Mihir's Impressions

Mihir Joshi, besides being a PrintWeek India scribe, is a central defender and supporter of AC Milan. In his weekly column he immortalises the power of print with the same passion with which he gets excited about the world's greatest game.

31 Aug 2013 | By Mihir Joshi

A 214 year old book in Malayalam, a book by Chennai screen printers, and an ode to a binder in Kolkata

First book printed in Malayalam 241 years ago, digitised

At the centre of the attention is: a book printed in 1772 and kept in Dharmaram College inBengaluru. This is the first-ever book which was printed in Malayalam, Sampkshepa Vedartham. Now it has been digitised thanks to the efforts by Malayali Wikipedians. The scanned copy of Sampkshepa Vedartham or Nasranikal Okkeyum Ariyendunna Sampkshepa Vedartham is available free on the internet, without any copyright restriction. 

The historical legacy of the book is rivetting. It was published by an Italian priest Clement Peanices. The first edition of the book was printed using Malayalam types in Rome in 1772 and was brought to Kerala in 1774. A scanned copy of Albhabetum Grandonico Malabaricum, the first book to use Malayalam types, is already available for public use. It is believed that the Malayalam portion of this Latin book was printed using the movable types made to print ‘Sampkshepa Vedartham’.  Ironically, one of the oldest copies of the book is housed in the Kerala university library. Though it was digitised using the state grant, it is not available for public use. 

Sampkshepa Vedartham was printed almost 241 years ago. The book gives insights into the old type of Malayalam numerals. For example, no space is left between words. Also signs, such as full stops, are not used between sentences.

The scanned copy of the book has been uploaded on archives.org. It can be online or download the PDF format. A digitised version will also be available in Malayalam Wikisource.

Screen-printed Waterlife by Tara is great

Here is a list of children’s books that I came across: Henri’s Walk to Paris, Big Questions from Little People & Simple Answers from Great Minds, Waterlife, Bear Despair, Virginia Wolf, Waterloo & Trafalgar and Thoughtful Alphabets: The Just Dessert and The Deadly Blotter.

The one for India lovers to watch out for is: Waterlife by Tara Books. This book has a print run of 3,000 hand-numbered copies. It has been screen-printed by artisans in Chennaideploys Indian dyes, whose earthy scent lingers as turn the thick, textured pages.

Illustrations are one of the quintessential of great children’s book. All book we grew up reading as kids be it Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or The Twits by Roald Dahl or Henri’s Walk to Paris by Saul Bass and Leonore Klein. Illustrations bring the story to life, as kids (and adults who are kids), we relish pictures in our books as they help us in a way to connect the dots.

Daftaripara website launched by a group of students and professor

A motley group of students and teachers from departments of Jadavpur University have created a website about the book binders in Kolkata’s Daftaripara. This is touted to be India’s largest and oldest binding industry. The site has subtitled video stories about the people associated with the binding industry, like binders, daily labourers, suppliers and union leaders.

The website is an initiative of the students' participation in a University Grants Commission-sponsored project undertaken by Jadavpur University's School of Media, Communication and Culture.

Daftaripara in Ward 36 of Kolkata Municipal Corporation is home to a 200-year-old book-binding industry, which is struggling and declining since the mid-90s with the advent of ruling and offset machines that have reduced the need for manual labour. This website is an attempt to shed some light on the crisis within the industry. 

Since August, 2012, they have been interviewing people connected with the binding industry in Kolkata, and trying to capture the many nuances of life, labour and human stories in Daftaripara.

There is a marvellous ode to Idris Ali: Daftari ( Bookbinder) - and the vanishing of art and craft of manual bookbinding on the website: http://www.daftaripara.org/