Mapin Publishing Posts

UNESCO World Heritage Sites of India Series

Mapin Publishing and UNESCO have co-published a set of five picture books called UNESCO World Heritage Sites of India Series. These books have been published with the support of Parag, an initiative of TATA Trusts. The five sites described are — Mahabalipuram, Sanchi, Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary, Qutb Minar, and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. There are 37 World Heritage Sites in India of which 29 are cultural and 8 are natural sites.

There is a separate author and illustrator for every book while the series editor is historian Narayani Gupta. In fact Prof. Gupta has written at least two other books for children. One was on Delhi and the second on Humayun’s Tomb. Launching this series is a good attempt at making information about historical sites accessible to children. These are also reasonably priced at Rs 195 each so the parents too get “value for money” in terms of information, text, pictures and some exercises at the back of every book.

Of the five books, the ones on Sanchi and Qutb Minar are best told. Sohail Hashmi’s Sanchi: Where Tigers Fly and Lions Have Horns manages to delve immediately into the historic site giving a fabulous description of the gates, sufficient amounts of historical context and involving the children in the story, thereby incorporating their perspectives too. For instance, the children spot holes in the walls that are visible to them as it is at their eye level. Something that an adult could have possibly missed. So the guide/Sohail Hashmi immediately points out that these are probably newly drilled holes to assist in draining rain water from the complex and help protect the monument. Narayani Gupta’s Qutb Minar is also beautifully written describing the complex while focussed on the Qutb Minar, its complicated history and the do’s and dont’s children should observe while visiting the historical site. For instance the chowkidar warns the children not to play on the graves warning them that the ghosts would come and haunt the children. A playful account in the story but an acute observation to include as children are wont to all sorts of pranks in open spaces and could do with learning a few rules of etiquette to observe while visiting historical monuments.

Compared to the aforementioned books, the remaining three titles — Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary: The Kingdom of Birds, Mahabalipuram and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus: Travelling Through Time are not as elegantly written, illustrated or produced. For example, Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary: The Kingdom of Birds while giving the history of the Bharatpur bird sanctuary as it is popularly known is an annoying book to read. Firstly, if it is meant for children it has far too many dark illustrations making it impossible to identify the birds clearly nor read their names that have been printed in black on a dark background! Secondly, the editing is sloppy. It is inexplicable why certain sentences from the text have been put in bold or made in a larger font when there is nothing significant in them. Also if these are meant to be edutainment books then surely a little more care could have been spent on details such as the meal the children in the story ate. “Everyone was careful not to spill any food and no plastic or paper was left behind.” Surely in a book that is focused on environmental conservation a little thought could have been spent in discouraging the use of plastic. Instead of cleaning up the plastic used, point out that no plastic was used, only biodegradable or reusable plates and glasses were used. Even 94-year-ol David Attenborough speaking at Glastonbury 2019 spoke about the effect of plastic on the planet. No effort can be small enough. Readers, especially young, pick up cues from books and imitate behavioural patterns.

Finally, why are there two illustrations each of the Grey Hornbill and Painted Stork instead of using the resources available to accommodate more bird pictures? Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus: Travelling Through Time is no better either. It is inexplicable why the device of time travel had to be introduced in a story about a historically rich site such as this railway terminus built in the nineteenth century. Introducing the element of time travel merely weakens the storytelling for it begins to pull the narrative in different directions. It is also equally baffling why there is a glossing over of historical facts such as mentioning in the story that Victoria Terminus was renamed in 1996 to Shivaji Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. It happened in recent memory. It is mentioned in the inner front flap as being called Victoria Terminus for at the time India was governed by the British. So why not say explicitly that renaming the terminus in the fin de siecle was also politically motivated? Shouldn’t children be made aware of history rather than a selective narrative? Mahabalipuram is also disappointing for its insipid storytelling and bland illustrations.

Perhaps the series would have been on a stronger footing if editorial guidelines had been set for all the contributors. Also a template design created to ensure that there is some consistency in the book production. It can be creatively debilitating to adhere to a template design but at times these tough decisions need to be taken particularly when catering to young readers. Children seek familiar markers. For instance choose whether boxes will be used to highlight information ( as is in Qutab Minar ) or pull out quotes ( as in Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary). Secondly, it is a good idea to use multiple illustrators but give them firm guidelines that the pictures while being aesthetically appealing also need to be informative so create them with a child’s perspective in mind, not an adult’s. Thirdly, if these are books meant to focus on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India then the date when the particular site was designated so should be placed in exactly the same spot in every title. This is not the case. Only Mahabalipuram and Keolodeo mention the dates in the box provided in the inner front flap of the books. Finally the awkward dimensions of the picture books make them go flippty-flop in an adult’s hands. For tinier hands this can only become cumbersome. So it will not be surprising if children abandon the books rapidly. This size of the book is definitely not child friendly.

Ultimately this is a good idea as a book series for younger readers except that it has been shoddily executed. Perhaps the team would have benefitted well by creating stories of the same standard as that created by Sohail Hashmi and Narayani Gupta. Who knows, maybe future titles in the series will consider it?

Updated on 1 July 2019 to embed the David Attenborough link.

29 June 2019

Humayun’s Tomb: World Heritage Site by Aga Khan Trust for Culture

The incredibly beautiful Mughal monument, Humayun’s Tomb, was recently restored by the Aga Khan Trust. The project was carried out in partnership with the Archaeological Survey of India, and supported by the TATA Trusts has not only conserved the monument, but has also aided in the revival of traditional building skills, materials, and techniques. It took many years ( 2008 – 2015) was done with great care under the supervision of Ratish Nanda. Now a book has been published by Mapin India for AKTC documenting the magnificent work done in restoring the monument, a blueprint for the Taj Mahal. Here is a short video and a Facebook clip on the restoration. Discovery Channel and National Geographic too showed a documentary on this path-breaking project. According to the book description:

The Humayun’s Tomb-Nizamuddin area, inhabited by a vibrant local community, is visited by millions of tourists and pilgrims each year. Conservation works being undertaken on the monuments in this area have aimed to re-define standard conservation practice in India by setting benchmarks in using a craft-based approach, setting documentation standards, using a participatory and multi-disciplinary approach, and using the conservation initiative as a tool towards improving quality of life for local communities. This book aims to inform the general public about the discipline of conservation and the rationale behind the successful conservation initiative and makes an argument for change in conservation approach in India: from isolated monuments to an urban approach that includes concern for the setting; from a ‘tender-based’ approach to a quality-concerned method; amongst other factors. Founded and guided by His Highness the Aga Khan, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture projects promote the conservation and re-use of buildings and public spaces in historic cities in ways that can spur social, economic and cultural development.

Ratish Nanda has led the multi-disciplinary team implementing the Nizamuddin Urban Renewal Initiative since the project’s inception in 2006. Prior to this, he was responsible for the Bagh-e-Babur restoration and the Humayun’s Tomb garden restoration, also at AKTC.

I interviewed Ratish Nanda ( via email). Here are the excerpts.

  1. Do you think the 1923 Conservation Manual principles need to be updated? For instance “repairs are carried out, no effort should be spared to save as many parts of the original as possible, since it is to the authenticity of the old parts that practically all the interest attaching to the new will owe itself. Broken or half decayed original work is of infinitely more value than the smartest and most perfect new work.’

Though updates are continuously expected and have been done with the National Conservation Policy notified in 2014 by the Archaeological Survey of India, Many of the principles of the 1923 manual remain valid – and these have been highlighted in the book. The quote you provide is one such quote the validity of which remains and as such during the Humayun’s Tomb conservation effort every effort was made to ensure that original – Mughal material is retained. For instance the section on tile work illustrates where even tiles that had lost their glaze were retained. As the book explains repeatedly, what was in fact removed were inappropriate 20th century repairs causing damage to the building – such as cement plaster and cement concrete on the roof. This happened because craftsmen were no longer involved as the British replaced them with engineers, architects and archaeologists and nobody knew better.

  1. Are there any new principles you would wish to add to the conservation manual? For instance the dos and dont’s of using technology in conservation processes or different ways of documenting? Or do you think the 1923 guidelines are valid even now ? 

I think the new National Conservation Policy already addresses new issues such as use of digital technology to document the entire process of conservation. It should be documented prior to, during and after conservation in maps, drawings, photographs, digital records and field notes so as to create records of interventions. The documentation should capture various stages of intervention and all relevant details. This will be useful from the point of view of understanding all past and current interventions in the future. The revised policy also encourages public private partnership in heritage conservation and management. The restoration of the Humayun’s Tomb is a good example of this as it is a collaboration between AKTC, ASI & TATA Trusts.

  1. How long did this book take to write?

The project has taken over a decade; the book is an attempt to put the project learnings in the public domain as well as explain to interested stakeholders what the conservation process was. This is shared with the belief that both conservation professionals as well as officials, administrators, donors, students (history, architecture, conservation, and archaeology) could use this as a case study/ model and more such projects could be undertaken.

  1. You have worked on conservation of other historical sites including in Kabul. Why was Humayun’s Tomb singled out for this detailed documentation?

Kabul has also been published. Detailed documentation of the conservation process is best practice. These significant sites belong to the people and its important that anyone interested has access to information on what has been done and how. For instance in Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme: Strategies for Urban Regeneration.

  1. What is a unique aspect in the conservation of this tomb as opposed to the other monuments you are associated with?

All monuments where conservation works have been undertaken have been treated with the same level of attention. What we have demonstrated is a truly Indian model for conservation based on utilising traditional building crafts, materials and master craftsmen as well as a multi-disciplinary team. This is the first instance in India of a private agency undertaking conservation works which are cofounded by a another private agency – the TATA Trusts

  1. Are there are conservation techniques that you had to rediscover and have now revived? For instance making of the blue tiles in Nizammudin where you made more than 20,000 samples before selecting the one definite process. Do you think this process of making blue tiles will be revived or exist only as long as the tomb needs it?

We are still making tiles – they are required on at least 40 monuments in the Nizamuddin area as well as several more countrywide. Furthermore it is hoped that the craftsmen will be able to make tiles for the souvenir market as well. The tile-making craft had died in India; its revival has cost a fortune and it is hoped some of the youth will have the initiative to make an industry out of it as there is a significant demand for these tiles – from both conservation purposes and growing demand from the market.

  1. Is conservation of historical monuments only to be done via brick-and-mortar routine using specialists or does it involve sensitisation programmes particularly among school children? For instance organising workshops, historic walks, screening of documentaries, writing / painting competitions etc. 

Awareness is extremely important and this book is one tool towards it. During the conservation effort we have produced other publications – such as the children’s book of which 60,000 copies have been sold till date. Youth from Nizamuddin basti usually walk through 6-7000 school children each year. There is also a very active Facebook page.

  1. Why is it that the Humayun’s Tomb has produced two books — children and adults and none of the other monuments? 

We hope to produce more such technical books to serve as case studies. Our objective is to share the knowledge we have generated as part of the project.

  1. What was the most exciting and most challenging moments in this conservation exercise?

Undertaking India’s first privately undertaken conservation effort has been a challenge as many suspicions have to be addressed and a proper conservation process established. By far the most exciting outcome has been the recent expansion of the Humayun’s Tomb World Heritage site to include 11 additional monuments on which Aga Khan Trust for Culture undertook conservation.

  1. Were there any portions of the building that were irreparable and beyond conservation? 

There are portions of the building where the original treatment had been lost – such as the tomb chamber – where until the mid-20th century the walls were tiled and the dome gilded – here, with the lack of evidence, conservation effort could not restore the original builders intention. Also the lack of historical accounts that either document or hint at this process are not enough to justify restoration. Conservationists need in-situ or clear photographic evidence to emulate the processes.

  1. What are the learnings from this conservation programme? Are any of these applicable in other conservation projects in India and rest of the world? 

The book lists all the learnings – established that craftsmen need to be in the centre of the conservation effort; conservation is as much responsibility of the private sector as of government; conservation decisions should be based on an understanding of the site and its significance. The conservation process established – including repeated independent peer reviews – is replicable for any project, anywhere in the country or beyond. Also, we must document all such efforts and explain the rationale for these in a written statement. Something that will explain the condition of the monument, the rational for conservation works and outlines the process followed.  

  1. What next? 

We remain available to assist the Government of India wherever they would like us to support an urban conservation effort.

11 April 2017 


PrintWeek India Books Special 2013

PrintWeek India Books Special 2013

The cover of the PrintWeek India Book Special 2013 and the first page of my editorial.

The cover of the PrintWeek India Book Special 2013 and the first page of my editorial.



The Books Special 2013 is out! I have collaborated with PrintWeek India for the past eight months on this project. It consists of over 25 interviews with the senior management of the Indian publishing industry. In this 116-page publication, there are interviews, viewpoints, profiles and analysis. It provides a snapshot of the publishing industry, discusses the challenges facing publishing professionals in this ecosystem and most importantly delineates the the manner in which publishers are coping with the major changes that are sweeping through the publishing landscape. Ultimately the Books Special celebrates the future of books in India.

There are only printed copies available for now.

The list of contents is:

Introduction – Jaya Bhattacharji Rose


National Book Trust, India – M A Sikandar

Viewpoint – Urvashi Butalia, Zubaan

PK Ghosh – Homage by Rukun Advani, Permanent Black

Ramdas Bhatkal – Profile by Asmita Mohite

Motilal Banarsidas – Chronicle

In Memoriam – Navajivan & Jitendra Desai

Spotlight – Book printers of India

Trade publishing 

Westland – Gautam Padmanabhan

Random House India – Gaurav Shrinagesh

Seagull Books – Naveen Kishore

Aleph & Rupa – David Davidar & Kapish Mehra

HarperCollins Publishers India – PM Sukumar

Hachette Book Publishing India – Thomas Abraham

DC Books – Ravi Deecee

Pan Macmillan India – Rajdeep Mukherjee

Penguin Books India – Andrew Philips

Harlequin India – Manish Singh

Diamond Books – Narendra Verma

Kalachuvadu Publications – SR Sundaram

Bloomsbury Publishing India – Rajiv Beri

Simon & Schuster India – Rahul Srivastava

Children’s Books Publishing 

ACK Media – Vijay Sampath

Scholastic India – Neeraj Jain

Education, Academic and Reference Publishing 

Sage Publications – Vivek Mehra

S Chand Group – Himanshu Gupta

Cambridge University Press India – Manas Saikia

Wiley India – Vikas Gupta

Sterling Publishers – SK Ghai

Springer India –  Sanjiv Goswami

Tulika Books – Indira Chandrashekhar

Manupatra – Deepak Kapoor

Orient Blackswan – R Krishna Mohan

Publishing Process 

Pearson Education India – Subhasis Ganguli

Palaniappa Chellapan – Palaniappa Brothers

Sheth Publishers – Deepak Sheth

Hachette Book Publishing India – Priya Singh

Mapin Publishing – Bipin Shah

Prakash Books – Gaurav Sabharwal

7 Sept 2013 

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is an international publishing consultant and columnist. Her monthly column on the business of publishing, PubSpeak, appears in BusinessWorld online.


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