Relive stories in your mother tongue with audiobooks in Indian languages
A month ago Bangalore-based Ranjita Bhagwan, a researcher with Microsoft Research India, was thrilled to discover Shonakatha , a website set up in 2010 that sells Bengali audiobooks. “I didn’t know this kind of a website existed. This is great for people like me who understand the language but cannot read the script,” she says. Bhagwan is a Tamilian but grew up in Kolkata, where she learnt to speak Bengali. “Unfortunately, though I can read the script, it happens only at a snail’s pace,” she says, adding that this takes away the charm of reading Bengali books. “Somebody should do this for Hindi as well. I’d love to hear Munshi Premchand in an audiobook, rather than plod through a book.”
Hearing is easy
Vidyanand Vartak, a software developer based in London, launched a blog called BoltiPustake in 2008 that offers free, downloadable Marathi audiobooks in MP3 format. “One day, I came across a site for English audiobooks where volunteers read books for free and started listening to them,” says Vartak, “That’s where I thought of doing something similar in Marathi.”
For Vartak, the blog is a way to revive his mother tongue. Currently, he’s recording a 100-year-old Marathi adaptation of Jane Austen’sPride And Prejudice called Aaj Pasun 50 Varshanni (50 Years From Today), which was written as a futuristic novel at the time.
“This whole narration business is nothing new in India,” says Jai Madhukar Zende, co-founder, BooksTALK, an year-old audiobook publisher. “We have a rich tradition of oral storytelling in all languages in India and have been a listening culture historically.” Zende remembers how he grew up hearing audiobooks on cassettes, narrated on Bombay Doordarshan and then some years later, on CDs.
“Even today if you go to a music shop you can pick up Katha audiobooks on CDs,” he says. With a funky website and a subhead “Story telling is back… Just listen”, BooksTALK aims to introduce about 100 audiobooks in three languages—English, Kannada and Bengali—in the market by year-end. “While in Kannada and Bengali audiobooks we stick to classics only, in English we are bringing out all kinds of titles, non-fiction, classics, fiction etc.,” says Zende.
New Horizon Media Pvt. Ltd (NHM), established in 2004, is one of the earliest ventures in audiobooks in Tamil and has uploaded over 100 audiobooks in the language since 2006. It sells CDs through its website for Rs. 99-199 and on Audible for approximately $10 (or Rs. 555) each on a revenue-sharing basis. “It is the people who do not like to read much but like to know things that go for these titles. These listeners prefer non-fiction titles such as biographies, political histories, self-improvement and history. Fiction sells less,” says Badri Seshadri, publisher and managing director, NHM.
Recording is tough
Even though most regional publishers in languages ranging from Marathi, Oriya, Bengali and Hindi to Tamil, Kannada and others are considering and trying out the audiobook space, the number of books in the market remains low. One reason is that it takes a lot of time to make one. Since its inception in 2008, Vartak has uploaded only 14 audiobooks on his blog BoltiPustake.