Obituary: Raj Sahab – As I saw him

The demise of UK Raj of Lustra Print Process is a huge loss. One of the legends of the Indian printing industry is no more. Subhasis Ganguli, publishing consultant, pays a homage to the "Don of Printing".

08 Jan 2016 | By Subhasis Ganguli

It was the winter of 1996. I had came to Delhi from Kolkata and knew very few people in the Capital, specially among the print fraternity. I was heading production of the Academic Division at Oxford University Press. I needed to get a budget for a coffee table book. At that point, someone (I think it was Dipankar Banerjee of the then HTA) told me to meet Raj Sahab at Ajanta. So, one fine morning, I trudged to Ajanta’s ITO office. That was my first interaction with Raj Sahab. It was followed by many tete a tetes in the course of time.

I meet an elderly person, smoking India Kings cigarettes (non-stop), asked me for the specs, closed his eyes and gave me the cost. I was surprised. How could anyone calculate the cost without even a calculator. It was a book about paintings. Surprise over surprise, at the time of production, when he suddenly interacted with me and asked me if I am happy with the quality of proofs, I was not totally happy and told him so. He blasted me and asked why didn’t I tell him that.

He asked me to meet him after two days and there were a new set of proofs. I could not believe my eyes, with the improvement in quality.

That happened again and again. His eye for detail and passion for quality helped a lot of people like me to produce beautiful books with top production parameters. We won an award for excellence in production, courtesy Raj Sahab.

Later, when I turned to show my gratitude, he used to brush it off with a gesture of his hand and usual address “Arre Bangali, kaamkorteja. Quality pedhyanraakh”.

There are many anecdotes I could share.

He was with IPP at that point of time and I was handling another coffee table book. It was a book of wild life photography and neither the author nor I was satisfied with the outcome. So, again, I turned to him for a solution. After looking at the proof he asked me who did the processing. Being satisfied with the people, who handled it and gone through the processed files, he again asked me to come after a couple of days. And then, he started weaving his magic. This time I dared to asked him what he did. He looked at my face for a long time, slowly took out a cigarette from the pack which was lying on his table and said, “pay attention to the ink as well. Watch out whether the hue of the ink is matching your expectation.” I was zapped.

Later on many occasions, he showed me his work, with mixed medium. Be it a mixture of silk screen and offset or continuous tone on foils. And every time, I was surprised. Every time I bowed down to the guru and wondered how could have he thought about it?

I heard many anecdotes about him from the seniors in the Industry. All of these confirm his legendary mathematical skill, calculation power, eye for quality, non-negotiable attitude towards details and vast knowledge of printing. He was dominating, possessive and passionate when it came to print. But, if anyone could tag along, he could learn a lot from him, at least I benefited immensely from our interactions. (Though after every meeting, I was almost shattered).

I could not get a chance to work with him after he started his journey with Lustra. And so, he always complained about it, whenever we met in social events (as my nature of job got changed by that time). At that point I discovered that he was an avid reader, who also read a lot of Hindi novels and was also very knowledgeable about music and had a beautiful collection of LP records. 

With his passing away, the Indian print industry lost one of it’s most talented and knowledgeable person who understood different media of print and knew how to mix them to get the best result.

Good-bye Raj Sahab, the Don of Printing. We shall miss you.