The legend of Westland: Paul Zacharia on his experience of working with Westland at the time it was Affiliated East-West Press

Updated - April 24, 2022 02:37 pm IST

Published - April 23, 2022 04:00 pm IST

Writer Paul Zacharia in 2019.

Writer Paul Zacharia in 2019. | Photo Credit: GOPAKUMAR S.

I copy-edited the first book of Affiliated East-West Press Pvt. Ltd, which later developed into the publishing house now closed by Amazon and soon to be reborn in a new avatar

As Amazon brings the shutter down on Westland and its sister imprints my mind goes back to 1973-75 when I was working for Affiliated East-West Press Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi, from where it all began. I had joined it as publicity assistant. AEWP’s main business was producing textbooks — especially in the sciences — and representing Van Nostrand Reinhold, one of the U.S. textbook majors. My job was to promote the textbooks and the Van Nostrand originals using a vast mailing list of educational/ research institutions.

Seated from left: Kamal Malik, K.S. Padmanabhan and Dallas Tenbroeck, the founder of Affiliated East West Press, with other colleagues.

Seated from left: Kamal Malik, K.S. Padmanabhan and Dallas Tenbroeck, the founder of Affiliated East West Press, with other colleagues.

AEWP was just East-West Press when it was founded in Mumbai by William Dallas TenBroeck (1922-2006), an American from Los Angeles, back in 1961. He was a young boy when he arrived in Mumbai in 1927 with his parents who were theosophists. Dallas’ father worked for the National City Bank of New York (Citibank) but later resigned and purchased the International Book House (IBH) in Mumbai. Dallas who had finished his college education in Mumbai went into the book business with his father. In 1961 he sold IBH and started East-West Press. All the while he was active in the theosophy movement. When he returned to the U.S. in 1969 owing to his wife’s health issues, his fellow-directors took the company over. It seems the company became Affiliated East-West Press at this point.

Invaluable assets 

K.S. Padmanabhan and Kamal Malik, bookselling/publishing professionals with a wealth of experience, led the AEWP from its inception. KSP was the MD and Kamal Malik the director in charge of editorial and book production. Padmanabhan — Paddu as we called him — was a great human being, benign, courteous and gentle. He was a theosophist. Gautam Padmanabhan, till recently CEO of Westland, is his son and successor in business. Kamal was a dour, chain-smoking, uncompromising editor who hid his kind-heartedness behind his tough professionalism, demanding near-impossible perfection both in copy editing and production. He had only one holy book: The University of Chicago Manual of Style. Even today its pronouncements are etched in my heart. What I learnt then, whining and grumbling, under Kamal’s unrelenting, cigarette smoke-filled gaze, became invaluable assets in my writing career because, despite it being a truism, writers need to be merciless editors of themselves.

I was asked to handle a monthly newsletter East-West Book Mail replacing the publicity leaflets. It threw me — the greenhorn from Kerala — headlong into what was a thrilling debut in printing/ publishing. I was editor-writer-proof-reader-layout man-press liaison man all rolled into one of an 8-page booklet. It was sometime in mid-1973 that Paddu and Kamal spoke to me about a plan to start a small general books publishing programme and asked me to be involved in it. Though Kamal had scant regard for MAs in English in the publishing business who were ignorant of The Chicago Manual of Style — and justifiably so — I was asked to be the copy editor. He knew perfectly well that very soon he was going to make me recite the Manual even in my sleep! Since they knew I had some connections with the literary/journalistic world they also asked me to scout for manuscripts. Thus it was that I found myself copy-editing the first book of AEWP’s publishing programme — which developed, in the next few decades, first into East-West Books, then Manas and then Westland.

“Kamal had only one holy book: The University of Chicago Manual of Style. Even today its pronouncements are etched in my heart”

The manuscript I was given to copy edit was typed in foolscap paper, stitched together with thread and bound in blue paper. It must have been a 100-plus pages long. The author, Bimanesh Chatterjee, was Principal Staff Officer (Military) to Rajaji when he became the first Governor of West Bengal and later the last Governor-General Of India. Thousand Days With Rajaji is a very readable and entertainingly anecdotal account not only of Rajaji the man seen from close quarters with loving eyes by Chatterjee but also reflects some of the turbulence of the politics of those days. If I remember right, I scraped through without much damage in language editing because Chatterjee wrote a militarily precise and correct English and there was little flab.

Married to the manual 

But Kamal caught me with pants down on standardisation — of spelling, of dates, of capitalisation, of usage and much more — something I never imagined had existed. Also he made mincemeat of me on the hyphen, the dash, the m-dash, the n-dash, the single quote and the double quote, the number of dots in an ellipsis and many more unfathomable secrets of printed English. My MA stood demolished. The University of Chicago Manual of Style had entered my life with a big bang — rather, thud. But at the end of it, the book that paved the way to the publishing programme that culminated in Westland —Thousand Days With Rajaji — was published and Kamal actually had a few good words for me.

More books followed. I recall at least two: Law, Freedom and Change by Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer and The Kaleidoscope of Indian Cinema by Hameeduddin Mahmood, both scouted by me. I remember escorting Justice Iyer, after a proof-checking session, from his residence on Krishna Menon Marg to a satsang of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at Vigyan Bhavan. I had looked in at the satsang and had casually told Iyer about it and he couldn’t resist the temptation. Mahmood worked at the Film Festival Directorate. He was a gentle soul, a man who trusted the goodness of the world, and a great enthusiast of good cinema whose life tragically fell apart later.

I think it was some time in 1975 that Paddu took the decision to move to Chennai. It was there that the publishing programme he had begun in Delhi developed into East-West, Manas and finally Westland. From Chennai he also published a book review magazine, the Indian Review of Books. Edited by Subashree Krishnaswamy, it was a sparkling journal whose contributors included Dr. S. Gopal, Rajeev Dhawan, Carmen Kagal, Urvashi Butalia, Bill Aitken, N.S. Jagannathan, Harry Miller, Geeta Doctor, Neelum Saran Gour etc. It was a moving moment for me when in 1994 Manas published Bhaskara Pattelar and Other Stories, the first collection of my stories in English translation. In 2019 Westland/Context published my first English novel A Secret History of Compassion’. AEWP’s publicity assistant had come home.

The writer is an author and columnist in Malayalam and English.

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