Published: 25th January 2021
Hit by the pandemic, independent publication house producing Dalit-Bahujan literature is looking for seed funding
In the last four years, Panther's Paw has brought out nine books - this includes translated works of Dalit writers, poetry, prose and essays
A lot of industries were hit massively by the pandemic, but for independent publisher Yogesh Maitreyi, the consequences were dire. For a world that is already losing interest in books, surviving a world-wide pandemic is not easy. For Yogesh, particularly, since his publishing house 'Panther's Paw Publication' was functioning out of his hostel room at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. In the corner of this room that he shared with two other roommates was six cartons of 1000 published books and it was this same corner from where he had been running the publishing house for four years. As the administration issued notices to vacate the rooms, Yogesh hurriedly shifted the cartons to a friend's house and went home to Nagpur. Things for Panther's Paw like for the rest of the world had come to a standstill.
Panther's Paw has made staggering contributions in the field of anti-caste literature. After finding that the publishing sector in the country is pretty much run by members of dominant castes, Yogesh, a writer and poet himself found out very early on that it was not a space that invited anti-caste writing. This is why he decided to set up his own publishing house, to bring out books that mainstream publishing houses would not even take a second glance at. In the last four years, Panther's Paw has brought out nine books, it includes translated works of Dalit writers, poetry, prose and essays. The publication was just finding its feet in the business when the pandemic hit.
The first time that Yogesh sold a book, he requested an advance of 500 rupees from his customer and then printed the book. So for Yogesh, the road hasn't been easy. But over the last few years, he has managed to create a fan base for the work that his publication house does. But with every cost, Yogesh has had to remain careful. From editing to designing to printing to delivery, Yogesh is pretty much a one-man team with volunteers pitching in now and then. So when the pandemic hit, he took the worst hit as well. When he was stuck in Nagpur, supporting his family, Yogesh got his friends to send him some of the books. Now he had about 120 books in his hand but no idea how to make a sale. Since Yogesh was dependent on delivery and courier and delivery services, he had no way to sell any of his books. "I got some friends to somehow send me the books in batches but I had no way to delivering it to customers," he tells us.
When things settled down a little, Yogesh began to aggressively market his books on his social media. Within a week, he gathered address, bought packing materials for the parcels and finally dispatched them. He even relied on his lawyer sister for help, " It took me seven days to fulfil the orders. Every day, I would give some ten parcels to my sister who works for a law firm and whose office was near the post office. She would go to the post office during her break and send out the books," he tells us.
He had no way to print new books if he wasn't able to sell the ones he had already printed. Surprisingly, a lot of people ended up placing orders, so he was able to start thinking about printing again. However, a lot of damage was already done. Yogesh said he has used up all his savings to take care of his family since he is the sole breadwinner. So the future of his publication house began to look bleak.
"These are books that would otherwise not get published because most publications houses are filled with upper castes who don't understand or don't want to publish these books. For example, poetry is not something everyone enjoys. But it is absolutely essential that we bring out poetry written by Dalit writers because whether they sell or not, they need to be written and need to published. There should be a record of the work that's being done," Yogesh explained.
In the next five years, Yogesh plans to publish atleast 100 Dalit writers, he wants to ensure Dalit Bahujan literature finds its way into English and European language-speaking countries, he wants to translate regional Dalit writers into foreign languages, he wants to build a team of Dalit Bahujan experts in editing and designing and publish forgotten history of the Dalit Bahujan communities.
He points out that other independent publishers are also mostly upper caste and that even if they do have initial money problems, they are able to promote themselves well because of their social capital, "Independent publishers get funding in crores in a few years after they launch because of the amount of social capital that they have. But it isn't the same for those who don't inherit that kind of social capital," he adds.
"The reason why Panther's Paw Publication only focusses on Dalit Bahujan authors and stories, is because it promotes democratic values and an imagination in which values such as equality, liberty and fraternity are advocated through its narratives, this is why publication is relevant today and has to be sustained," the writer explained. Which is why, Yogesh requesting readers to contribute to its sustainability. Yogesh has put out an appeal asking for seed funding - an amount that will secure the publication house's future atleast for the next three years. "Instead of looking at immediate survival, I decided this time it was best to invite seed funding, so that I can concentrate on my writing as well and ensure that we are stable for three years," he explained.
"A seed fund will be primarily the capital which will help Panther's Paw Publication to sustain in a pandemic. For at least three years. It is needed to create formal employment for at least three people from the Dalit Bahujan community who will be the editor, designer and copy editor. We want to be able to print more and more books without being worried about the pre-booking pattern of gathering funds. It will guarantee the teamwork for at least three years during which publication will make sure to publish enough books and distribute them widely so that it could start generating revenue in order to sustain its work in the future," Yogesh tells us.
Yogesh's target amount is 18 lakh rupees. He aims to spend about 50,000 every month - 15,000 for the editor, 5,000 for the designer and 30,000 towards publishing. He is hoping at least 600 people will contribute about 3000 rupees each.
"I've fixed it at Rs 3000 because I planned that I can pay back the investor in some way. If someone contributes 3000 rupees, we will pay it back in books. They will receive 3000 rupees worth of books, in that way they can feel they have earned it back," Yogesh said. However, there are people who have reached out to him and want to offer help but are not able to afford Rs 3000, "Some people are sending one or two thousand and I'm offering them books as well but most refuse insisting that they want to just contribute because we are doing good work."
The latest book that Yogesh has brought out is Dewaji: Making of an Ambedkarite Family by Dipankar Kamble, a biography. He has several other scripts in his bag, many of his own work included. In the last ten days, 55 people have reached out to him, he has a long way to go but the path will be easier to meander through if he has enough hands helping him along the way.
You can reach out to Yogesh and contribute here -
WhatsApp: 9987133931,Telegram: 9987133931