Books, Teas and Translations | Other Books


Books, Teas and Translations

Muhammad Ali Jauhar
Posted Date | 09-01-2017

On June 1st , I joined “Other books” as an editorial intern for a month. It was one of the most academically pleasing experiences of my life. As per our course requirement, we had to do a one month internship at the end of the first year. I was frantically searching for a place where I could enjoy as well as enrich myself. Reading is my passion and making other people read is something which gives me immense pleasure. I have been collecting books, periodicals since my college life. I have even established a personal library in due course of time. I was looking for a place which would be a source of inspiration rather than labour.

I tried at various places, but my efforts did not bear fruit. I was in a dilemma whether I was a victim of my regular procrastination or sheer bad luck. Battling against a lot of frustration I went to my best friend who is also a voracious reader. With full hope of seeking solace, I opened my box of difficulties. And he stood firm on my expectation. He asked me if I am willing to work in a book publishing firm named “Other Books”, which I was aware of. I expressed my affirmation and he immediately took out his cellphone and gave a call to the managing editor. The Managing editor asked him a few questions relevant to me and my academic background. It was more like him providing a recommendation for me. Then the words of invitation were accompanied with hospitality: “Ask him to come here only if he agrees to have plenty of Biryani and relishing Malabar cuisine frequented with caffeine beverages”. My friend also gave me some insight about Other Books and the golden rule: Never deny any food offers from the editors, as these will be the main source of discussion sessions.

Calicut is one of my favorite destinations because of its rich cultural heritage and intellectual tradition, and it’s also a great place for foodies. Other Books is located in the heart of the city. Towards the end of May, I reached Calicut and located myself in a hostel near to the beach. Other Books publishes in Malayalam, English, Kannada on Malabar, Contemporary Politics, Muslim History, Subaltern Studies, Sufism, Women Studies, West Asian Studies, Philosophy, etc. They have published books of Derrida, Imam Ghazzali, JBP More, Malcolm X, Susan Nathan, Ali Shariati, Ayyankali, Ralf Shulman, Ziauddin Sardar, Sheikh Zainuddin Makhdoom, Martin Lings, Alija Izet Begovic, Ang Swee Chai, SK Biswas, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Roland E Miller etc.

My journey began on Wednesday, 1st June 2016 with a formal introduction with the staff and editors. I was trying to observe their work habits and routine
closely to prevent any error from my side. Also, absorbing and sticking to the instructions of the editor, Shameer KS in the best manner. I tried my best to strike a conversation with Editorial Assistant, Joseph Varghese which proved to be very fruitful throughout. It began on a cup of tea with a refusal to be addressed as “sir” by him. Every Saturday, editorial meetings are scheduled. I was a mute spectator in the beginning but they insisted me to open up. They readily accepted the suggestions I gave, which was a boost to my morale. First day itself I realized the importance of giving company to editors and other teams to taste varieties of food. Tea breaks were instant.

I was assigned to work under the supervision of Shameer KS. He is a well-known academic scholar and a well-read author in periodicals. He has mastery over multiple languages like Arabic, English and Malayalam. His main work is translating books in these languages. His area of expertise varies from Philosophy, Cultural Studies, Literature, Theology to Sufism. My first work was in an ongoing project, English translation of “Hidayathul Adhkiya” a 16th century Sufi poem by Sheikh Zainudheen Makdhoom of Ponnani, Kerala. The purpose was to introduce this classical text of Kerala to others. I had to read the text meticulously and suggest changes. I regularly had to refer to other sources and consult various scholars. I owe to Joseph, a witty personality who was always behind me with quick tips and useful guidance.

The managing editor, founder and backbone of Other Books, Dr Auswaf Ahsan, is a dental professor and a well known personality. He spends Saturdays in the office. He captures heart of the people by his witty nature and enthusiasm. So I did not miss any chance to sit with him or have tea or travel, and to listen to his experience. No South-Asian Scholar who visited Calicut could escape from his Biryani. AK Bhattacharya, a veteran JNU scholar, is the foreign languages editor at Other Books. He earned his nickname “Walking EFLU” for his mastery over 12 languages including French, Arabic, Turkish etc. His passion towards learning new languages and devotional aspect of his life was a constant source of motivation. He was writing a book on the history of Indian Union Muslim League and recently finished a book “Turko- French Relations”, on which he spent a lot of time and efforts. M Noushad, another editor, teaches Mass Communication at a media institute and is related to various film projects and an art community called Kamura. When he visits the office, we can feel his aura.

In my honest opinion, Other Books is a place to express our diverse opinion. They encourage books which are rare or not available in the public domain. Dr Auswaf told me that he established Other Books when he could not do justice for his hunger for books. They are equally dedicated towards the aesthetics of the books and take special care of the cover page design, page quality, font size, etc. 

I got the chance to edit a few books. As I mentioned earlier “Hidayathul Adkiya” was my major project. Shameer KS appreciated my editing and encouraged me saying that he would mention me in the book. I was very happy over the fact that my name would appear in the acknowledgement. “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” by Ramzy Baroud and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad's “Basic Concepts of the Quran” was given to me for final editing. Well known work of Dorothy M Figueira “Aryans, Jews, Brahmins: Theorizing Authority Through Myths and Identity” was also given, but I was only able to cross check its language due to its extreme theoretical depth.

I got a new friend who made me rethink about Kannada language which was my medium of study for 13 years in school. Ali Ahsan, son of our managing editor, now working as a research assistant in Kannada language at JNU, used to visit our office and discuss about Kannada literature.

The life at Other books has given me ample motivation that I can be a very good editor and book publisher. I really enjoyed editing as well as reading. I have never ever done any work so seriously in my life. I used to be awake for the whole night in the hostel, reading and editing continuously. 

I had another intention in my mind when I had planned for Calicut. For further exploration in my research interest, I wanted to buy plenty of books which were in my wish list since the last few years. I purchased almost all those books and the remaining I got as gift from friends. I was also able to collect the full set of few historical magazines. It was a successful marathon buying session. Within one month I purchased two huge cart of books from various publications.

I could not enjoy the Calicut cuisines much because Ramadan started two weeks after joining the office. Hopefully looking forward to spend a few weeks again at Other Books.