We were still savouring the wonders that Urvashi Butalia and her Zubaan story had presented earlier that day, when S. Anand opened in front of us another gateway to the publishing world. A vibrant, talented young man, Anand kept us intrigued and smiling throughout his sessions. The publisher and co-founder of Navayana started his conversation with a phrase that is increasingly becoming very common yet very sweet to our ears ‘I stumbled into publishing.’ A Tamil Brahman by birth, Anand seemed to have understood, from a very early age, the vices of belonging to an upper caste. He acted defiantly, refused to agree to what his parents opined about how to live a Tam-Bram life and it was this attitude perhaps that helped him to become the man he is today.
During his college days, Anand became more and more acquainted with caste distinctions in India. Though it is hard to believe so in the twenty-first century, India continues to suffer from such social diseases. Anand’s daily chores at college, his friends, his non-Brahman girlfriend (whom he eventually married), everything and everyone played some role or other in making him who he is today—a staunch and strident voice against caste. Kancha Ilaiah (author of Why I Am Not a Hindu) was his teacher and Anand holds him in high regard. After completing his studies, Anand tried his hand at journalism in Chennai only to find that there was no job satisfaction. In fact, the ghost of the caste system continued to haunt him at the same time as he noticed that the Indian media seemed to have a silent but deep-rooted upper-caste bias.
The other glaring lacuna in Indian publications was the absence of a Dalit voice. Even Ambedkar, the man who gave the Indian Constitution its basic framework and fought all his life for humanization of the Hindu caste system, was not properly represented. Several small yet meaningful incidents in Anand’s life made him realize that his goal in life was something more than just reviewing books, writing media reports or convincing media houses to take a stand on the caste issue. He found support in a close friend, author Ravi Kumar. Three small words—‘Let’s do Navayana’—changed the face of India’s independent publishing scene.
Navayana literally means a new vehicle. Dr B. R. Ambedkar conceived of the idea of ‘navayana’ as an alternative approach to Buddhism in the Indian context. Nothing could be more apt for a new publishing house that wished to address the issue of caste from an anti-caste perspective. Navayana came into being in November 2003. Since then, it has made important contributions in bringing the issue to the forefront. So far, Dalit literature was quite unheard of. Today, because of Navayana, we are getting to see what caste means to Indian culture and society and how deeply it has penetrated each of our lives.
Authors like Namdeo Nimgade, Anand Teltumbde, Chandra Bahan Prasad, D. N. Jha and many others have been published by Navayana. Translated works of Cheran, Namdeo Dhasal are brought out to the world. All these highlight how Dalit representation has been missing in English-language publications. Even the largest Indian publication houses, let alone the MNCs, were not ready to take such a stand. S. Anand shred with us the sorts of difficulties he had to face and is still facing to protect and nurture his ideology. Practically devoid of any permanent working premises, Anand had to work from a small room provided by a kind friend. His works was somehow recognized at the world stage when he was awarded the Young Publisher of the Year Award in 2007 at the London Book Fair. Anand, who was particularly looking forward to this award not for the title but for the prize money was shocked to find out the politics involved. What he was planning to spend on his publications was actually supposed to be spent for taking short-term expensive courses in the UK or for making luxurious holidays!
Technical difficulties and financial troubles seem to have become Navayana’s best friends. Book distribution, publicity and sales face regular problems. In spite of that, graphic novels like Bhimayana and books like Reflections on Apartheid in India have made a place for themselves. A book club has recently been formed for raising readership. The annual talk which featured Slavoj Zizek in India was a grand success. And Anand’s efforts in all such ventures can hardly be overlooked.
For us who wish to become independent publishers or entrepreneurs in related fields in the future, S. Anand can very well stand as an idol. He warned us well about the unglamorous job prospects involved, the hardships that we might have to face to publish a meticulously made and well laid-out book. But all such cautions perhaps have only encouraged us to confidently set foot into this arena. Anand’s ideology, his passion and belief in the cause he supports has ultimately taught us how to proceed towards our goals with a smiling face. I convey my heartiest gratitude to S. Anand, and everyone at the Seagull School for Publishing for adding to our colourful journey a sprinkling of hope and joy.