I had the opportunity to publish my novel Skeena in Punjabi (Sanjh Publications, Lahore 2007) last year, and while it was one of the most creative and inspiring experiences for me, it did include, and still does, confrontations with my peers around royalty rights and promotional strategies.
All the wonderful things began happening with Ijaz Syed in California who after reading the English manuscript of Skeena, recommended it to a publisher in Lahore; who in turn, offered to publish it in Punjabi and invited me to come to Lahore to translate it. This was a wonderful opportunity for me, and Ijaz Syed again stepped up by bringing me over to California where i enjoyed his hospitality and that of his family and friends. I am most grateful for the time and attention i received there from Nusrat Syed, Sarmad Syed, Vidhu Singh, Sanjeev Mahajan, Shaista Parveen, Salma, Cesar Love, Nidhi Singh and Rob Mod. Later, Ijaz, Sanjeev and Shaista were prevailed upon to buy me a one-way ticket to Lahore.
This also meant a chance for me to live in Lahore for a meaningful length of time in 2006 after having left it for Canada in 1986.
This was a dream situation for me also because Skeena is a character and story rooted in Pakistani Punjab, that then reaches out into the Punjabi communities of Toronto and Surrey. The very diversity of our communities had shackled the English manuscript with sentences upon sentences of Punjabi while the living culture of Muslim characters had laiden it with shots of Arabic. This was pointed out by most of its readers, and by Editor Michele Sherstan in Vancouver who had worked with me on Skeena in 2004. At that time, I knew that the novel had to be re-expressed in Punjabi before the English can ever be published; yet i had been away for so long that many sounds and words shivered below the surface of my mind as i looked for the courage to draw them out in the open again.
It will be an understatement to say that i am grateful to Skeena’s Punjabi Editor Zubair Ahmed for giving me the courage, the skills and the environment to rewrite Skeena in Punjabi. Zubair is a rare friend who cares for me and my work, and challenges me to do better. He spent countless hours of volunteer work to edit more than three hundred manuscript pages of Skeena as he supported me to shape my voice in Punjabi. Zubair also provided a comfortable and creative environment at Kitab Trinjan, a Punjabi bookstore on Temple Road that he manages on permanent part time voluntary basis for over a decade now. I was also happy to know Trinjan’s only full time employee Ghulam Haider; as well, Zubair introduced me to some most wonderful people there including his wife Samina, and Amjad Salim of Sanjh Publications who later published Skeena in Punjabi.
The publisher who had originally offered to publish Skeena was excited about the submission of the Punjabi manuscript, and we were beginning to discuss production and promotion when i realized that nothing had been mentioned about royalties yet. After a while, i asked the publisher as to how much royalty i was going to get; the question set off a wave of double headed culture shock hitting both the publisher and the writer. The publisher nearly fell off of his chair, so to speak, telling me that the top most Punjabi authors in Lahore pay the production cost to get their books published, where I, a mere writer of unpublished novels, am asking for royalty when my book is being published for free. Across from him, my eyes were popping out of my forehead because years of living in Canada had made me unprepared to deal with a situation where a small or medium level literary publisher was apparently operating for many years without recognizing an author’s right to royalty.
That culture shock helped me to figure out that royalty is NOT one of the rights accepted by Punjabi publishers or writers. So, this was the beginning of many inspiring discussions and fiery confrontations on royalty rights, book promotion strategies and maaNboli language issues in Lahore and other cities. I am aware that fighting for royalty rights for Punjabi writers/creators, and generating a debate on this issue by pushing it on the Net is not going to make me popular in Punjabi literary circles on either side of the border. Still, i will continue to share my ideas and experiences in Uddari Weblog because i think that the non-recognition of royalty rights is central to the ailments of Punjabi publishing industry.
Before i end this post, let me put your mind to rest: Yes, Sanjh did accept, and respect, my royalty rights.