The mad, mad world of print - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

Europe is on the edge, Syria is being bombed, Chennai deluged. Amidst the doom and gloom of the last few days, Amitabh and Shabana unveiled a book based on Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, there were Diwali Anks, a brief peek at a gem of an author in India, Shamshur Rahman Faruqi, and the explorations of the Bambaiyya Michelangelo. This Sunday Column is about the good stuff in November, the month. though not over yet, that was

19 Nov 2015 | By Noel D'Cunha

Amitabh Bachchan and Shabana Azmi unveil Tulika book
Amitabh Bachchan and Shabana Azmi unveiled a book on author-journalist-filmmaker Khwaja Ahmad Abbas in Mumbai.
In 1946, Khwaja Ahmad Abbas made his directorial debut with Dharti Ke Lal, a film about the Bengal famine. Written by Abbas and Bijon Bhattacharya, it was produced by the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA). Film buffs say it was the first ‘crowd-funded’ film in the country.
The Bread Beauty Revolution: Khwaja Ahmad Abbas travels through the years 1914–1987. The volume encapsulates 74 books, 40 films, 89 short stories and 3,000 pieces of journalistic writing by Abbas. His work flows in three languages – Urdu, Hindi and English – and has been edited by Iffat Fatima and Syeda Saiyidain Hameed and published by Tulika Books.
Azmi recounted the memories of “Abbas chachu”. Later, she read an excerpt from the book about the time Khwaja Ahmad Abbas first met Amitabh Bachchan during the shoot of Saat Hindustani.
Amitabh Bachchan spoke fondly about his debut film in Bollywood, Saat Hindustani. He said, “Abbasji cast me as a Muslim poet. In fact, he chose all seven characters from different parts of India, to play roles distinct to who they were. While shooting in Goa, the entire cast and crew would sleep in one hall. Some nights, there was no electricity and I would wake up to see Abbasji writing dialogues in the light of a lantern.”
Bachchan read a piece based on the will, Abbas had penned in Last Page, a column he wrote for Blitz. Bachchan concluded, “He was an incredible human being, who did exactly what he thought.”
The 212 pages paperback with gatefolds has been priced at Rs 1500.
800 Diwali Anks published in Marathi
The Indian Express Eye (15 November) had a special focus on the Diwali Ank penned by Sushant Kulkarni. 
The piece said, "The Diwali Ank is a special festival issue of a magazine. The tradition is said to have started in 1909 by Kashinath Ajgaonkar, who edited Manoranjan and later took on the surname Mitra because of his love for the Bengali language. That special had a focus on literature and culture, though the later issues did cover other topics.
Today, over 800 Diwali Anks are published every year with a focus on literature — both original Marathi writing or translations from other Indian languages — as well as children’s literature, essays on art and culture, social and political writings, humour and satire, travel and astrology.
Of these, printing presses, like Anand Limaye's India Printing Works in Mumbai, published eight Anks in 2015. Limaye says, "The size of the market is Rs 10 to 12 crore, and the readership is expected to grow."

The Urdu writer who owns a thousand and one books
Shamsur Rahman Faruqi is one of the literary ustads of India. The 80-year old's Kai Chaand The Sar-e-Aasmaan is a literary gem and a poignant tribute to 19th century Delhi. For those who cannot read Urdu or Hindi, the good news is, the thousand-pager has been translated into English as The Mirror of Beauty (Penguin, Rs 699).
Other than fiction, and innumerable literary criticisms, Shamsur Faruqi has "always been buying thrillers, spy stories and mysteries." Later, the Allahabad-based Urdu author, began to collect dictionaries in Urdu, English and Persian. In an interview to a business daily, he says, "One kind of book I assiduously seek is collections—we call them divan, or if it’s the collected works of a poet, we call it kulliyat—of pre-modern Urdu and Persian poets."
One part of Faruqi's collection is the 46 volumes of the Urdu oral romance, the Dastan-e Amir Hamza, that were printed by Munshi Nawal Kishore on his presses in Lucknow and Kanpur from 1888-1917. This is the longest and richest oral romance in any language and our fathers and grandfathers thought so little of it that it was allowed to sink into oblivion. The volumes are extremely rare now.
Sanskrit-Persian bhai-bhai
The Dastan-e Amir Hamza, draws one's attention to another rare tome called Sukhandan-E-Fars by Maulvi Muhammad Husain Azad (1830-1910), a polymath and a philologist.
The book traces the common roots of Sanskrit and Persia. Sukhandan-E-Fars says both these languages are sister languages and provides a list of words that proved this. For example: cow is gau in Persian and Sanskrit.
Also there is interesting trivia about the historical inability to pronounce "F". You see, Maulvi Azad argues both Urdu and Devanagari did not have the "F" sound. And so, Arabic which doesn't have the "P" sound, replaced it with a "F". That's why Arabs say Bakistan instead of Fakistan. They don't say Pakistan.
The Persian imported the "F" sound to India, and prepared us for Angrezi. All this and more in the Sukhandan-E-Fars and Dastan-e Amir Hamza.

The Bambaiyya Michelangelo

Sheikh Rehman was one of the unsung super star at the MAMI film festival through a documentary, Original Copy about the Alfred Talkies. Even though the documentary was slotted for an early morning slot and ensured a handful of members in the audience, the father-son pair of Georg Heinzen and Florian Heinzen-Ziob, and the poster maker Rahman were present post-screening for a brief Q&A.
Alfred is one of those oldest talkies in Mumbai. Its roots can be traced to 1880 when it was known as Rippon. In 1932, it was renamed Alfred. The tickets are priced at Rs 18 and Rs 20, and it is mostly plebeians who visit this quaint European architectural cinema hall located on Patthe Bapurao Marg in Mumbai's red light district.
Post screening, PrintWeek India trudged to Alfred Talkies. A motley staff were replacing the film poster in the front facade.
It's still hand-painted by Rahman Saab. No vinyl, here.
The billboard is about an obscure action film. The faces are in green, some are in pink. Where rarely is skin tone deployed. Rahman is chain smoking and tea sipping, in one corner, where the street lamp has no light. He steps forward and barges through the bustling crowd, and with a swish, and one final touch with his paint brush.
He is a true-blue Bambaiyya Michelangelo
The older film poster is pulled down. We know its fate. In Original Copy, Rahman will paint over the hoarding. Clean it up. In one clean brush stroke. All 30 feet of it shall be whitewashed.
Why so?
Because the new film poster would be painted over that. So everything is erased. It is a John Cage moment in the documentary.
S Rahman has been doing this for the past three decades. Just four or five hoardings which he has preserved. We are talking of works of art. Very rare work.
A true print artist in the dirtiest and grimiest and raunchiest street of Mumbai.
Join PrintWeek India in doffing your hat to the Bambaiyya Michelangelo.
Our colleague in Chennai, Sriraam Selvam, has more than two foot of water in his bungalow in Vellachery. He says, the city has recorded 1004mm of rain in November so far. This is way higher than the city's average monthly rainfall figure for the month of November.
Our office has been shut. We spoke to a few printer friends in Chennai and we were told business units in areas like Tambaram, Anna Nagar, Velachery, Koyambedu, and Old Mahabalipuram Road have downed shutters. Other than these, roads and highways across the city have taken a massive hit.
According to Sriraam Selvam, more than 100 people have lost their lives due to the heavy rains in Chennai. The official figure may be higher as rescue and relief operations are underway.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the people (and printers) of Chennai.

(Photo courtesy: Sheikh Rehman: Florian Heinzen-Ziob and Georg Heinzen and taken from the film Original Copy)