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Digital era spelling doom for Hindi pulp-fiction books

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New Delhi:  Rajan Iqbal, a bookseller at the New Delhi Railway Station, vividly remembers “those days” when Hindi pulp fiction books were his stall’s bestsellers. Today, he struggles to sell even a single copy in a day and blames the internet for “killing the reading habit and diminishing the business of pocket books”.

“It was not even five years back when I used to have customers who bought over 50 books at one go. There was a lady from America who used to come to my stall and buy as many as 75 books in a single purchase,” Iqbal commented, while pointing at the stack of unsold pulp fiction books lined up on his stall.

“But today, these books hardly have any buyers; and the only reason I think is the coming of the internet, new age smart phones and the laptop,” he ruefully added.

Back in the 1980s, the popularity of the genre was at its peak, with authors like Surendra Mohan Pathak, Ved Prakash Sharma, Anil Mohan and Gulshan Nanda being widely read. With the new means of entertainment entering the market, the genre gradually lost its sheen.

“There are no longer any potential writers or new readers because people are now more interested in television and using their mobile phones or the internet,” writer Pathak, who has nearly 300 novels to his credit, commented over phone.

“This has diminished the business of pocket books. Now there are just a handful of publishers in Delhi and Meerut, compared to 50-60 in the early 80s,” the 75-year-old author, known for his “Sunil Series” and “Vimal Series”, added.

Hindi pulp fiction can be best described as unputdownable nerve-wracking murder mysteries which served as leisurely reads at extremely pocket-friendly prices. The books range from anything between Rs.30 to Rs.150.

“The reason they became so popular is because they are printed on recycled paper, and hence reasonably priced,” Pulkit Jain, managing director, Dheeraj Pocket Books, commented on phone from Meerut.

However, even its cost could not save the genre’s diminishing popularity. This, reiterates Jain, was due to the increased use of modern technology which has led to a steep fall in the reading habit, also reflected by the genre’s sale figures.

Agreed Manoj Kumar, another bookseller at the Railway Station, who said that against the 20 books he used to sell daily nearly five years back, today he is hardly able to sell two.

“I agree that that I struggle to sell these books now, but you will always find them in stock here. The only difference is that now I get only 40 copies as opposed to the 100 I used to buy earlier,” the 29-year-old Kumar commented.

The decline in readership also cost the publishers, who despite trying “hard” to regain the genre’s lost popularity by improving the paper quality, cover designs and printing quality, “failed” in doing so.

“We tried every trick in the book to rekindle the romance with the genre, but the attempt was unsuccessful. You cannot do much when you do not have a dedicated readership. So, we are now trying to branch out to other general books to sustain our publication,” Jain said, adding that earlier they used to print such books in lakhs which has now reduced to some thousands.

Writers too introduced recent incidents of robbery or murder into their plots to cater to the contemporary readers. But that too could not help regain the genre’s once-enjoyed readership.

“These days if you flip through the newspapers, you will read stories of murder, rapes or robberies. So, I take cues from such incidents and build up an imaginary world to bring freshness into the plots,” Pathak said.

Despite falling readership, publishing house Harper Collins “took a chance” with the pulp fiction genre to maintain a balance in their Hindi publishing division. So far, they have published two books – “Jo Lare Deen Ke Het” and “Colaba Conspiracy” – by Pathak, with a third book in the pipeline; and this decision has been “fruitful”.

“The readership of the genre may have come down, but it still remains hugely popular. Fans buy ten books by Pathak at a time, while also pre-booking them,” Minakshi Thakur, senior commissioning editor, Harper Collins, commented.

“Pathak is the undisputed king of Hindi crime writers in India,” she said, adding that his first two books sold over 50,000 copies which is “equivalent to a best selling English writer”.

And in keeping the market of this genre “alive” readers like Vikas Jha play an important role.

“There is no match for writers like Pathak and (Ved Prakash) Sharma. I still remember the day when I had picked up my first copy from this railway station six years back. And I have just picked up a new book to read while on my way home to Bihar,” Jha commented.

“These books provide ‘full-on entertainment’ with their racy plots keeping me glued till the last page,” Jha added.

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SOUTH ASIA

Pakistani Anti-graft body wants travel ban on Nawaz Sharif, kin

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Pakistan’s anti-corruption watchdog has asked authorities to place ousted premier Nawaz Sharif, his daughter and son-in-law on the Exit Control List to prevent them from leaving the country.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) sent a formal request to the ministry of interior. The interior ministry officials confirmed that the NAB wrote that names of Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Capt (retd) Muhammad Safdar should be put on the Exit Control List (ECL), which listed individuals not allowed to leave Pakistan.

The NAB argued that as the trial of the three nears its conclusion, it is feared that they would leave the country.

Earlier, a similar request to place name of finance minister Ishaq Dar on ECL was not accepted, allowing him to go to London and never return.

Sharif, 68, and his family this week filed an application with the accountability court seeking a fortnight’s exemption from personal appearance from February 19 onwards to let them go to London to see Sharif’s ailing wife. Three cases were filed against Sharif and his family last year, including Avenfield properties, Azizia & Hill Metal Establishment, and Flagship Investments.

Maryam and Safdar are accused only in Avenfield properties case. The NAB had filed two supplementary references against Sharif, his sons Hasan and Hussain regarding Al-Azizia Steel Mills & Hill Metal Establishment and Flagship Investment cases.

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SOUTH ASIA

Pakistan “breaches obligations’ on nuclear arms reduction, UN court told

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The Hague: Pakistan is violating its “obligations” to the international community by failing to reduce its nuclear arsenal, the Marshall Islands told the UN’s highest court on Tuesday.

The small Pacific Island nation is this week launching three unusual cases against India, Pakistan and Britain before the International Court of Justice.

Majuro wants to put a new spotlight on the global nuclear threat, its lawyers said yesterday, by using its own experience with massive US-led nuclear tests in the 1940s and 1950s.

“Pakistan is in breach of its obligations owed to the international community as a whole,” when it comes to reducing its nuclear stockpile, said Nicholas Grief, one of the island nation’s lawyers.

Islamabad and its nuclear-armed neighbour India “continue to engage in a quantitative build-up and a qualitative improvement” of their atomic stockpiles, added Tony deBrum, a Marshallese government minister.

DeBrum warned that even a “limited nuclear war” involving the two countries would “threaten the existence” of his island nation people.

Pakistan and India have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.

In 1998, the rival neighbours both demonstrated nuclear weapons capability.

The ICJ’s judges are holding hearings for the next week and a half to decide whether it is competent to hear the lawsuits brought against India and Pakistan — neither of which have signed the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

A third hearing against Britain — which has signed the NPT — scheduled to start on Wednesday will be devoted to “preliminary objections” raised by London.

The Marshalls initially sought to bring a case against nine countries it said possessed nuclear arms: Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia and the United States.
Israel has never admitted to having nuclear weapons.

But the Hague-based ICJ, set up in 1945 to rule in disputes between states, has only admitted three cases against Britain, India and Pakistan, because they have accepted the ICJ’s compulsory jurisdiction.

Pakistan’s lawyers did not attend Tuesday’s hearings.

It did however file a counter-claim against Majuro’s allegations saying “the court has no jurisdiction to deal with the application” and insisting that the case is “not admissible”, said ICJ President Ronny Abraham.

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SOUTH ASIA

Bangladesh to drop Islam as official religion following attacks on Hindus

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Bangladesh to drop Islam as official religion following attacks on Hindus

New Delhi: Bangladesh is likely to drop Islam as its official religion following a series of attacks on people from other faiths in the country. The country’s Supreme Court is hearing a plea challenging the status of the official religion of the country to Islam.

Bangladesh, which was declared a secular country after its formation in 1971, was declared an Islamic country following a constitutional amendment in 1988.

According to a report in the Daily Mail, the plea has challenged the declaration of Islam as the national religion of the country.

The move is being supported by leaders from the minority communities like Hindus, Christians and Muslim minority Shiites.

Bangladesh has 90 per cent of Muslims, 8 per cent Hindus and remaining constitutes Christians and Muslim minority Shiites.

In last month, a Hindu priest was hacked to death following an attack on a temple in Panchgarh district. Two others were seriously injured in the attack. There have been several lethal attacks on writers and bloggers.

According to a report in the Independent, Islamist groups Jumatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh and Ansarullah Bangla Team are believed to have carried out at least seven attacks on foreign and minority people in Bangladesh in the past year.

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