Mahatma Gandhi's print legacy alive and well at the Navjivan Press in Ahmedabad

By 02 Oct 2019

Jitendra Desai, the managing trustee at Navjivan Press in Ahmedabad is no more. He passed away on 21 March. The PrintWeek India team remembers him as a true Gandhian.

Below is the profile of the press which he headed.

Navjivan in Ahmedabad reminds us of ethics and the value of Gandhian thought
Other than the Sabarmati Ashram, there are three institutions established by Mahatma Gandhi in Ahmedabad – Gujarat Vidyapith, Majoor Mahajan Sangh and and Navjivan Press. All four institutions survive – along with 5.1 million Ahmedabad citizens.

Most of Ahmedabad’s nex-gen are perhaps unaware that Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj shall complete 100 years in November 2009; and will be printed and published at Navjivan Press.

Jitendra Desai, managing trustee, of Navajivan Trust – a raconteur of delightful stories – welcomes us to the three-acre print and publishing centre in the heart of Ahmedabad city. Plans are afoot for a re-print of Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj.

Hind Swaraj has an interesting history. Gandhi wrote it in ten days between 13 and 22 November, 1909 on board the SS Kildonan Castle on his voyage from London to Durban. He wrote it in Gujarati. When his right hand got tired, he wrote with his left hand.

The truth of the matter
The printing and plate-making department at Navjivan has a battery of indigenous HMT multicolour presses. But the point is, the press has made a priceless contribution to the Indian national movement.
Very few know that Mahatma Gandhi was an astute printer, publisher and journalist. Gandhi edited Indian Opinion, Young India, Navjivan and Harijan.

On 7 September 1919, Gandhi bought out the Navjivan weekly from Natwar printing press which is located near Khamasa Gate.

"When word spread that Gandhiji was writing, the first issue received 2,500 subscriptions and orders started coming from Mumbai. The subscription increased to more than 15,000 copies. This was a record in those days as no other Gujarati weekly had such a large readership," recounts Desai.

However, the government was threatened by the critical writings of Gandhi. Since no press owner was willing to risk its business by publishing reports against the government, Navjivan felt the need to acquire its own printing press.

And so, Gandhi purchased Navjivan for Rs 10,000.

Today, Navjivan’s annual sales turnover is Rs 1 crore. These are mostly from highly subsisided in-house publications. Additional revenue is generated through the copyright of Gandhi’s collected works which adds up to 1,000 books. This includes his autobiography, My Experiments With Truth published in 24 foreign languages, including Braille.

Navjivan has published the book in 13 langauges and are launching the Sanskrit edition. Most of the printing is outsourced. The 135-strong workforce prints 20,000 copies daily.

The maximum sales came from the Malayalam edition, which sold 4.15 lakh copies and the English version which sold 10.37 lakh copies. Desai admits that blockbuster films like Gandhi and Lage Raho Munnabhai and President Obama’s Gandhian statements have boosted sales.

Gandhi katha
Desai, who has a diploma from the London College of Printing in 1973, and has written a print memoir and a booklet on Johannes Gutenberg recounts anecdotes about Gandhi.

"Gandhiji," he says, "counted bad printing as an act of himsa (violence). He insisted on clear types, durable paper and neat simple jackets. He knew costly books in attractive jackets were out of the reach of readers of a poor country like India. During his lifetime, the Navajivan Press printed books at a low price. His Gujarati autobiography was priced, 12 annas."

Gandhi had simple suggestions. He felt children’s books should be printed in bold types, attractive paper and items should be illustrated with a sketch. He preferred thin booklets. They do not tire the children and are easy to handle.

Desai mentions that "Once the Navjivan Press decided to publish a Gujarati translation of Gokhale’s writings and speeches. When the book was printed, Gandhi was requested to write the foreword. He found the translation poor and asked it to be destroyed. When he was told that Rs 700 had been spent, he said: "Do you think it desirable to place this rubbish before the public?"

Role of the printer
Navnijivan Press may not be the most profitable or advanced press in the country, but it represents something that is integral to Indian democracy: the liberty of the printing press.

Gandhi stopped printing his journals when a government order restricted him. His press was confiscated, his files were destroyed, his co-workers were jailed. He was never discouraged and remarked: "The press has a role to play. It has to become the people’s Bible, Koran and Gita rolled in one. A newspaper predicts that riots are coming and all the sticks and knives have been sold out. It is the duty of the press to teach people to be brave, not to instill fear into them."

In today’s times, this is the moral of the Navjivan Press story.


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