Sridhar Balan taught at JNU and the North-Eastern Hill University, Shillong, before he moved into publishing in the 1980s, denying his father’s wish for him to join the civil services; perhaps, underlining his assertion that a career in publishing may not be a conscious career choice for most people. Now a senior consultant with Ratna Sagar, he is involved in promoting reading in schools.
In this book, we meet Rieu, who was a “curious choice”, says Balan, while his successor, Roy Hawkins (Hawk), joined OUP in 1930 “under some very curious circumstances”. We also have writeups on Ravi Dayal of OUP, Ram Advani, a bookseller in Hazratganj, Dhanesh Jain, (Managing Director of Ratna Sagar Publishing House till 2019), Dean Mahomed (“the first Indian author in English” who also ran a coffee house and massage parlour in London, and published his record of travels and adventures), Swami Vivekananda and Pandit Nehru’s meeting with Andre Malraux.
One can hardly disagree with his assertion that if reading itself is to be kept alive, we need to motivate our children. One would also lament with him over the general lack of importance given to books — in short, when we declutter our homes, the first casualty is books; and that holding up a kindle is not quite the same as proudly displaying one’s library. The real bonus in the book is the report on the First Folio and the efforts of John Heminges and Henry Condell in publishing the first collection of Shakespeare.
Detailed accounts of libraries in the various cities are available particularly the Biblioteca Alexandrin. The outer wall of this library, is known to carry words “from the languages and civilizations of the world” — apparently a random selection. But Balan finds a character in Tamil (see the pic) — the last character of the word “Kalyani” in the Tamil or Devanagari script, and arrogates it to Malayalam.
Then he translates the work to mean: “you”, and then waxes on the “plurality” of the centre of learning because the “you” includes everyone of “us”. The word for “you” both in Tamil and Malayalam is “nee” as it is found at the end of the word “Hindustani” in the Devanagari script. Even this is equivalent to the Hindi “tu” — an affectionate term when use with those close to us, and as an insult to others… and incidentally, “Company Bahadur” as used in the Moghul times, was the East India Company (not its officials) and Alexander was a Macedonian (not a Greek).