infuriates a lot of Westerners in India. We spoilt Westerners are used to being informed that if something cannot be done, why it cannot be done, and are then given some provisional timescale as to when it may be done. Variable factors and various dependables are thrown into an equation, resulting in some form of explanation. We may or may not be happy with the outcome, but at least we then have an understanding of what is happening and why it is happening.

It all started in Delhi when I went to get a book printed. It was the first stab at getting my book "Chasing Rainbows in Chennai" published. “It will take six days to complete” I was informed with extreme confidence by the printing press owner. Fourteen days later it was finished. What my simple little brain didn’t understand was that along the way was a two-day festival; then the owner had to go to Amritsar to visit the Golden Temple; and then he had to attend a doctor's appointment, which had been arranged weeks ago. Then the printing began, but there was a mistake. So they had to start again; and of course there were the numerous power cuts that caused further delay. So, when Kaka, the owner, told me six days, he really meant at the very least, ten - taking into account the festival, the doctor's appointment and his trip. He knew this beforehand, but why bother to muddy the waters with such trifling matters.

Things were already progressing at a snail's pace prior to real delays occurring. Kaka told me on day five that the printing had begun. On day seven he told me it had not begun because there was trouble in getting the paper. He spoke like it was all my fault that the paper was unavailable at the market. “Why did you tell me that the printing had started two days ago, when it had not?” I asked. He looked at me with a blank expression “It will begin tomorrow”. So I asked him again. He replied “Yes, it will begin tomorrow”. After another failed attempt, I gave up asking. I have been in such situations before in India and was just working myself up into a lather over it. And when I quizzed him over the printing process going wrong, again he talked like it was all my fault that someone else had made a mistake. It was like he was paying me to do a job and not me paying him. Customer service? Kaka had never heard of it. He had also never heard of the concept of a timescale either - no matter how provisional it is; nor of the concept of keeping the paying customer informed of delays. The customer is always right? Don't believe a word of it; more like "The customer is a damn nuisance!".

That was Delhi. Next stop, Chennai, and another printing press. This time I had backing. The full backing of my new Indian publishers, Zine5. Similar delays, similar excuses from the printer. However, unlike Kaka in Delhi who (eventually) produced a book of quality paper, the Chennai printer produced a book using recycled newsprint paper! And what we had wanted was a book of Penguin Classic quality. And to top it all, he had used two different shades of paper. Each book had two shades inside. I was assured that the lighter paper was from a new ream and would fade within six weeks to match the other. “What rubbish” I thought to myself. But there was a nagging doubt - what do I know about paper - maybe he was right (and maybe magic paper actually exists!). Well, he wasn’t (and it doesn't); two months later the books are gathering dust in the hub of Zine5 and still
contain two different shades of paper. So finally, another printer; efficient and effective. Mission accomplished!

Printing is one thing, but distributing and displaying the books is a different matter entirely. I asked the distributor whether the books were in X, Y and Z shops. I was informed with the utmost certainty that they were indeed on the shelves there. But I knew for a fact, they weren’t. I had just returned from X, Y and Z and the managers had not even heard of them. I told this to the distributor. The reply was something along the lines of they will be, would be, or could be; or might be, maybe, or should be (or something like that). It had definitely been done, but had not really been done. It all had something to do with "procedures". It was too complicated for me. I decided that the distributor probably knows what he is doing after having spent decades in the game. Anyway, I had to believe this because I was just too afraid of getting bogged down in Kaka-esque logic all over again. Just let him get on with it and "distribute" in his own way.

Displaying: the books sold out in one of the shops and I wanted to make sure the shelf would be replenished as soon as possible. After all, what is the point of getting maximum publicity in the media for the book, if the shelves are going to be left bare for days on end? The shop manager: "Yes sir, definitely they have been reordered. We reordered yesterday and they will be back on display tomorrow.” Two days later, the shelf was still bare. “We will reorder tomorrow” I was informed. “You told me you had reordered two days back”, I groaned. I didn’t wait for the reply. I knew it would be along the lines of...would be, should be, maybe or might be...By this stage I had been worn down by Kaka logic.

This is just a brief snapshot of a range of encounters that have been all too frustratingly similar. Do people tell me that something has been done just to make me feel better? Well it has the adverse effect. When I find out it hasn’t been done, then I feel ten times worse than if they had been up-front with me in the first place and had told me that it hadn’t been done and stated the reasons why. I understand that things “getting done” are often dependent on other factors. If people explained those factors to me at the outset, instead of being fobbed off, then I could live with it. Or at the very least, I would like to be informed of delays. Then I would not have a constant feeling of disappointment based on false promises and false hope.

India - it turns me into a gibbering wreck whereby pulling my hair out by the handful becomes a pastime. Room 23 in my hotel room in Chennai - don't be alarmed if you ever walk past and see hairballs flying in the wind to the tune of some mumbling madman inside. And no, I'm not a an overly uptight Westerner or mathematician, obssessed with variables, equations, explanations and probabilities; I'm just someone who expects a fair deal. What is it all about? Can someone explain? At times "Chasing Rainbows" almost turned into "The Road to Hell" - because that is what it felt like.

Having said all of this, however, Zine5 achieved the near-impossible and got "Chasing Rainbows" published, formally released, promoted, distributed and displayed. No mean achievement. But be warned: the road to hell is littered with failed publishers in India. Now it's in the lap of the Gods; or to be more precise - the distributors and shopowners. And I have learned one thing - just let them get on with it, in their own way, and in their own time. Anyway, the new Harry Potter book will soon hit the shelves and every other book in every other shop will be relegated to the dusty, far-flung corner of the some forgotten shelf. Harry Potter - I hate you!

© Colin Todhunter June 2003

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