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Tejeshwar Singh (1945-2007): A Cut above the Rest

T C A Srinivasa-Raghavan  |  New Delhi 

On Saturday evening, a friend called to say that Tejeshwar Singh "" TS "" had died of a heart attack at his home in Landaur in Mussoorie. A reporter from the Indian Express had called her to ask about him. Since she knew that TS and I had worked together for several years, she asked me to fill her in on that period.
A few hours later, I too got a call from the Indian Express. So I repeated what I had said about him. But the next day, although the paper carried a large story about him, with a picture as well, it missed the point completely. Shockingly, TS was written about mainly as a news reader on Doordarshan even though this was just a "time-pass" for him. His real achievements and contributions to intellectual life in India were completely ignored. Television trivialises in life, it trivialises in death as well.
TS gave me my first proper job in 1975. He was Managing Editor at Macmillan and until I left publishing to join journalism, we worked together closely, first in the editorial department and then in marketing. For nearly half of those five years, he gave me a ride in his car "" a rust-coloured Standard Herald "" to office and back. "We are all failed writers," he would often say.
My job interview with him was extraordinary. I was being considered for the post of economics editor and we mostly talked about Gunter Grass's Tin Drum and other such books. Later when I asked him about it, he said he was checking to see if I was padha-likha. On that same reasoning, I think, he appointed first an economist "" Kaushik Basu's newly married wife Alaka "" and then a philosophy postgraduate, as the medical editor!
The 1970s were a period of immense, but negative change in India. Publishing was not exempt from the government's obsession with control. Late in the 1960s, it had decreed that for all practical purposes school textbooks would be nationalised. Until then, Macmillan and OUP used to be main suppliers of these books "" Wren and Martin (grammar), Hall and Stevens (geometry), Hall and Knight (algebra) and so on.
When this lucrative market began to shrink, both Macmillan and OUP decided to develop college-level publishing. In 1974, Macmillan appointed TS to look after that part of the company's Indian operations. This is where he made his great contribution and it is for this that he should be remembered, rather than as a DD news reader, for heaven's sake!
By developing Indian academic publishing in the way he did, and thereby altering the way we Indians regarded monographs published in India, TS, along with Ravi Dayal of OUP and a few others, gave India a new publishing paradigm. His subsequent runaway success at Sage India, which he started in the early 1980s, was an extension of this.
Three broad briefs were given by TS to division editors "" work with authors to develop good college-level textbooks, publish Indian monographs and in a low growl, "we have to be a cut above the rest". TS took the final decision on what to publish and what to reject. He rarely made a mistake.
In the publishing hierarchy in those days, the marketing fellows came higher than editorial. And they could be pretty whimsical, with their whimsy being compounded by commodity fetishism "" a book was like soap, etc. TS used to fight them tooth and nail on our behalf, not least because the old-timers in the branch offices, who had started during the British days, saw him as a johnny-come-lately who had to be shown his place.
TS was always firm: once the editorial fellows had certified academic quality, it was not up to the marketing chaps to reject the title. Quite a few authors who have made it big since then squeaked through because of his intervention. They all owe him a debt that they cannot repay.
After 1980, we met only very infrequently. Sage went from strength to strength and last year he sold his stake in it to pursue other interests. His passing, as that of Ravi Dayal last year, has left Indian publishing vastly poorer.

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First Published: Mon, December 17 2007. 00:00 IST