By Vidya Pradhan
Sonali Sahni Herrera had a problem common to Indians brought up in the United States. Husband Carlos was able to share his culture and Spanish language with their children with the help of many bilingual books and DVDs but she was at a loss when it came to Hindi, having grown up in the US since the age of 4. Not being very fluent in the Hindi script, she looked around for books, CDs, nursery rhymes that could bridge the gap between her knowledge and her culture but the offerings were limited and few met her quality standards. She turned to sister Sheetal Sahni Singhal, for help. After scouting around in India and here for material, the two decided that the only way to get quality books was to publish it themselves. They started MeeraMasi, a publishing company that focuses on Indian bilingual books for kids under the age of 6. “So many families are of mixed cultures here,” says Sonali. “I want to pass on my rich heritage to my children. MeeraMasi’s goal is to expose the kids to Hindi and other Indian languages at a really young age so they are familiar with the sounds and the speech cadences. When they are ready to learn the language formally at the age of 6 or 7 they will be familiar with the way it is spoken.” With neither of them having any publishing experience it took a lot of trial and error to figure out the workings of the industry. MeeraMasi began with ‘Khushi Manao’- a set of board books with popular nursery rhymes translated and transliterated in Hindi and English. Transliteration, or writing the Hindi words in English( like Khushi Manao), helps parents unfamiliar with the Hindi script to read aloud the books to their kids. The board books aim for the quality and look of the popular Sandra Boynton books and are sturdy and ready to withstand a lot of abuse from young hands. After the books were published, Sheetal heard Sonali read them aloud to her daughter and noticed that Sonali still added a very westernized accent to the words. Correctly assuming that this would be a problem for other second generation Indian Americans, the company decided to add a CD to every book that would help the parent figure out the correct pronunciations. With their high emphasis on quality, the books are not cheap. “We set it according to the pricing model in this country,” explains Sonali. “But people immediately start translating the price into rupees. The fact is, there are no such books available in the Indian market. What we are fighting is perception.” To make their books more visible among the Indian community, MeeraMasi markets through independent bookstores and participates in local book fairs. “We have been around just a year but are already quite well known because of the viral nature of our sales. Our community is so close knit and we share a common heritage. Our products get popular through word-of-mouth,”says Sonali. The company has also launched an Ambassador program along the lines of the Tupperware parties held in private homes. In addition to promoting the products through intimate at-home gatherings, the Ambassadors can also market the books in their local community by participating in fairs and fundraisers with ideas and support from the company. Sonali and Sheetal hope this will help MeeraMasi penetrate the market and help smooth over the sticky price point. MeeraMasi brings out 3-4 books a year, each with its own audio CD. This year’s books are ‘Jay and Juhi and the Peacock Adventure’ and 2 multilingual beginner books of counting and opposites in Punjabi, Hindi and Gujarati. The Peacock Adventure is the first in a series of character based books. Other books starring Jay and Juhi are in the works. Meeramasi’s products and details of their Ambassador program can be found on their website. The company offers free shipping to customers for sales over 20 dollars. Khushi Manao while you read a MeeraMasi book with your little one.