Himalayan Journal and Printing industry

Harish Kapadia is a businessman and a keen mountaineer and the editor of the Himalayn Journal. He relates his experiences in getting his Journal printed first by letterpress with linotype composing, and now by offset with modern computers, scanners and printers.

It was almost 20 years ago that I joined the team of editors of The Himalayan Journal. Founded in 1928, ours is a specialised journal, recording mountaineering history with many photographs, panoramas, sketch maps, colour inserts, specific format, captions and an index; and what not! Surely a printer’s headache. Moreover, we had an annual schedule, which if delayed, affected the sales, as majority of our copies are sold abroad. So after a long delay by our printers we were looking for a new press way back in 1980. As I walked into India Printing Works, which was then stationed in the Fort area, I met Mr Anand Limaye, who, like me, had recently  joined the press and entered  the printing industry. Theirs were huge premises and I could see those big machines and lots of metal lying around as the printing was done by  ‘letterpress’. Now I can say with hindsight that it was a chaos, and I certainly wondered how from this crowded press the final product would emerge.

First it was the editors who were suffering the most in the world of old technology. Each article from the world over had to be called for neatly typed, on single side and of course qualifying that we will not return the unused manuscript or with a proviso that ‘if not accepted for printing we will not return the Mss except if return postage is paid’! One of my senior editors, Soli Mehta, was stationed in Sudan and he almost lost one issue of the Journal in post when the mail went missing. The articles when received were corrected, retyped and given to the press. They took enormous time to compose articles; each and every letter had to be put in place and a proof-reader would go through it. These corrections were incorporated and we would receive galley proofs. We would read these, mark corrections and return it to the press. Again it took enormous time to get the pages ready. In one of the volumes of our Journal, R. E. Hawkins (who was a most experienced printer and editor having worked all his life in the industry with the Oxford University Press) changed much in the galley proofs. This delayed the Journal by a year and we were almost ready to forget all the corrections for sake of speedy delivery. This was the major defect of the old technology–you would sacrifice quality.

Once the galley proofs were sent back to the press then began the next round. The corrections had to be carried by the press and ‘page-proofs’ were sent to us. Everything had to be read and re-read before the pages were ready to be printed. It took quite a number of days to get this off the press. One of the main problems, apart from the time and effort, was quality. If there was a mistake, we editors were quite reluctant to change anything at last minute, for it would mean a long delay. Printers also would ‘grumble’ if such last minute changes were made, for it meant much labour. Thus any improvements at a later stage were avoided and quality suffered. This became a mind-set for editors and printers in the typical Indian style of chalta hai  (will do).

The final printing many times had smudges or if a letter was slightly broken it showed quite clearly. Ours was a Journal with many maps and photographs. These caused many problems then. Blocks had to be made and the quality certainly could not be of an international level. Not many changes in size, content or quality could be made on the illustrations. When the final pages were printed it took a long time for binding and even lamination took three days. We did it because we enjoyed doing this, otherwise many voluntary editors like me wouldn’t do it at all. The fun came from not only seeing the final product but from the procedure: enormous cups of tea  with Anand (pleasure!), jokes, gossip, watching the process and interaction with the industry. Of course, this was the procedure then and one is not complaining except for the hindsight–that’s all we had! When the final product came in our hands we almost felt as if we had won a war.

All this changed within the last decade. Of course at first, we all watched with a very watchful eyes, for change is always a paradigm which is not easily accepted. I defended the work of my expert typist who did a good job. In his defence I  fought with my son, Sonam, a computer engineer, stating that the human technology is cheaper, cleaner, efficient and less work for me than working on a computer. But, thank God, he prevailed over me and I took to computer like fish to water. Printers were also changing to computers and this change became the first major improvement towards better printing. Travelling abroad soon after that, if I had not learned about Page Maker, Word and all those terms I would have looked like a foolish editor.

Again the first major change was for us the editors. Today we send appeals to our contributors over e-mail and we require articles in exact files and as attachments. I correct these articles and forward to my two assistant editors, one in USA and one in Goa. Both return the files with appropriate markings. After finalising these, all I have to do is just type IPW@vsnl.com and there it goes to press via the e-mail. The press returns everything back to us on the e-mail or on computer floppies with pages well made. We run through a spell check, if there is a problem, we check with the thesaurus and everything is ready for print. The photographs are scanned and many of them are received through e-mail. Maps are drawn on computer and the final output is completely controlled. Once everything is with the press, it is only the final pages that are seen by us on paper. If there is a change in one word, all you have to do is to check the word and not three lines as before. Even at the final stage, sitting with IPW, we change a word or a line easily; your mind and creativity is given a free reign at every stage. The press can now execute what you desire and there are no limits to that.

Sketches, maps and photographs are sent via e-mail to the printers, which are then approved and printed. Of course few visits to the press are mandatory. The final copies are printed in just a few hours on modern machines and with perfect binding the final product comes quicker, firmer and far better than otherwise.

The changes in printing technology are certainly stupendous. It has made the life of editors and printers easier and enjoyable, and the final product is much better. But in India it still depends upon the human factor. If the operator is absent, there goes your deadline. If the operator is not well-trained you have pages with quite a few mistakes. There is no insurance against breakdown of machinery, our great strikes or when printers take on more work than  they can deliver. When these human factors too are controlled, then possibly we would reach a stage of perfection. But today, the change for the editors, the changes in the attitudes of printers and in technology are tremendous and one hopes that with regularity, the printing industry in India would adapt to the latest techniques, as soon as they develop in the West. The ‘digital printing’ technique could be a new leap forward.

The editors, authors and all those involved in the print media of course still have to deal with deadlines and in procuring good printing material. But then, no technology can replace the human creation and products of a human mind. That is why one has to keep up with the tradition of cups of tea, snacks and jokes to be exchanged while printing is being done! Technology should increase the satisfaction and fun for printing and production.


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