Tagore and Allahabad: Indian Press Published all his Books, from 1908-14, including the Nobel Prize-winning Gitanjali – I

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Between 1908 and 1914, Indian Press printed and published all Tagore works and made it popular. The books were printed by Indian Press, Allahabad and sold through Indian Publishing House, Kolkata. It consisted of 47 prose works and 40 poetical works, 87 books in all, including the Nobel Prize-winning Gitanjali, in 1911, says Arindam, in the first part of his three-part article, exclusively in Different Truths.

The city of Allahabad had given Rabindranath Tagore deep respect, acclaim, and love. The unique relationship the poet had with this city was due to his printer and publisher Indian Press and its founder Babu Chintamani Ghosh. This remarkable relationship, which began in 1908, continued uninterrupted till 1923. During this golden period, Indian Press printed and published all Tagore’s original works which consisted of 47 prose works and 40 poetical works, 87 books in all including the Nobel Prize-winning Gitanjali, in 1911, whose English translation and a foreword by Yeats made him win the Nobel Prize, in Literature, in 1913.

Prior to 1908 (1876 to 1908), Tagore’s various works were published in Kolkata by either his friends, himself or Adi Brahmo Samaj, City Book Agency and Majumdar Library. Many of the publishing ventures were disasters and Tagore was forced to sell his books at a throwaway price and this led to frustration. According to Khitimohan Sen, this hardship ended when Tagore sold the publishing of all his books at a nominal rate to Babu Chintamani Ghosh and later on entered into an agreement with Indian Press for of his works.

Indian Press was established on 4th June 1884, by Babu Chintamani Ghosh. Chintamani Babu had migrated from Bally district of West Bengal. Indian Press started off by printing and publishing English and Hindi works but later started publishing Bengali works also. Ramananda Chattopadhyay, the then principal of K. P. College, was instrumental in bonding Indian Press with Tagore. Ramananda Babu was a close friend of Tagore. He started publishing Modern Review in English and Prabasi in Bengali from Allahabad in 1901. Both the magazines were printed at Indian Press. Prabasi was well appreciated all over, outside Allahabad, and it caught Tagore’s . Tagore was highly impressed with the quality of printing of Prabasi.

Around this time Indian Press established a branch in Kolkata, entitled Indian Publishing House. Tagore’s admirer Charu Chandra Bandapadhyay had joined Indian Press at Allahabad. He was sent to Kolkata as the manager of Indian Publishing House. Charu Babu decided to start printing and publishing Tagore’s works. Ramananda Babu, a close friend of Tagore acted as an intermediary. When both of them approached Tagore, the poet remarked, “If Chintamani Babu agrees to bear the burden of my misdeeds it would indeed be a great help to me. I will place all my works in his hands and I shall be greatly relieved thereafter”.

After this, two historic agreements between Tagore and Indian Press were signed on 14.07.1908 and thereafter modified on 21.06.1909. That time Tagore was to get a hefty royalty of 25 percent, payable to him after every six months, which was unheard of in those days. Initially, Gaan, a selection of Tagore’s songs was printed but it had some printing errors, which made Tagore sad and angry. Krantik Press, Kolkata wanted to take advantage of Tagore’s ire and annoyance by offering Tagore to print his books in future error-free. Babu Chintamani Ghosh intervened and destroyed all the first edition books and reprinted it error free, quickly, bearing the burden of the loss incurred on the reprint edition. Babu Chintamani said reprint is always better than a misprint. Tagore was so happy and impressed by this gesture that he immediately gave permission to Babu Chintamani to go ahead and print his further books. The relationship between Tagore and Indian Press started on a happy note thereafter. In the first year, Tagore got Rs. 60/- and Rs. 80/- as half yearly royalties.

During Sharadiya Durgotsav 1909 Chintamani Babu published Chayanika, a collection of 130 Tagore poems. This was the first illustrated edition of Tagore’s works containing seven illustrations, one of which was done by Tagore himself. This book was an eye-opener for readers who were impressed by the magnitude of high-quality production. It is also startling to know that Tagore met the eminent painter Jamini Roy for the first time in Indian Press, in 1908. Chintamani Babu had hired Jamini Roy to look into the coloured illustrations as Indian press pioneered in a lithography process in India that time.

Tagore started painting at an old age and was under the influence of Jamini Roy so his paintings had Jamini Roy’s influence. Tagore painted marvellously and was a multi-talented personality. Tagore was a great poet, story writer, visionary, actor, , painter, and singer. Cost of printing materials was escalating due to the advent of World War I. Chintamani Babu did not want to hike the sale price. Tagore understood Chintamani Babu’s pain, so he offered to reduce his royalty by 5 percent but the thorough gentleman Babu Chintamani was, he refused to accept Tagore’s offer. Chintamani Babu had appointed Nayan Chandra Mukhopadhyay, an eminent proofreader that time to read Tagore’s proofs so Tagore’s works are printed error-free. Nayan Babu read proofs twice before sending it to Tagore for final checking.

Between 1908 and 1914, Indian Press printed and published all Tagore works and made it popular. On 2nd June 1914, a new agreement was signed between Tagore and Indian Press. Barrister cum poet Atul Prasad Sen and C.F. Andrews were the two witnesses who signed this famous agreement. All Tagore’s books were printed by Indian Press, Allahabad and sold through Indian Publishing House, Kolkata. This arrangement continued till 1923.

Tagore came to Allahabad in December 1914 and stayed at the residence of Pyarelal Banerjee, 6, Hamilton Road, George Town, Allahabad. Here Tagore gave finishing touch to his composition Gitali. Tagore met Chintamani Babu with the eminent artist Asit Haldar. Tagore requested Chintamani Babu if he could print the book in a fortnight. Chintamani Babu took Tagore’s request as a challenge as in those it was not digital or offset era so printing error-free books took months.

Chintamani Babu gave instructions to his employees who undertook work on war footing. Chintamani Babu ordered the foreman of his Bengali section to keep all his compositors at their workstations for the next 24 hours including meal time. Such was Chintamani Babu’s dedication. He not only got this 200-page book printed in five days but also got it bound in five different ways. Tagore was amazed and remarked, “Does Chintamani Babu know any magic. Please let me know what can I do for you in return?” Chintamani Babu said he wanted to hear a Tagore song in his melodious voice. Tagore obliged by singing, Amar matha nata korey daayo…

(To be continued)

©Arindam Ghosh

Photos by the author

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Arindam Ghosh

Arindam Ghosh

Arindam Ghosh is a Director of 133 years old printing press (Indian Press) holding degrees in MBA (Finance), Law and Masters in Journalism and Mass Communication. He is a qualified advocate and writes occasionally in several journals, magazines, and books. Recently has written a book on Tagore and the Indian Press.
Arindam Ghosh
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