He pioneered general publishing in South India in the post-Independence period. He published my first book, the first title he did after moving to Madras. More importantly, he was a friend for over 40 years. A whole lot of us connected with books and the publishing business are going to miss him more than could be put into words.
I first met Paddhu, as he was to all of us who knew him or K.S. Padmanabhan to those who didn’t, in the early 1970s in Delhi where he was with Van Nostrand looking after their reprinting of American academic titles under the PL 480 programme and I was in search of printing. When he moved to Madras around 1980 I was one of the first to call on him and out of that meeting came Affiliated East West (South)’s first title, Madras Discovered , a slim pocket-size book that’s kept growing as Madras Rediscovered . Coincidentally, his last title, after Affiliated East West had become East West and then metamorphosed into Tatas-owned Westland, was my A Madras Miscellany . Shortly after that he retired to the wilds of the OMR where he could peacefully do what he loved best, read all the time. Whether it was a pedestrian manuscript from an unknown author or it was the latest he could download on Kindle, he read them all with equal pleasure. Indeed, that’s what his authors loved most about him; whether one wrote a book that might even have failed and another a fabulous bestseller like The Shiva Trilogy , a title he would have read for publication just before retirement, he became a friend of all of them and urged them to keep writing, and that included his wife Chandra who started out diffidently with a cookery column and went on to produce a bestseller with her first book, Dakshin .
Paddhu’s commitment to books led to him publishing the monthly magazine Indian Review of Books , keeping it going for several years even as it drained East West’s resources till it became totally impossible to run. He was clear about what he wanted from the journal: The reviews should be in simple, lucid language that the average reader could understand and learn something about the book — making him want to read it and keep wanting to read more books; Paddhu had little time for highbrow critics, no matter how well-known they were, writing for an intellectual elite, editorial meetings were a round-table natter, but in the gentlest possible manner Paddhu would get the board to come back to selecting the right books and matching them with the right reviewers, not critics. A revival of Indian Review of Books would be the best remembrance of Paddhu.
A remembrance that will continue will be the Madras Book Club he founded about 15 years ago and nurtured till his last days. Here too his aim was to spread the gospel of books to as many average readers as possible — and that he succeeded is attested to by the fact that membership has grown from about a dozen to well over 300 — not to mention guests and gate-crashers he’d welcome with the same enthusiasm as members. Though almost every meeting and speaker was a result of his efforts, he’d never take a front seat, standing somewhere there at the back at almost every meeting with that ever present gentle smile on his face, enjoying the interest shown by audiences. I wonder whether he ever knew how much he was missed when he did not turn up for a meeting; in his last few months, when he turned up less frequently, there were always those asking where is Paddhu or Mr. Padmanabhan. No member of the Club is going to forget him. Or what he did to make it one of the most sought after institutions in the country for the release of a new book — even if it was only with pongal and coffee or tea. There was indeed much else Paddhu contributed to the Madras publishing scene, like the Madras Booksellers’ and Publishers’ Association and the Madras Book Fair. But while all these contributions of his will be remembered by many, many of us will always remember him for his friendship, kindness and gentility. It is customary to end remembrances like this one with the words, ‘May he rest in peace’. In Paddhu’s case the words are superfluous. Paddhu was always at peace even in the hardest of times — with himself, his family and the world. May not only Madras remember him but also Indian Publishing for a significant contribution to the world of words.