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Printers' golden memories

PRINTERS FROM all over India and the neighbouring countries will gather in Madras from March 15 to celebrate over four days the Golden Jubilee of the Madras Printers' and Lithographers' Association (MPLA), the Platinum Jubilee of the Regional School of Printing, the National Awards for Printing Excellence and the largest printing machinery exhibition to be held in the South. It's time the South made a bit of a song and dance about printing, for it was here that printing got new life in the early 18th Century — after it had faded out in Goa and other Portuguese west coast settlements — and it was in Tamil (called Malabar) that the first local language printing was done in India in the 16th Century.

It was on July 28, 1952, that the representatives of 15 commercial printing establishments in Madras met and formed the first association of printers in South India. They constituted themselves the first office-bearers and executive committee and, fittingly, V.M. Philip of the Diocesan Press was elected president, an office he was to hold for a decade. That the Manager of the Diocesan Press was honoured was a reflection of it being the oldest surviving printing press in the country, its roots in the SPCK Press founded in Vepery in 1761 by Johann Fabricius of the Tranquebar Mission. It was the Tranquebar Mission Press, founded by Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg, which was responsible for the revival of printing in India in 1712, after the Portuguese lost interest in the craft by the end of the 17th Century. Fabricius, who arrived in Madras from Tranquebar, saw an opportunity to spread the gospel of printing further when General Eyre Coote, returning to Madras with the loot of Pondicherry in 1761, brought back ``an unused hand-press and some cases of type and equipment''. Fabricius, citing his Tranquebar experience, offered to put the press to use giving Government printing priority and only then taking up the mission's work. Out of this SPCK Press was born the Government Press and Diocesan Press, which now goes as the CLS Press.

In 1953, the MPLA invited representatives from printers' associations in other parts of India to Madras and together they formed today's governing body, the All India Federation of Master Printers. Two years later, Madras hosted the All India Printers' Conference for the second time and the All India Printed Materials Exhibition for the first time. That same year, the school of printing was elevated as the Regional School of Printing.

The MPLA's finest hour till this week was the organising of the first printing machinery exhibition to be held in India. PAMEX 1981 was organised in January 1981 at the CIT campus in Adyar and was a resounding success with manufacturers from all over the world participating. It was this exhibition, and the Conference organised simultaneously, that kicked off the modern age of printing in India. Equally importantly, the exhibition demonstrated the necessity for a permanent exhibition centre in Madras that would be able to handle heavy, high speed machinery in operational conditions. The first appeal for such an exhibition centre was made to Government by the MPLA. Ten years later, Madras got its exhibition site, the Chennai Trade Centre in Nandambakkam — and the MPLA now has got an opportunity of organising a major exhibition again, having had to wait a decade because of the lack of the facilities international manufacturers sought. Better late than never, I suppose, certainly both exhibition centre and exhibition are expected to be a pleasant surprise to the 1000 and more delegates expected here to wish the MPLA and the Regional School of Printing happy anniversaries.


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