Thursday, April 26, 2007
I have written about Sasthi Brata, and Subimal Misra. But it was remiss of me not to have expressed my reverence for Purushottam Lal. Born in 1929, P Lal is a teacher, literature scholar, poet, writer, trans-creator, publisher, editor and book-maker, who made Calcutta his home.
Writers Workshop, started by P Lal in 1958, has published over 3,000 titles.
“Alternative publishing is desperately needed whenever 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.
…WW goes in for serious creative writing.”
(from "Writers Workshop - A Credo", by P. Lal)
Among writers and poets whose early work was published by WW are Vikram Seth, Nissim Ezekiel, Jayanta Mahapatra, Ruskin Bond, Pritish Nandy and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.
Yesterday I finally got myself a copy of P Lal’s Calcutta - A Long Poem. With some books, the resonances associated, even before reading, are so powerful that its almost impossible to read. The book becomes a very special magical instrument, of sens-ation.
From the very dedication, to Fr Thomas Merton. Just reading the Preface yesterday - I was plunged in Merton, and thus, Abraham Joshua Heschel (with whom Merton shared a correspondence and friendship towards the end of his life), both of whom are very dear to me through their writings.
That P Lal knew Merton, and met him just before his accidental death (which I did not know about) …
This morning I ventured to the book’s Prelude, and "Mr Mervyn D'Mello". So many resonances, so many things separated in space-time yet now co-existent through my reading.
For more than 20 years, Calcutta has been my life and life-work. And since 2005, I have been engaged in translating the stories of Subimal Misra. Reading Calcutta - A Long Poem - I have gained an altogether new perspective. P Lal has entirely anticipated Subimal Misra's concerns and work, and also mine.
For me, reading Calcutta now is like coming full circle, knowing myself and my city, Calcutta - my "valley of sorrows" too - anew.
I wish the world of literature / publishing had something like an "Oscar" for Lifetime Achievement. P Lal would be a unique and apt recipient of such an award. Perhaps the Nobel Prize itself could be such an award. Nothing would give me greater happiness than to see this conferred on him in his lifetime. But irrespective of that, I would still venerate him within myself, and as a Calcuttan, take pride in him and consider myself fortunate to live in the same city as him.
P Lal's essay "Indian Influences on English, American and European Literature" is accessible here. The concluding section of this essay talks about The Beatles. I recall attending a lecture-audio presentation by P Lal on this subject at the British Council in Calcutta in late 1976.
I was happy to see an entry on P Lal on Wikipedia.
Read Anjana Basu’s tribute to P Lal.