Why doesn’t Kindle come with more Indian language books?

January 9, 2015

This morning I received a call from my Maa and Paa. They complained hesitantly, “Beta! The Kindle you and your brother gifted us has such limited range of Hindi and Gujarati books. When you come home for New Year please take it with you.” I felt guilty, because even after months of contemplation my brother and I missed such an important factor while gifting them the Kindle – the lack of multilingual literature. How could we have not noticed it?

My Maa is an avid reader of regional literature. My father reads primarily in Hindi. This call sadly reminded me of how my generation and my parents is divided by a vast gap comprising two factors meant to bring people closer: technology and English. The problem with technology and English is the same: the underlying assumption that everyone finds them easy to handle.

I was prepared for the change Kindle brought. But my Maa and Paa were not.

Had the Kindle offered them something more appetising – in other words, a vast range of literature in the languages of their choice, at their fingertips at the press of a button – I am sure they would have wanted to at least give it a shot. After all, they have figured out how to use a smartphone.

I don’t belong to the anti-Kindle community. Nor do I really patronize it. Th books-vs-Kindle debate has been going on ever since the first version of Kindle was released in 2007. It fit right into the minimalistic living of the 21st century. It offered so much. We travel with smaller suitcases, we prefer everything at one place (the way Apple creates a single interface through all its devices) and we want everything to occupy the least space. The ease, speed, storage capacity and convenience of Kindle reflected the modern-day living. Kindle revolutionized the way we thought about books. Some of us didn’t even have go to book stores or libraries anymore. We were not required to fill any forms for Library cards. We did not have to wait in long queues to get our favorite books. We no longer needed shelves or book cases, we just needed sockets to charge the Kindle. This applies to, I think, many book-lovers under the age of 40 and some, tech-savvy, older ones.

But e-readers are still very English-dominated. It will be a while before my Dad can read his favorite Hindi magazine on a Kindle and my Mother can read Bhisma Sahani’s play on Kindle. E-readers aren’t a home for everyone. Not yet.

Why not? It surprises me. To me, it feels like e-readers are the perfect place for regional literature to get a breath of life. To get more virtual shelf space, when brick-and-mortar stores can’t give it to them because of business practicalities. Then why isn’t that happening? How come e-readers aren’t catering to a niche segment of readers whose numbers are actually significantly large?

In the end I have a small anecdote to relate. I spent the last one year as a researcher doing archival history work on modern Indian events like the Emergency of 1975. I always felt that if everything were digital back then, getting rid of records, or manipulating them, might have been easy. There is something permanent about books and that will never ever change. And it should not, right?

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