Selling Punjabi Stories

I no longer go hawking my stories. I used to do that some years ago with very good results. Once I sold an English translation of my story to a small magazine in far away Madras. They sent me five rupees for my pains. With that much money one could take a ride with one’s wife to a cinema hall in a rickshaw, see a movie in the most expensive class and ride back.

These days I merely sit and have the sale price thrown at me. Sometimes it is really heavy and comes ‘tearing down the roof of the house’, as they say in Punjabi. This letter is from the Punjab Department of Languages.

“Under a scheme of the Department, ‘standard Punjabi books’ 
are translated into Hindi. It is proposed to get your book 
published in Hindi translation. It would be proper to state 
here, that a paltry amount of Rs 1,000 will be offered to you
in full and final payment for the copyright.”

Not so very paltry.

The Director of the Doordarshan Kendra says that it is proposed to televise an adaptation of my story. Would I please give permission in exchange for five hundred rupees? Why not? Particularly, when none of their usual conditions would be applicable. For instance, you will not have ‘to agree to be made up’ if required by Doordarshan to ensure satisfactory reception of the picture on the receiving screen (allow their beauticians to improve upon your looks). One would like to leave a bundle of blank permission forms with such nice people like an obliging magistrate giving blank warrants of arrest to the Police.

But most of my dealings are with Universities and Education Boards who, because of their great respectability would not like to be caught on the wrong foot. For similar reasons they would want a writer to know his place. A university buys a story in the same way as it would buy a six canal house in Chandigarh except that the price offered is that of only one bag of earth. These institutions get lawyers to whet their contract papers or simply borrow one another’s drafts and the result is as below.

“This agreement made this day between the University (hereinafter referred to as the publishers) on behalf of themselves, their successors and assignees of the one part and the author (hereinafter referred to as the Proprietor) on behalf of himself, his successors and assignees of the other part.

Whereas the Proprietor is the absolute owner of copyright of the work and has power and authority to transfer these rights in the manner indicated in this agreement and whereas the publishers have applied to the Proprietor for permission to include the work in their publication for sale etc. and to use the work in any other way.” (What other way?).

“Now it is hereby mutually agreed as follows,”

This is followed by several paragraphs of the actual terms of the contract. It is wise to sign these forms without reading a word. If you start reading you run into paragraphs like this:

“ Five percent pro-rata royalty that is, five percent of the published price to be divided amongst copyright holders in the ratio which their pieces bear to the total number of pages of the anthologies in which the pieces are included or lump sum fees, determined through negotiations, with the approval of the Vice-Chancellor.”

The rider about the approval by the Vice Chancellor, after the conclusion of negotiations, is sensible and also meets the demands of propriety. Everyone knows that international agreements negotiated by ministers, ambassadors etc. take effect only after these are ratified by their respective governments. To keep the balance, the writer (proprietor) could say that the agreement will take effect only after approval by his/her wife/husband.

More correspondence follows after the Vice-Chancellor’s approval.

“You have asked for a lump sum royalty. According to the rules of this University you can be paid at the rate of Rs 6 per three hundred words. Your story contains 1738 words. Accordingly you can be paid Rs 34 and 76 paise, as royalty. Kindly send your acceptance urgently so that lump sum royalty may be paid to you.”

On the other extreme, is the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (with foreign countries). They seem to grossly under-estimate the writers’ capacity for fraud and mischief and behave in a perfectly naive manner.

“Your short story has been selected for inclusion in the 
Anthology of Indian Short Stories. Please find, enclosed 
herewith, cheques of rupees hundred and rupees seventy 
five towards honorarium and translation respectively of 
the short story.”

The Punjab School Education Board, being a young institution, has a new youthful idea. Instead of entering into a contract with a writer, which puts both the parties (at least on paper) on the same pedestal, the Board makes you sign an affidavit “on non-judicial stamp paper worth Rs.2.50”. You have to, solemnly, affirm and declare that “all the copyrights in respect of the story written under your authorship” vest in you and that you are its sole author. This may not be good English but it gives the buyer a sense of security. Here is more armour from the Board.

“In the event of any dispute or difference arising regarding 
interpretation of any clause of this affidavit, the matter shall 
be referred to the decision of the Chairman, Punjab School 
Education Board, SAS Nagar, Mohali (Ropar) whose 
decision thereon shall be final and binding on me/us.”

Some people do feel sorry for sending a writer a small cheque. The letter from the Punjabi Writers’ Cooperative Industrial Society begins like this:

“At the outset I express my regrets for sending the royalty 
amount of fifty rupees for having permitted us to include 
your valuable story in our selection of Kahani Punjab’.”

All these letters that I receive happen to be signed by doctors in literature.

Sometimes no monetary payments are promised but other attractions are offered to a writer for sending a copy of his book. Read this one.

“You will be glad to know that Sadhu Sulakhan Singh who 
has been doing public service at his Dera in the historical 
town of Patiala for the past so many years has now decided 
to start a library there. You are the author of so many books. 
I, therefore, request you to send one copy of each of your books 
as a free gift to this library. These books when placed in the 
library will be read by innumerable knowledge-seeking visitors
and the circle of your readership will stand widened. You 
will also be doing a great service to your Punjabi mother-tongue.

P.S. To guard against pilferage in transit the books may be sent 
to Santji by registered post. .”

Given the economic condition of the country I find this kind of thing easy to understand.

Not so the posture of those who promise to pay but do not pay. There is one university in Punjab that has entered into contracts with me and published tens of my stories in their textbooks and yet have never paid me a paisa. I should probably keep in mind that this university was started, to develop Punjabi language and literature. They do not want to soil the chaste connection between the institution and the writers by passing filthy lucre.

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