It was seventy - four years ago in 1936, that an Englishman selling British books in New Market, Calcutta, set his eyes on a dhoti-clad young man selling hosiery and decided that what youth should do in the next half-century was sell books.

An appointment was made; the young man, D Mehra, would meet K Jackson Marshall at Great Eastern Hotel to talk things over. But when the time came to enter the portals of the hotel, the doorkeeper wouldn’t let a man in dhoti in, for natives who were allowed inside had to be ‘appropriately’ dressed. However, D Mehra was nothing if not persuasive. It was at this meeting that the dye was cast. Mr Mehra agreed to become a booksellers’ representative, to start with Collins Gem Dictionaries, the first six Penguins and a few other English titles.

Thus Rupa & Co. made a modest start, only to be embarking on a long, fruitful journey of words. It took a lot of courage for Mr Mehra to leave the flourishing family business of hosiery and take the plunge in unknown waters. However, it wasn’t for the first time he was venturing into uncharted territories. A couple of months earlier he dove into the Hooghly river to learn how to swim, as no one he knew seemed to be interested in giving him lessons. A seller of English books, who could barely read and write English, D Mehra was about to repeat the Hooghly feat.

‘Dramatic’ Beginning in 1936

Rupa was started with a meagre capital of Rs 590, taken as a loan from Pearl Assurance Company, the founder’s residence serving as the office. The name ‘Rupa’ has its own history as well. The late D Mehra has gone to see a play in which there were two lead characters – Sona and Rupa. ‘Sona’ means gold and ‘Rupa’ means silver. ‘Sona’ being too glamorous a name for the founder, the company was christened ‘Rupa’. It was from this humble start that the company has grown to what it is now, 75 years later. The company’s association with art does not end here. Its logo was designed by India’s creative icon – writer and filmmaker - Late Satyajit Ray. The fee he charged: a few good books to read!

Soon after the company was born, the World War II loomed large. People had to flee from Calcutta to save themselves from becoming a victim to random bombings. Moving with the people, the Rupa family shifted to the then political capital of India – Allahabad in 1941. It was during these years that D Mehra corresponded with stalwarts like Sir Stanley Unwin, Sir Allen Lane and Sir Williams Collins. He also met leaders of the Indian freedom movement like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Narendra Dev and others. While the Independence movement was in full swing, Rupa had the opportunity to supply books to Naini Jail, where the frontline soldiers of the movement were lodged. Both Calcutta and Allahabad, in their own way, provided the moral and intellectual strength which any publisher would want.

The late fifties and early sixties saw two important changes in Indian publishing. Rupa also expanded its roots to Bombay. Language publishing started in an organised fashion, and India authors were persuaded to publish here in India, rather than seek a publisher abroad. Second, the large funds of PL 480 committed to making American textbooks available at a low price, encouraged the opening of Indian subsidiaries of American publishing companies. An offer was made, but men like D Mehra didn’t like the idea of publishing for the natives of the US. It was now that a business that started with distribution graduated into publishing with two slim volumes of Bengali poetry. It was in 1960 that Peter Laughlin, the chairman of New Directions, persuaded Rupa to publish Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. From here, the list of bestsellers started, never to stop. Sporty Seventies

Rupa’s Delhi office was opened in 1970 in response to the opening of north India as a great opportunity area. Madras, Hyderabad and Bangalore followed, under a collaboration arrangement with Affiliated East-West, completing Rupa’s representation in the major book markets in India. Rupa entered the world of serious sports publishing with the great trio – Vinoo Mankad, Vijay Hazare and Mustaq Ali. Later, sporting stars like Sunil Gavaskar, Erapalli and Sandip Patil joined Rupa’s team as authors. Two of our most cherished books are Gavaskar’s bestsellers – Sunny Days and idols. Sunny Days broke all-time world record in sports books. The story doesn’t end here. The latest book Sunil Gavaskar – Straight Drive – is still topping bestsellers’ list.

In the eighties, Rupa’s thrust was in the field of paperback marketing and publishing. The paperback list expanded, consisting of a larger number of original titles. A remarkable feature of the Rupa paperback list was the affordable price at which books were made available, the company always holding that in the realm of books the consumer’s interest is the first charge of the publisher. The company joined hands with HarperCollins to start a new imprint HarperCollins India. A new publishing programme under the imprint was started and continued till 2001.

Quietly devoted to the profession, Rupa continued to publish and market itself in the industry. It is no surprise for everyone when Rupa’s stalls at the World Book Fair manage to catch maximum programme eyeballs and bag many a prizes for the most attractive display for many consecutive years. The company was growing leaps and bounds by the nineties. It published translations of works of famous writers like Saratchandra Chatterjee and completed the arc of variety by publishing and distributing books like From Beirut to Jerusalem by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Thomas Friedman and the only authorised biography The Beatles by Hunter Davies. In 1993, the company established the first literary award of its kind – the N D Mehra Memorial Award, which gave recognition to several literary stalwarts like R K Narayan, Gulzar, Amrita Pritam and Intizar Husain.

The Rewarding 2000

After covering almost every sphere in the world of books, Rupa further expanded to cater to a wider range of tastes, literally! The company entered the kitchen with its mouth-watering and delicious range of cookery books by Camilla Panjabi, Premila lal, Vimla Patil among many other well-known names.

Besides publishing seasoned authors like Ruskin Bond, Ramesh Menon, Arun Shourie, K Natwar Singh, Rupa set the trend by believing in new talent with the launch of budding writers like Anurag Mathur, Tara Patel, Upmanyu Chatterjee, Makarand Paranjape and Tabish Khair....all of whose works went on to become bestsellers. As Thomas Carlyle said: ‘The history of the world is but the biography of great men’, Jaswant Singh’s Jinnah raised serious and interesting questions about the Partition and was a roaring success too.

And in 2004, Rupa introduced a young, first-time author who is now making India read like never before – Chetan Bhagat. Taking the literary and film industry by a storm with his Five Point Someone, One Night @ Call Center, The 3 Mistakes of My Life, he continues his success story with 2 States. Rupa was also the first among publishers to give due credit to its authors by giving the Publisher’s recognition Award worth Rs 1 lakh every year from 2003 onwards. Anurag Mathur, Chetan Bhagat, Ruskin Bond have been proud receivers of his awards for their contribution.

The company moved rapidly yet steadily to emerge as a champion in every sphere of interest including fiction, non-fiction, poetry, plays, children’s literature, biographies, self-help, religion, philosophy, culture and business management. Rupa has not only been the torchbearer of India’s literary and cultural heritage, it has also been doing its bit as a responsible part of the society. The 26/11 attacks in Mumbai shook the country and sent shockwaves across the world. Raising its voice against terrorism and in a show of solidarity, Rupa published many personal accounts, sensitive and astonishing tales surrounding the event and its aftermath.

Keeping in mind India’s growing appetite for books, Rupa has been in tune with times. In this country of fast-moving developments, we wake up to a new lexicon almost every day. New-age writers have embraced ‘small talk’ or SMS jargons and are constantly borrowing from other languages. The work hence produced is a tandoori, BBQued version of Queen’s and American English. So to REACH the wide RANGE of readers and to enhance the READING PLEASURE, Rupa has adopted the lingua franca of the youth, believed in them, and published raging success stories like Sudhindra Mokhasi’s BPO Sutra, Varsha Dixit’s Right Fit Wrong Shoe, Tina Sharma Tiwari’s Running on Full, Nishant Kaushik’s A Romance With Chaos, Ajay Mohan Jain’s Nothing Can Be As Crazy and many more...And all at a price of Rs 95/- only. In an attempt to keep faith alive in the 21st century, Rupa is in the process of publishing a first-of-its-kind, 11-volume Encyclopedia of Hinduism. From saints and philosophers to myths and legends, the encyclopedia covers the entire spectrum of Hinduism, including its oral traditions.

Recognition in the form of awards reinforces one’s belief in hard work and commitment and one such recognition came in the form of Best Book of the Year 2009 for SOAK: Mumbai in an Estuary by Anuradha Mathur and Dilip da Cunha. Rupa also won the Best Publisher of the Year award in 2008. Chrispher Morley once said: ‘When you sell a man a book, you don’t sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue – you sell him a whole new life.’ Rupa is a full-service publisher, taking care of every little detail to see each project through from concept to completion. All this has been possible only because of the teamwork and dedication shown by our employees. They have been essential participants with a shared responsibility in our mission to provide readers with good books and wholesome satisfaction at affordable prices. Rupa is proud of its 75-year journey as indigenous publishers and wish to celebrate this occasion by preparing for the next 75 years!


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