Pinned to an adult-sized softboard on the first floor of Tara Books’ high-ceilinged, roomy Book Building in Chennai’s Thiruvanmiyur suburb — a short walk from cultural centre Kalakshetra — is a birthday message. Sharing space with postcards, photographs and other memorabilia, the A4 sheet boldly declares ‘THE ADVANTAGES OF BEING A WOMAN PUBLISHER’. Among other noteworthy points are ideas such as ‘not being moved by competitive envy’, ‘knowing your career is not dependent on age’, ‘not having to exercise power arbitrarily’, ‘being able to live in creative peace’ and, most of all, ‘not having to be one of the boys’.
Addressed to the indie imprint’s founder Gita Wolf — with a hat-tip to the New York-based anonymous feminist group Guerilla Girls — from the company’s editorial director V Geetha, the letter is testimony to how the duo and their team have nurtured the company over 20 years in an industry crowded with 19,000 publishers churning out 90,000 titles yearly.
“I never really set out to be an entrepreneur; I just wanted to make books. Publishing as a business occurred to me much later, when I realised that I actually had to sell these books. The company was born out of a turning away from academia that I was going through — I wanted to do something original rather than comment on what was going on,” explains Wolf, who used to teach comparative literature in Germany back then.
Armed with her savings and some money from husband Helmut and brother Mohan, Wolf attended the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1994 with little more than two book ideas and a few finished handmade pages. But as serendipity would have it, Canadian company Annick Press snapped up the concepts, funding the next stage of growth at Tara Books. “Annick Press asked for 8,000 copies of our concept The Very Hungry Lion, which needed to be screen-printed on handmade paper. We used the advance to set up our production unit in Perungudi, with C Arumugam in charge of production,” explains Wolf.
Setting up shop
It was only after this that the company began to tackle issues such as office space, its usage and employee strength