After a couple of years of working as an academic, teaching undergrad students and studying for another post-graduate degree in political science, I opted for journalism as my profession, appointed myself editor and publisher and launched the transport monthly Mobile.
It was a clean slate: I didn’t have any knowledge or experience in writing, editing, proof reading, printing, pagination or book production. I spent six months visiting the other metros, trying to study the transport industry. I launched Mobile in September 1962. Through the years I learnt the various facets of journalism as also the business of printing and book production.
The experience helped me witness and experience the spectacular changes in printing. I started with the basics by acquiring a letterpress printing press with a few fonts of typefaces and a treadle machine in 1965. Edit matter was composed by hand, of lead types of different fonts and sizes. These were made into pages and printed, two pages at a time, by the treadle - reminiscent of the early stages of Gutenberg’s great invention of printing.
When I launched Industrial Economist as a business fortnightly in 1968, it demanded much larger volume of type setting that had to be done every fortnight. I opted to get this done with an established printer who had mechanical composing facilities through a couple of linotype machines. In this, bars of lead were melted, cast on brass matrices arranged in lines, as slugs. These linotype machines were mechanical marvels for typesetting in quick time, to cast afresh lines easy to handle as slugs. The process lent for easy make up of pages which were locked into forms and printed in large-sized printing machines. This technology ruled typesetting in newspapers spread across the globe for over a century. Such machines initially were the preserve of a few large manufacturers of western Europe later copied by the Russian and other nations.
A dream and the nightmare...
In my evolution as a printer I yearned for acquiring such a machine. This was available on rupee terms with hire purchase facility offered by NSIC, SFCs and banks. Simultaneously I also applied for import of a sophisticated printing machine from Polygraph, East Germany again on rupee terms. These were my first major experiences in importing machines.
It took around three years from 1971 to 1974 to process the import of the printing machine. It was not certain that the machine would be delivered on time and so I went in for an Indian made cylinder printing machine and an old linotype machine. The German machine also arrived. With a term loan from a nationalised bank, I purchased it and commenced operating this. It was a beautiful, high speed machine with excellent quality of printing.
He took full money but sold it to TOI!
My application for a linotype machine with two magazines and a cutting machine from Russia placed on a Delhi firm, J Mahabeer & Co., took more than three years to process. Finally on receiving the arrival notice, I arranged to pay the full value of the machines through a term loan from NSIC and my own contribution and remitted the same to the dealer. For the next several weeks I didn’t hear anything from the dealer except acknowledging receipt of the demand draft (thank God!). I dropped in at the dealer’s office during my visit to Delhi to attend the annual economic editors’ conference organised by the Press Information Bureau.
The dealer very casually informed me that ‘my’ machine had been delivered to Times of India and that I would have to wait for a few more months for the arrival of the next consignment!
I took up the matter with NSIC but to no avail. I met the Minister of State for Industry, Charanjit Chanana. He was kind in arranging to send a stern warning through the industry ministry. The dealer wouldn’t have expected this and hastily offered to supply a four magazine machine that was readily available, at a higher price. I had to sacrifice the cutting machine earlier ordered and opted to buy this higher capacity machine and paid the difference.
The dealer promised to send this to Chennai in the next couple of weeks. He sent the consignment note on despatching the machine by train. The blessed thing would not reach me for the next eight months. After a long battle with the railways, I managed to locate the wagon stuck at Jabalpur! Finally the machine was delivered in early 1975 - a full ten months after despatch!
Repayments on term loans had already begun with interest statements promptly provided by both NSIC and the bank. So even before the machine commenced operation, loan amounts were bulging.
In early 1975 I organised the formal launch of the linotype machine with sugar baron N Mahalingam as the chief guest. Economist Press was perhaps the sixth in the metro having such a sophisticated high speed mechanical typesetting facility. I was on cloud nine. The additional investments on other accessories like imported brass matrices from Italy, going for a larger space and larger number of workmen and scouting for orders for printing were all attended to.
A foreman of the press had great taste for the date fruit. He used to stuff his lunch box with cast slugs and sold the precious lead for his favourite dates until one late night, on a surprise visit, I caught him red (lead-) handed and handed him to the police.