Publisher Pramod Kapoor talks about “New Delhi: Making of a Capital”

In a place where everybody yearns for a fistful of sky, he has discovered an entire city! It is a city well lived, the youngest incarnation of the famous Pandava township. But Pramod Kapoor, the affable and sizeable man from Banaras who calls Delhi his “adopted home”, had to go all the way to England’s Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) to find our own Dilli anew. Over long walks with his wife, many sessions of coffee and some “three-four days of research at a time, across six-seven years” at Cambridge, Pramod realised how Edwin Lutyens’ Delhi came about, how a new Delhi was crafted in an ancient city, how one day Baker sat with the then Prime Minister atop Raisina Hills and watched a rainbow develop. Taking it as a good omen for the new city, Baker went ahead and, along with Lutyens, built a city British in style, and in many ways, Indian by spirit!

That’s okay, but Pramod has never quite been suspected of having an interest in history — or worse, archaeology. Yet, this is the hidden talent he has brought to the fore in his painstaking effort “New Delhi: Making of a Capital”, a book co-authored by Malvika Singh and Rudrangshu Mukherjee. Pramod and archaeology? Isn’t he supposed to be the daring publisher who back in the 1970s decided Delhi was ready for coffee-table books? The same man who was once living on a salary of a few hundred rupees in Jhandewalan, eating out at local dhaba, often taking recourse to “surviving on deficit finance” and today helms a multi-million publishing house (Roli) in South Delhi? Yes, he is.

So, how does he come into the picture? Well through the pictures. The elegantly written book with intelligent captions is largely a visual exercise, a pictorial essay that seeks to tell us what our grandfathers never knew. Nor did our parents since the time the Capital was shifted from Calcutta to Delhi on December 12, 1911, with King George V’s famous Coronation Durbar. And Pramod “sifted through some 3,000 photographs and hundreds of letters and other documents” to put together this 240-page essay.

Not academic

His book is not academic, though factually accurate, he hastens to add. As he said the other day, “I am a mass market publisher. The first job of a publisher is to entertain, then educate.”

Educate! That is what “New Delhi: Making of a Capital” does in good measure. “The book is an exercise by ordinary people with love for history making social history. I am not an expert on Delhi, but this book, I believe, provides an accessible rendering of the city. It will appeal to an ordinary reader simply because it conveys a lot that has not been said or written about in the past. It has documents and pictures never used before. It is truly a labour of love. I gave my heart and soul to the research because Delhi is my adopted home. I have lived here for 35 years. I was not born here and still get asked where do you come from? But if this book were about any other city, I could not have put so much of myself into it. Every picture I researched or came across at the Victoria Albert Museum excited me. As a publisher and a guy who loves to research I will move on, but this book and the experience of putting it together shall remain with me. In fact I gave so much passion to the book that I was not sure how it would be received, because when you are so passionate about your work you tend to lose a sense of objectivity. Once I got the first couple of reactions from persons not related to the book I felt relieved. I am glad now it has caught the imagination of people.”

He can go on about the book, with things big and small. But there are a couple of things he distinctly remembers. For instance, Pramod points out the difference he found in the Lutyens’ obituary as published and the actual draft at Victoria Albert Museum. “Then there was a map with detailed planning for a lake. I got it from somebody’s personal archives in England. Nobody would have found it.”

But all along there have been Malvika and Rudrangshu with Pramod in putting together this book. “Though I did this book with Malvika and Rudrangshu, there was never a point of contention. There was no rigid compartmentalisation.” It is a book that is making ripples, moving “off the shelves” at a decent clip. And Pramod, now with more salt than pepper in his hair, is content. “I did not specifically go looking for this book. It stemmed from our book ‘India: Then and Now’. It started when I got access to the archival collection at RIBA in London and asked for the images of prominent cities of India. Many boxes full of glass negatives came my way. One such glass had aerial images of Delhi, including those of Rashtrapati Bhavan and Parliament House. They were all unpublished,” recalls Pramod, standing outside Parliament House on a day made more bearable with the monsoon breeze.

Walking down Parliament Street, he recalls, “I cannot say that I worked on this book with concentration for six-seven years. But things did gain momentum over the past one year with Malvika coming on board. And I do remember meeting Jonathon Makepeace, the RIBA curator immediately after 9/11. So I must have gathered the first image for this book in 2001. In fact, it was quite interesting meeting a man with a name Makepeace immediately after the New York tragedy!”

Despite all the labour and patience involved in the research and final draft, his sense of humour is well and truly intact. Running his hand through a thinning mop of hair, he says, “I have lost hair but my barber charges me the same!” Welcome to New Delhi!