Book Distributors Break Down Barriers With New BBT Language Cards
By Madhava Smullen
“Kindly help me,” was Srila Prabhupada’s heartfelt request to devotees in Los Angeles in 1975. “Print as many books as possible in as many languages as possible, and distribute throughout the whole world. Then the Krishna consciousness movement will automatically increase.”
Today, the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust has translated Prabhupada’s books into 89 languages, but there are still unique challenges in getting them to people. What if you’re a book distributor in a foreign country? Or you want to share books with foreign-language speaking immigrants in your own country?
“Part of the sadhana for book distributors is to understand that people from all cultures and languages have the same tendency to be attracted to Lord Krishna,” says sankirtana strategist Vaisesika Das. “After a while you see that it’s just an external barrier we need to overcome.”
To break down those barriers, the BBT’s Marketing and Communications team has come up with an innovative new idea – language cards for book distributors.
“It started two years ago when Vaisesika Prabhu was in Jagannath Puri and wanted to distribute books,” says the project’s translator Nagara Kirtan Das. “So I made simple cards out of pieces of paper for him, with “please give a donation” written in Hindi, Oriya and Bengali.”
Nagara Kirtan Das and the rest of the team have been working hard since, and have now prepared the text for language cards in 26 different languages. Finished card designs are available online in eleven of these: Arabic, Assamese, Bengali, Farsi, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Marathi, Oriya, Spanish, and Telegu – for book distributors to print, cut out, laminate and use.
The rest — French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, Thai, Ukranian, Urdu, Vietnamese, and Zulu – will follow soon.
Each card has a simple phrase in a particular language on one side – for instance, the Arabic card reads, in Arabic script, “Hello. This is ancient knowledge from India. Kindly donate. Thank you.” On the other side, for the benefit of the book distributor, there is a word-for-word translation, a full English translation of the phrase, and a phonetic rendition of the phrase so that the book distributor can learn and repeat it.
“But you don’t even have to,” says Vaisesika. “All you have to do is hand people a book in Arabic, and show them the card, and they will buy it. I promise you that. It’s that simple.”
Vaisesika explains that while it is helpful to learn a word or two, such as “hello,” in several different languages to connect with people, just showing the language cards can be actually easier and even more effective than learning the language.
This is down to the fact that while the BBT language cards might seem deceptively simple, a lot of work has gone into them.
“For each language, I contacted sankirtana devotees in that country or region, and asked them what they say when they approach people,” Nagara Kirtan says. “In each culture, you connect with people in a different way. For example, with Zulu in South Africa, the best method is to simply say, ‘These books are about God.’ In Italy, the best line is, ‘These books teach the art of never getting angry.’ In Spain, ‘These books talk about how to conquer the mind, and teach us about inner peace.’”
“On the other hand, in India,” Nagara Kirtan says, “When people see you with tilak and robes, folding your hands and showing them the book, all you need to say is, ‘Please give a donation.’ No explanation is required.”
Once he has the right phrases, Nagara Kirtan has them translated by a professional translator. In some cases, with languages it’s hard to find devotees to ask about – such as Vietnamese – he’ll hire a local translator and pick their brain on their countrymen’s atittudes about God, spirituality and more to come up with a fitting line.
The resulting language cards have considerably boosted book distribution in many places.
This February, Vaisesika took 80 devotees from all over the world – China, Japan, Canada, Russia, Belgium and North America – to distribute books in Jagannath Puri. Using the language cards, these international devotees who didn’t speak the local languages were able to distribute 5,074 books in seven days and collect Rs 1,26,691 in donations.
A 74-year-old American devotee, Dharmatma Das, was able to distribute 212 books in eight days on his own in Mexico City using the cards. “It’s so rewarding and satisfying knowing Srila Prabhupada would be pleased,” he says.
In Los Angeles, 30-year-old book distributor Jaya Chaitanya Das was trying to make the most of the BBT resolution to offer augmented book points for distribution of Arabic and Farsi books for a limited time.
Using the languge cards, he set a new Arabic book speed record, distributing eight Arabic books to Middle Eastern tourists in just 20 seconds. “The new Arabic Flash Card works like a magical charm. An absolute dream!” he says. “One time an Arabic-speaking tourist was walking by my book table with a friend. Just showing him the Arabic side of the card along with an Arabic Perfection of Yoga captured his full attention right away. He gave a huge smile, exclaimed ‘hasananaan!’ (‘Okay!’) and bought the book instantly! Without any words needing to be said!”
And the language card project is only just getting started. A tutorial video is forthcoming to show devotees how to print and use the cards, while the BBT Marketing and Communications team is working towards a final goal of 89 languages.
“These cards break down a lot of walls between book distributors and the people they meet,” says a very excited Nagara Kirtan Das. “At the 16th Street Mall in Denver, for example, we see so many Vietnamese, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish and Italian people. Many of them are struggling to communicate in a foreign country. So it melts their hearts when a random monk approaches them with a book in their language, speaking to them in their own tongue.”
Armed with these cards, Vaisesika reminds devotees that now we can fulfill Srila Prabhupada’s desire to ‘kindly help’ distribute his books in as many languages as possible. “Let’s go after this,” he says. “Please, everyone, help us distribute his books all over the world!”
To get your own language cards, click here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/pegg0x5mc4z928o/AABZTyiXTPCHDtViO3FaXQmVa?dl=0
Or write to the BBT Marketing and Communications team at firstname.lastname@example.org.