I spent three weeks in the astonishing city of Calutta and met several writers, booksellers and librarians.
And notably, I met Prof P Lal (through a poet he had published); I attened his riveting 303rd and 304th lecture in his series on the Mahabharata which he has also “transcreated” to use his word. (He refers to current newspapers for examples of the Mahabharata’s continuing contemporary relevance.) And I visited him and his wife at his home, from which he has run Writers Workshop for 30 years. The books he produces are beautiful, each covered with hand-spun saree cloth, printed on hand-made paper and their titles inscribed with his own calligraphy. He keeps every book in print, even though they might sell very few copies; big sales is not the point. You can read all about it at the website. I went down to the kiosk and also over to the warehouse to pick out a small selection of the hundreds of books available, many of them enticing; I’m going to order some more online. I think of P. Lal as a kind of ideal publisher… both v old fashioned and way ahead of his time…
From P.Lal’s “Credo”
“Alternative publishing is desperately needed wherever commercial publication rules. WW is not a professional publishing house. It does not print well-known names; it makes names known and well known, and then leaves them in the loving clutches of the so-called “free” market (which can be and is very cut-throat and very expensive). It is not sad, it is obnoxious, to plead, as publishers do, “I will not publish poetry because it does not sell.” Most English book publishing today in boom-time India and outside is book-dumping. There is a nexus between high-profile PR-conscious book publishers, semi-literate booksellers, moribund public and state libraries, poorly informed and nepotistic underlings in charge of book review pages and supplements of most national newspapers and magazines, and biased bulk purchases of near worthless books by bureaucratic institutions set up–believe it or not!–to inform, educate and elevate the reading public.
Because WW goes in for serious creative writing, and because there is no satisfactory distribution network for such writing, its terms of publication are unique. I must be the only publisher in the world who knows when and where every book is sold;…”