This morning’s Hindu carried a profile on Mr KS Padmanabhan of East West Books. Click on this link to read it.
For a long time East West Books (Madras) Pvt Limited was the only English publisher of repute in this city. More recently, the company was acquired by the Tatas and is now called Westland Limited. Padmanabhan and his wife Chandra have been long-standing friends of mine and it was entirely due to him that I embarked on writing books. After a talk of mine on Papanasam Sivan in August 2003, Padmanabhan approached me and asked if I could do a book profiling the lives of some Carnatic stars and that is how Carnatic Summer was born. Later, three more of my books, The Devadasi and the Saint, Semmangudi, Life: Music and Four Score & More, the History of the Music Academy Madras were all brought out by EWB. The company has also brought out a phenomenal number of titles connected with Chennai history and heritage.
Calling on Paddu and Chandra (she worked equally hard) was always a joy, for their office on Poonamallee High Road was lined and walled in with books. Walking in I would always wonder if the books would one day topple over (Death due to accidental falling over of rice bags, as it happens to Subbiah in RK Narayan’s Half a Rupee Worth)on me, my bald head affording the least protection in the event of such a calamity. Among the live wires of the place was (and is) Jayanthi who was Paddu’s secretary and later became PRO of Westland. Between Paddu, Chandra and Jayanthi, they knew almost every book that was published or so it would appear to me. In the midst of all the usual chaos of a publisher’s office, Paddu and Chandra were unflappable. Always smiling, always ready for a joke. The coffee was top-class and by the time I got up to leave, Paddu would have pressed a couple of books into my hand, asking me to read and give my views.
By the time I got to know them, both Paddu and Chandra (who is a respected name in the world of cookbooks in her own right) worked only for half a day. The afternoons were spent reading manuscripts and (what else?) more books. It was my idea of heaven and I must say I have always been mildly jealous. By then the day-to-day nitty-gritty was handled by Gautam, their son. Ever since the Westland takeover, Paddu has been talking of retirement and finally it has happened. I have for long been pulling his leg that he would always talk about it but never get around to it. But he has decided to take the plunge and now no doubt he and Chandra will read even more books. And Chandra will also probably bring out more cookbooks.
But I dont see Paddu giving up on another activity of his – the running of the Madras Book Club. This is a rather unique institution, for it has no office and no office-bearers. But it has an active membership and the members meet at least once a month at The Connemara for a subsidised high tea and a discussion on a book. Nowadays it has become the premier forum for high-profile book launches as well. S Muthiah is our de-facto God and he is the one begins each meeting. Paddu being shy and retiring, never has got into the limelight at the Book Club but it is he and Jayanthi who ensure that it runs on well-oiled wheels by ensuring that we laggards pay up our dues on time. A Book Club without Paddu or Jayanthi is unthinkable. To give him credit he has for long been planning a succession and for sometime even toyed with the idea of roping me in. But I have so far evaded it rather successfully.
Now Paddu and Chandra have decided to take a bow, fading into the long sunset, no doubt holding hands and clutching books. I wish them all the very best and look forward to relaxed dinners, lunches and teas with them where we will no doubt discuss books (and most certainly) authors. Jayanthi I notice is chugging along, full of energy and I have just received a reminder saying that my subscription for the Madras Club is overdue.