S Anand

Outside the activist world not too many people know about S Anand, CEO of publishing house Navayana. We have covered him many times here at BP:




In Pali, the word “navayana” means “new vehicle”. Dr BR
Ambedkar used the word in 1956 to describe the branch of Buddhism that wouldn’t
be mired in the Hinayana-Mahayana divide, but would help dalits gain equality
in India.
It’s a fitting name for the publishing house that S Anand and
Ravikumar set up in 2003 because their Navayana, which won the British
Council-London Book Fair International Young Publisher
of the Year award in
2007, continues the good fight for a more equal and unprejudiced society. 
publishes books that tackle caste and caste-based prejudice and in just a few
years, their titles have won praise from all over the world for being produced
beautifully and provocative. Go to their website and you’ll see bravos from
people like Noam Chomsky and Mohammed Hanif. 

In the first section of a two-part
interview, publisher S Anand talks about running an independent publishing
house at a time when big players are fretting about the future of publishing. 
When did you start Navayana and why?  
Navayana was started in November 2003 by
me and Ravikumar, an intellectual and activist in the civil rights movement in
Tamil Nadu and a bank employee back then. I was a journalist then and I worked
for Outlook. 
By 2006, Ravi became a member of a political party, Viduthalai
Chiruthaigal (Dalit Panthers’ Tamil version) and became an MLA;
and in 2007, I
turned to full-time publishing quitting my day job as journalist. Spurred by
winning the British Council-London Book Fair International Young Publisher of
the Year award in 2007, by when Navayana had done only 12 titles, I moved to
Delhi in May 2007. 
It took me a year to find my bearings in this megapolis. In
some senses, Navayana really took off as a serious venture only in 2008. In
2003, we had started Navayana on a whim – the need for Navayana was felt simply
because there were publishers engaging with environmental issues, ‘communalism’
(as the Hindu-Muslim question is called in India); there were independent
publishers engaging with Left issues, such as LeftWord; you had specialist
children’s publishers, women’s movements and feminist publishers, but you did
not have anybody in English language publishing saying that caste is an issue
that infects and inflects everything in India. So there was clearly what we identified
as a ‘gap’ and we decided to try and address this gap with an exclusive focus.
Publishing seems to be a shrinking business. 
Were you ever daunted by the task
of bringing out the titles that make up Navayana’s catalogue? 
In fact, one
finds that in trade and commercial publishing, risk-taking has drastically come
down. Most mainstream publishers want to do ‘safe’ titles that do not incur
financial, political or intellectual risks. The sad part, as the pioneering
American publisher of Pantheon and founder of The New Press, Andre Schiffrin,
says is that publishing was for the longest time not seen as a ‘business’ as
such. A collage of titles published by Navayana. A collage of titles published
by Navayana. Image courtesy: Navayana website People were happy with 4 percent
profits—what you got from a savings bank account. Suddenly with conglomerates
entering the market, with holdings companies treating books like any other
‘investment’, books came to be treated like FMCG products; expectations of
profit went up to an unreasonable 20-25 percent. 
A friend who returned from the
recent London Book Fair says the most interesting titles in the UK are being
done by small and medium-sized independents like Saqi, Serpent’s Tail, Comma
Press, etc. The same holds true for India where presses like Yoda, Blaft, and
Navayana have shown that you can do cutting edge books. Older players like
Seagull and Zubaan have fortified themselves. Seagull has in fact gone
seriously international; they have a Nobel laureate like Mo Yan in their list;
they have all of Mahashweta Devi. So all this gives me courage to be bold,
innovative and experimental at Navayana. But do not forget that the guesstimate
for per capita spending on books in India is an abysmal Rs 80 – per person per
year. Even if only 20 million of the 1.2 billion have the luxury of reading for
pleasure in India, that’s a huge market. And they don’t seem to be reading as
much as they ought to, the mind-numbing sales of the Chetan Bhagats and Amish
Tripathis notwithstanding. 
How involved are you as far as the commissioning
books is concerned? Are you also involved with the design and production of the
Well, I have to do all of that. Navayana works with very low overheads.
I have one assistant editor working with me and one full-time admin person. So
all the commissioning and selecting and handholding of authors and raising
finances has to be done by me. I respond to emails, handle orders, organize
launches, oversee my website, lobby for reviews etc etc. In most post-DTP small
presses, the publisher wears many hats. Since 2008, I have worked with an
excellent designer Akila Seshasayee, on all our covers, but yes I do get
involved with design. A project like Bhimayana was conceived of and curated by
me, and with such excellent artists as Durgabai Vyam and Subhash Vyam it mostly
designed itself. 
What has been the biggest challenge as far as Navayana is
Money! And most small publishers would give you the same answer
likely. I do not seem to have a good head for the business end of things.
Bhimayana has been our only funded project, but otherwise it is quite hand to
mouth. Navayana survives primarily on the generosity of friends, though since
2010, after Slavoj Zizek’s first annual Navayana lecture, our market presence
matches the best. We do make sure all our titles are well reviewed. In terms of
profits, I doubt if even the bigger presses really make any profits with all
the heavy overheads they have. The real profit-earners in Indian publishing are
textbook publishers. Ratna Sagar’s turnover could well be more than
HarperCollins or Penguin’s, but the overall visibility of a Ratna Sagar will be
poor. What has been the most satisfying part of Navayana? The fact that one has
done a range of titles which no one else would have done. And that I get to
pursue my passion as an anti-caste junkie. 
Could you pick five titles from your
catalogue that you would categorise as “must-have”? 
 This is a tough
choice to make since I do not publish books that you ought not have on your shelf.
But still, since list-making is one of journalism’s many ways of simplifying
things, here we go: Bhimayana Ajay Navaria’s Unclaimed Terrain Anand
Teltumbde’s The Persistence of Caste, pegged to the Khairlanji carnage Namdeo
Dhasal’s A Current of Blood Srividya Natarajan and Aparajita Ninan’s A Gardener
in the Wasteland, a graphic adaptation of Jotiba Phule’s 1873 text, Gulamgiri.
I do feel bad leaving out Gogu Shyamla’s Father May be an Elephant…, Namdeo
Nimgade’s In the Tiger’s Shadow and Shashank Kela’s A Rogue and Peasant Slave.
Among the forthcoming titles you must look out for A Word With You, World, the
autobiography of Siddalingaiah, a Kannada poet and co-founder of the Dalit
Sangharsha Samiti. Out in July, it is a Chaplinesque work that will make you
laugh and cry. Then in 2014 we will have Jeremy Seabrook’s as yet untitled work
on the sweatshops of Bangladesh, a work that will tell you what’s so terribly
wrong with the Katherine Boo school of nonfiction that’s made to read like



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9 years ago

Thanks much for clarifying. Seeing how "S Anand" leads to a million google hits! Also pl note my comments on your good write up Dravida vs Dalits

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