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Publishing in India: New Horizons

Urvashi Butalia

A little over three decades ago I made my first, accidental entry into the world of publishing in India. A friend and I were playing a desultory game of table tennis while talking about what we were going to do with our lives. I was just finishing my Masters and wanted to make a decisive move away from English literature to something more ‘relevant’ to my life in the thriving, bustling, politically alive city of Delhi. The university was a hotbed of furious political debate, the women’s movement was just taking off—surely, I thought, there has to be more to life than Spenser and Milton (much though I loved them—or Milton at least). My friend then worked as a secretary in the Oxford University Press in Delhi. Why didn’t I, she suggested, try to do some freelance work there and see how I liked it. I thought her suggestion was brilliant. At the time, a great deal of publishing activity in Delhi—and many of the larger Western houses had moved to Delhi by then—was concentrated in two roads, a longer one called Asaf Ali Road that lay just outside the wall of the old city, and a shorter strip, Ansari Road, that lay just beyond. Ansari Road housed large and small publishers, and during the lunch hour many of them (almost all male) could be seen at the samosa and paan stalls, exchanging gossip or news, while small lorries and hand-drawn carts loaded with packets of books made their way to publishers’ warehouses, often in the basement of their offices. While printing establishments lay some distance away, many of the other services were close by and a system of point-to-point travel by cycle or auto rickshaw had sprung up to service the needs of publishers. Those were the days when typesetting was still done by hand, using hot or cold metal, and the nearby main road in Daryaganj, or further along Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, you could find handsetting, as well as monotype or linotype machines. When phototypesetting made its appearance, units offering this service sprung up closer to Ansari Road. Blockmakers were concentrated at the northern end, going right up till Kashmiri Gate, where the best of them were to be found. And the paper market lay in between, in Chandni Chowk. Bookshops were few and far between, and generally not much to ...

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