This is a book about one life—the author’s—and many other lives—of legendary writers, editors, publishers and booksellers—spent with words: written, printed and bound. Drawing upon years of reading and a long career in publishing, Sridhar Balan gives us stories and facts about some extraordinary people and places related to books. There are accounts of Dean Mahomed, the first Indian author in English, and E.V. Rieu, who set up Oxford University Press (OUP) in Bombay and later initiated the Penguin Classics series, translating Homer’s Odyssey even as bombs fell around him in London. There are anecdotes about Roy Hawkins—‘Hawk’—who laid the foundation for some fine publishing at OUP, and Ravi Dayal, who carried on Hawk’s legacy. The remarkable career of Ram Advani, the legendary bookseller of Lucknow, is sketched along with that of Dhanesh Jain, an academic who manufactured buttons before he found his true calling and established Ratna Sagar, a pioneer in text-book publishing.
Along the way, Balan gives us delightful accounts of the launch of Jim Corbett’s Man- Eaters of Kumaon in New York and Salim Ali’s The Handbook of Indian Birds at Indira Gandhi’s residence in New Delhi; describes a memorable meeting between Andre Malraux and Nehru in Paris; and reveals how a nun was persuaded to buy an erotic novel at Delhi’s World Book Fair.
Nostalgic, witty and full of fascinating information and memories, Off the Shelf will delight every book lover.
‘This is a godsend for those who are in love with the printed word. As a bonus, they also get the history of English publishing in India.’—Keki Daruwalla
‘A literary book about publishing is rare, and this one by Sridhar Balan is eminently readable, too. It narrates many interesting “book episodes” and gives us portraits of many “book people” with their lively, human and unique features. A book full of good humour and the warmth of friendship and camaraderie.’—Ashok Vajpeyi