Home Is Where The Book Is

I’ve very fond memories of mulling over the books in the Fort Area. The spot beneath the VSNL building was an adda. Befittingly, once the building was constructed and the internet revolution was on, the bookwallah from the pavement was evicted. Once upon a time, that place was quite a lively intellectual area. It used to possess diminutive gems. An Aubrey Menon book in which he had inscribed a message for his sister, Kamala Das. Once I came across the first edition of Rajgopalchari and a s

21 Jun 2014 | By Ramu Ramanathan

This is a rarity, in our times. There’s a little but not much. You can get what you want, if you want a textbook you can get it, if you want a bestseller you can get it. If you want a specialised book and if they don’t have it they’ll order it for you. There’s Deepak Chopra and Chetan Bhagat and there’s Feng Shui & Reiki and books about computer software, but there are very few places where you’d want to browse. There's the 2nd Hand-Book Stall and the book-sellers near Madras Cafe. 

Today, you've to be super-lucky if you want to find books in elegant Devnagari fonts, produced by master printers on their letterpress. The master printers were Ganpat Krishnaji or Tukaram Jawji Chowdhari of Nirnaysagar Press or Sonyabapu Dhawale of Karnataka Printing Press or V P Bhagwat of Mouj. They created their own fonts; and with it, their own idioms.

The Summer of 2007

In the summer of 2007 whilst driving around Konkan coast, I passed through Roha. This sleepy town was in the news because of a hefty donation made by the managing director of a Clariant Pigments. This donation was for a vachnalaya (community library). 
Vachnalayas sprung into existence post-independence. This was primarily due to the far-sightedness of Maharashtra’s intellectuals, academicians, and social workers. The vachnalayas stocked books, fiction and non-fiction, children’s books, magazines, newspapers in an attempt to initiate a grass-root level book movement in the state. 
After Roha, I drove to Khopoli and Murud and visited the vachnalayas. By the look of it, the movement is floundering. The collection of books is good but there were very few new releases. More importantly, there were a handful of readers. As the local said “what was once a vibrant tradition has declined. Young people are not interested in reading. They have not heard of the doyens of the Marathi literary movement, Ram Patwardhan, Durga Bhagwat, Vishnu Khandekar, V V Shirwadkar, Narayan Surve. Besides reading, there’s also the problem of funding. The local bodies and state government which are instrumental in financing these vachnalayas have other priorities. Yes, there’s the occasional funding from patrons and organisations, but its not enough.”

The Saga of Two Indias

In contrast to the desolation at vachnalayas, is the triumph of the Indian book print firms. Today, the book printing legacy is being sustained by top-notch printers in India like Gopsons, Manipal, Replika, Repro, Thomson. who specialise in illustrated coffee-table book, art book and textbooks. 

Consider: Pragati Offset. This is an award-winning family-run printing firm. They have bagged the Sappi Awards, plus the PrintWeek India Awards in 2013. Pragati has been producing top quality conventional (lithographic) colour and monochrome printing requirements, producing high-quality material of all types (books, brochures, papers, flyers, folders and posters. 

The most reputed international and university publishing are turning to India for skills like copyediting, indexing, translation and abstract writing. Plus services like content development, software, prepress, digitisation, graphics, abstracting and indexing services. There's super specialisation in redrawing of technical and medical illustrations and scanning of images. XML/SGML conversions are being rendered in less than 48 hour. Some of the biggest publications in Europe are being digitised from Chennai or Thiruvananthapuram.

So, where is all this, heading?

The final word - perhaps - belongs to the Late R K Joshi (the Guru of Type). Joshi had culminated his public talk during the Icograda Design Week with a short poem in response to a rhetorical question about: what is design - and where does design exit. The designer in him responded in a philosophical note:

This Place
As It 
Before ...