Chintamoni Ghosh: The unsung hero of print

One of the nice things about editing a print magazine is the wonderful stories you get to hear. Recently, I heard about The Indian Press and Chintamoni Ghosh, its proprietor and founder.

14 Nov 2018 | By PrintWeek India

The Visva Bharati

The Indian Press was founded and registered on 4 June 1884 in Allahabad when Chintamani Ghosh was 30-year-old. Both Prabasi and Modern Review were printed at The Indian Press.

According to his biographer, NG Baggchi, the first and best printed book in Hindi was produced at The Indian Press. Chintamoni was considered the Caxton of the Hindi world. And he learnt the rudimentary of the trade – typesetting, makeup and imposition; while working for a salary of Rs 10 at the newspaper The Pioneer.

His dream of becoming a printer was fulfilled when he purchased a secondhand Crown hand press with accessories; and since he could not afford an assistant, he did the printing himself, after a day job at the meteorological department.

Two years later, he produced a series of graded readers for Hindi called Shikshavali. Compared to the book then available, which was printed by the government press on indifferent paper and been prepared 30 years earlier, these Hindi readers broke new grounds in terms of language and content; as well as layout and typography.

Rabindranath Tagore heard about Chintamani Ghosh and The Indian Press through Prabasi to which he was a regular contributor. Tagore assigned the sole right of printing and publishing of about 100 titles of Tagore, including responsibility for making arrangement for sale of those books against biennial settlement of royalty to the author. Tagore’s immortal work Gitanjali was also printed at The Indian Press. This is the work that fetched him the Nobel Prize in 1913. Later, when Tagore established Santiniketan-Visva Bharati on 18 September 1922, he donated his Noble Prize earnings and royalties to the creation of this institution.

Tagore wrote to Chintamoni if he was willing to transfer the copyright of The Indian Press books to Visva Bharati so that the profits could be accrued for the building of the new University and requested him to join hands for a satisfactory arrangement of printing the books henceforth. Chintamoni readily responded and, ignoring self-interest, transferred the entire stock of books at a nominal one third of the price, and thus the foundation of Visva Bharati Publications was laid in July 1923.

The reason I mention all this is something Chintamani Ghosh told his son Hari Keshabh to whom he would leave the running of the press: “This is not merely a press. It is a permanent contribution to the nation.”

Postscript: When I was in Allahabad in 2011, I tried to visit The Indian Press, but was unsuccessful. There was a big signboard but it was already shuttered. I guess it must have completely disappeared by now.