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... worth lauding

Two new ventures suggest that there is still life and vitality on the Indian publishing scene.

A FEW columns ago (November 23, 2003) I lamented the demise of that splendid literary publication, the Indian Review of Books, and urged benefactors to help revive it. While waiting for good news there, however, I am pleased to report positive developments on another literary front. I have heard from two different correspondents about exciting new ventures which suggest that there is still life and vitality on the Indian publishing scene.


A theme... an integrative national consciousness.

The first piece of news comes from my home state, Kerala, where a group of young poets and writers in Kozhikode (Calicut) — not heretofore considered a bastion of English-language publishing in India — have launched a new imprint, Yeti Books. Their logo is the famous footprint of the Abominable Snowman, not a figure commonly associated with tropical Calicut, but symbolic both of the leap of imagination they have undertaken and the "barefoot" nature of their enterprise. I have four Yeti volumes before me as I write this column, and they make an excellent impression.

They are attractively designed, carefully proofread and handsomely printed and bound; there is none of the shoddiness one associates with the many amateur literary operations that have emerged from small-town India.

The quality of Yeti's writers is equally impressive. Poetry appears to be their forte, which is not surprising considering that the imprint's principal founder, Thachom Poyil Rajeevan, is himself a poet of some standing in both Malayalam and English. Dom Moraes heads the Yeti list, and Anita Nair, whose fiction has already made its mark, emerges with a debut collection of poems that, Rajeevan proudly informs me, is already in its second edition.

I asked Rajeevan by e-mail for information about the background of his associates and himself, the challenges they have faced in getting their project off the ground, how they were managing financially and so on.

Whether out of Rajeevan's modesty or the vagaries of electronic communication, I do not have answers to these questions. I can only assume that Yeti is a labour of love and that its financial survival requires the support and dedication of distributors, libraries — and above all, readers. The niche that Yeti is seeking to carve out for itself — of high-quality poetry and literary fiction, some of it in translation — is not necessarily remunerative. But the fact that there are young men and women in India prepared to dedicate their creative energies to this sort of publishing augurs well. The Foreword to Rajeevan's own books of poems, He Who Was Gone Thus, reveals that he is a Public Relations Officer of the University of Calicut who writes in his spare time. That the University of Calicut harbours such talent in its midst is itself a priceless public relations asset of which I hope the University's administrators are proud.

The second new venture is the development of a series of school textbooks at Oxford University Press (OUP), on the theme "Peace and Value Education for National Integration". National integration is a term we were used to hearing much more in earlier times, but in the aftermath of the Gujarat atrocities, it has acquired new meaning and urgency. The OUP series editor, Mini Krishnan, has already stewarded the publication of a well-regarded series of translations from various Indian languages into English, but this new project has a special resonance for those who believe that Indian publishing can contribute to the development of an integrative national consciousness.

Her publishing philosophy, Ms. Krishnan explains, is to produce educational materials that serve to remove prejudice and instil peace and understanding in young children — and to do so across the communal divide that some politicians have been so eager to foment. The series' subjects will include material designed to enhance inter-communal relationships, the need to understand human differences and related themes. The writers will be Indians of Hindu, Muslim and Christian backgrounds, and the books will be designed so serve not only as textbooks but also as workbooks, so that children can learn for themselves, and process through their own minds, the values of peace, tolerance and co-existence without which "national integration" will remain a hollow slogan.

I do not know either Thachom Poyil Rajeevan or Mini Krishnan well, and I have no commercial or professional interest in the success of their ventures. But both seem to me to exemplify something of great value to the future of India. They represent the spirit of those who are not content to take the world as it is, who have ideas of how to improve the life they see around them and who are untiring in their pursuit of these ideas. By choosing the far-from-lucrative field of publishing (literary publishing in Rajeevan's case, textbook publishing in Krishnan's) they have also sought to devote their creative energies to an activity that is beleaguered everywhere in the world and desperately in need of nurturing in India.

So more power to their pens (or, these days, to their keyboards). May Yeti's handsome volumes of poetry stir thousands of souls and make their idealistic publishers a profit, and may OUP's national integration series (still on the drawing boards) move millions of young minds towards integration and away from hatred. And (to remind well-heeled readers of my earlier appeal) may the Indian Review of Books be revived to review them both ....

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