Sometime last week, I realised that it has been a whole year since the ‘Kurunthokai’ picture book was published. It’s a tiny book in the scheme of things, yes, but it was a very big step for me.
The memory fills me with immense contentment. That Instagram page, and by extension, the book, to me, is a symbol of my own love for literature and determination to learn. It is a personal reminder that I can do almost anything I set my mind to. It is a proof of my own humanity, my selfhood, in the face of what were personally very trying times for me. It was, once again, an affirmation of my faith in literature. Mountains may move, kingdoms may fall, but we are saved by our imagination, our essential humanity – and what is literature if not a perpetual festival of celebration of our humanity?
I started reading the Kurunthokai to combat a certain listlessness and hopelessness that had started to pervade my spirit around that time, for various external reasons . The earthiness of the poetry helped me in no small measure. I was reading and posting almost a poem a day through the months of November and December 2015.
In January 2016, Krupa from Madras Mag/Mulligatawny Books contacted me and asked if I would be interested in publishing a picture book with them. I was happy to! In a month, the illustrations were resized, the pages were formatted and the book was ready. That’s the very short story of how the book was published.
It was not a grand book, and it was not published by a big publishing house. I was hoping the publication would help me get feedback on my translation, more than anything else. Mostly through word-of-mouth, the book received some modest attention, and I am very grateful to the many individuals who bought copies, gave feedback about the translation, and wrote to me about it. I am happy for the few friends I made along the way. The press about the book – in Tamil and English outlets, as well as on one radio station – mostly came about when reporters contacted me. I still get emails with such requests. I did the interviews because I was happy to talk about my work, but also because I wanted to help my publishers make a profit by reaching out to more people.
As it happened, in mid-March 2016, Mulligatawny Books decided to close shop for personal reasons. I was disappointed that the book’s journey was cut short so soon, yes, but to be honest, I was not too upset, mostly because I knew that this was only my first book, not my last. I was grateful to MB for offering to publish my book and for being very transparent with their operations. My book had sold 37 copies. I got a few copies for free that I have since distributed to friends and family who wanted them.
I was also contacted by a media outlet to write a column for them. I tried a few trial columns, but pulled out because I realized that our views and values didn’t match.
The reason I lay out all this is to record the sequence of events that happened and my own reasons for the various, very impromptu, choices I made, but also to trace my own path, my first foray into the publishing world. I am naive about the publishing industry. I have not sought to build contacts in publishing circles. I do not like the idea of hustling very much, it is simply a personal taste or limitation. But that doesn’t give me much grief because I’m still young and I know I will figure my own way out. I know that I want a second career in literature, perhaps as a translator, but also as a writer and novelist in my own right. I am continuing to write and translate in two languages, on this page and elsewhere. I hope that when I am ready, my writing will speak for itself.
However, what I also want to record is that the opportunities accorded to me so far regarding this book, all came on their own. I say this because I learnt that there were a few comments behind my back that suggested I was “self-marketing” and engaged in unethical practices to give myself an undeserved push (they could have as well spoken to me directly if they saw a problem). All over a limited-edition picture book. 🙂
All that aside, I am very, very grateful that this journey happened to me. Many thanks to my friends, well-wishers and all the teachers along the way.