“This is a godsend for those who are in love with the printed word. As a bonus they also get the history of English publishing in India.”
NO MAJOR SPOILERS
Sridhar Balan who is an old hand in the publishing industry was asked to put together a book of his experiences over the years, at OUP and Ratna Sagar and others. He begins with an anecdote about an OUP author Jim Corbett who kept promising a lady that he would write a book of his adventures and finally shoved a piece of paper into a typewriter, typed Chapter 1 and was able to tell the lady that he had made a start. Balan’s writing began in much the same fashion, ducking his publisher’s and his wife’s proddings. The book that he ultimately wrote includes stories of English writers like GA Henty and Rider Haggard who were ultimately more popular in India than they were in England. He wrote about English publishing in the country and how it gradually led to the start of the Oxford University Press by EV Rieu, editors like Roy Hawkins and the publishing of textbooks and other pieces of academic literature.
While the history of the OUP may not be of interest to all readers, since the subject is slightly recondite, but the stories that crop up along the way like Jim Corbett’s launch in New York which took place with two tiger cubs because the author wasn’t able to fly over, will interest book lovers. So will the story of the Argentinean bibliophile Manguel who moved to France since he could find nowhere to house his collection of 30,000 odd books. Book lovers with collections spiralling out of control will sympathise. He also writes about Ram Advani and his historic bookshop in Lucknow, now sadly no more, and the relationship Advani had with his publishers. Not to mention anecdotes of Swami Vivekananda who could memorise pages of text with a single seemingly cursory glance. There is also the tongue in cheek tale of a nun who was persuaded to buy a classic erotic novel.
Balan takes a behind the scenes look at publishing as well, praising publishers like PK Ghosh who set up the Eastend Printers in what was then Calcutta with a limited choice of type but who was so knowledgeable and meticulous that he could rectify the omissions of even the best editors.
The book is well rounded in its coverage and takes in all aspects of the books that ultimately grace shelves across the world – including the fact that some publishers had a witty turn of verse on their own account.
Added 12th March 2020