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Indian heroes inside a box

(From left) Sarmistha De, Swapan Chakravorty, Bidisha Chakraborty and Jasodhara Bagchi at Oxford Bookstore and (below) the ACK box set. Picture by Sayantan Ghosh

Amar Chitra Katha comics are now coming out in a box. The popular Indian comics are being compiled into omnibus volumes, and they are quite a load to carry home!

“It’s a rotating inventory. We have collected the best-selling 300 from our current repertoire of 455 titles,” said Manas Mohan, COO, ACK Media. If printed together, the omnibus would have come to an impractical 33.5kg. So three volumes are being offered in separate boxes, each weighing 11kg and priced at Rs 5,000. One can order online at collections.amarchitrakatha.com too. And order of the complete volume comes at a discounted price of Rs 13,999.

The first title from the ACK stable was Krishna, which came out in the late 1960s. Thenceforth, under the supervision of editor Anant Pai, India Book House served history, literature, fables and biographies of icons in a comic-book format.

“Today, the folk tales and fables section continues to be our top grosser, accounting for 28 per cent of ACK sales. Mythology comes a close second at 25 per cent. At the third spot is history, with 19 per cent,” said Mohan.

New titles stopped coming out between 2000 and 2009 when the top management changed hands. “After the takeover, modern heroes like Jim Corbett, M.S. Subbulakshmi, Mother Teresa and Kalpana Chawla were added. The idea was to bring the collection up-to-date.”

Mohan admits that two fields close to young hearts — Bollywood and sports — have been ignored. “Since our readers are impressionable, we cannot tackle anything with shades of black or even grey. But these fields are on our mind for future expansions.”

A title on hockey legend Dhyan Chand was released a couple of weeks ago, breaking new ground for the series.

The entertainment industry has been turning to ACK in need. Zee TV, for instance, uploaded the e-title Rani Laxmi Bai on its website when it launched a serial on the queen of Jhansi. Brushes with Bollywood too have taken place, though not always successfully. “When Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Se was released, the makers wanted a tie-up to use our title Surjya Sen. But since Abhishek Bachchan was not wearing glasses in the film they wanted the glasses removed from our illustrations. Obviously we could not accede to such a request.”

ACK is also dabbling in new-age media. Many of the titles have been launched as e-books that can be bought and read online (but not downloaded) in Google Store for Rs 110 each. You can also have Hanuman tell your kids the story of The Ramayana by downloading an animated interactive audio book from the iTunes store on your iPad.

Calcutta in archives

A regular sight in 19th century Calcutta was hackney carriages, the drivers of which came all the way from Philadelphia. Such interesting anecdotes and more were shared at the launch of Calcutta in the Nineteenth Century: An Archival Exploration (Niyogi Books, Rs 595) at Oxford Bookstore, Park Street, on September 13. Its authors Sarmistha De and Bidisha Chakraborty are archivists at the State Archives of West Bengal. Jadavpur University teachers Swapan Chakravorty and Jasodhara Bagchi were present.

The book chronicles the huge planning that went into transforming Calcutta from a cluster of villages to a functional city. The British, who wanted to see Calcutta as “London of the East”, carefully planned everything, from drainage to administration in the hope of giving it an imperial touch.

“The book is divided into major sections such as city administration, controlling public amenities, spatial expansion, science of urbanisation and education, which bring a freshness to it,” said Bagchi.

Chakravorty, who is the former director-general of the National Library, spoke about the perils of maintaining a library and stressed on the importance of archiving given the fragility of historical documents.

“During the course of writing our city’s history, we have forgotten a lot. Calcutta was home to a number of communities like the Farsis and Awadhis who have never been written about properly. This book not only presents us with information about the city’s development but also with nuggets of facts,” he said, adding that the government must be alert to the necessity of archiving.

Bidisha Chakraborty spoke about exploring several 19th century British Acts and minutes as part of the research for the book, while her co-author Sarmistha De recounted “the urgency we felt to explore the treasure trove of British planning at the Archives.”

Correction: In the article “Cross-pollination in art” dated September 8, 2013, Samar Bagchi was mistakenly referred to as the founder-director of BITM. The founder-director of BITM is Amalendu Bose. The error is regretted.