Discussion:
When Goa shaped India's printing (FN in Navhind Times)
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2018-08-02 19:59:57 UTC
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Frederick Noronha (The Navhind Times)
***@gmail.com

Over the past many months, I've been closely
following a series of articles in a technical
journal that few might notice, which is called
PrintWeek India. These informative articles have
been written by Murali Ranganathan. Like his
earlier work which one encountered (Govind
Narayan's Mumbai: An Urban Biography from 1863,
Anthem Press, 2009), these also deal with the print
history of Bombay, now Mumbai.

At first, this might seem like a dour and boring subject. But
once you read it, you quickly realise that understanding the
history of printing can offer interesting and sharp insights
into a region. We learn about society and communities of the
past, the local history, power play among diverse segments,
literacy and reading habits, even the intellectual history of
a place and what shaped it into being the region we now know.

In Goa's case, print history should have had a special role.
After all, way back in 1556, Goa was the first region in the
whole of Asia to get access to the global printing
revolution, one of the realities of history we have to
ironically thank colonialism for. Some of the first books in
Tamil, Konkani etcetera were printed here, and useful
knowledge of Indian plants and much more got globalised
through Europe, thanks to that press. This colonial press
might have hardly believed in free speech, not surprising for
those times. But it did give inhabitants of the region a
headstart with the printed word. Something we have certainly
lost over the centuries.

Anyway, Murali Ranganathan's book was actually a
translation of an 1863 description of Bombay
(called 'Mumbaiche Varnan') and written by a former
resident of Margao, Goa himself, identified as
Govind Narayan. We're told in the introduction to
that book: "By the 1860s, (Marathi) had achieved a
certain level of standardization and an evolving
sense of style. There were, however, hardly any
books that could match 'Mumbaiche Varnan' (which
could be translated to 'A Description of Bombay')
either in terms of originality or compare with it
in terms of size and scope."

By way of figures: Bombay had a population of just 16,000 in
the 1670s, which grew to 200,000 by the early 1800s. With the
capitulation of the Maratha Peshwas, the English became
overlords of the Indian subcontinent and Bombay emerged as
the de facto "capital of Western India".

But getting back to the history of print in India... As a
young student on a scholarship to Germany in 1990, I was
surprised if not shocked to realise that Goa's role in the
spread of printing in Asia was prominently highlighted in the
guidebook sold at the museum of printing, at Mainz, the city
that was home to Gutenberg. As we know, Johannes Gensfleisch
zur Laden zum Gutenberg (c 1400-1468) was the German
blacksmith, goldsmith, printer, and publisher who introduced
printing to Europe and spread it across the world.

Even today, in Ranganathan's narration, the role of Goa in
the spread of early Indian printing shows up clearly once more.

For example, Murali writes (PrintWeek, 10 July 2018) that
Gujarati printing, unlike that of other Indian languages, was
promoted largely by the "agency of Indians". It was mainly
the Parsis who developed printing there. One of the Parsi
pioneers Furdoonjee Murzban (1787-1847), whose press was also
known as the Summachar Press, was working out of Bombay. In
1832, he fled from Bombay under the pressure of mounting
debts. He then chose to seek refuge in the then Portuguese
enclave of Daman, where he founded another printing press and
type foundry, the Daman Gujarati Chhapakhana.

In another essay (PrintWeek, 10 April 2017),
Ranganathan tells us that Narayen Dajee
(1830?-1875) was a recognised early expert in the
art of photography in the subcontinent. Dajee was a
graduate as a medical doctor from the Grant Medical
College, as the brother of the Bhau Dajee aka Laad
(widely identified as a prominent Goan today), and
carried an inquisitive mind, an excellent knowledge
of chemistry and was not constrained by finances.

Yet another column (PrintWeek, 10 October 2016) talks about
how religion stoked a printing revolution in Bombay. Among
various religious groups there in the 19th century, the
researcher notes that "Roman Catholics were resident in large
numbers in Bombay and its vicinity" and "Christian
missionaries were the most prolific and printed a number of
Christian tracts and the Bible in Marathi, Gujarati and
Hindustani". One would suspect that much more work awaits
being done on this aspect.

In the early 1820s, the Bombay Government ventured into the
print area, experimenting with lithography (PrintWeek, 10
June 2016). When the British who was at the helm suddenly
died, it was his assistant "F.D. Ramos, of Indo-Portuguese
descent" who took over. This was at the time of Elphinstone,
after whom a prominent college is named. Lithography is a
method of printing, that can be used to print text or artwork
onto paper or other suitable material.

In 'A full circle: Print comes back to Goa', Ranganathan
notes that in the 16th century, Goa had been the "gateway"
for modern printing technology into the Indian subcontinent.
"But two centuries later, just as it was gradually spreading
over the rest of the country, print was expelled from Goa..."
only to return in the 19th century (PrintWeek 10 October 2017).

Perhaps the most fascinating is the piece titled
'The Goan draughtsman: Jose Maria Gonsalves'
(PrintWeek 10 Dec 2017). In it, the story is told
about a native of Piedade, on the island of Divar,
became the chief draughtsman of Bombay and a very
prominent lithographic artist. When the Brits were
battling the Russians over parts of Asia, and
Afghanistan was a key prize, Jose Maria Gonsalves
found himself in that part of the region from 1836
to 1838. Ranganathan says: "His portraits of the
soldiers and princes whom they encountered on the
way are lifelike and detailed.... Having developed
into an accomplished artist and illustrator of
Bombay lithographs in a career which spanned nearly
two decades, Jose Maria Gonsalves earned himself a
place in the print history and visual culture of
Bombay."

There is so much of Goa in Bombay, actually India's printing
history, that one wishes we would take this issue more
seriously ourselves.

###

https://www.flickr.com/photos/fn-goa/28873537437/in/dateposted/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/fn-goa/28873552927/in/dateposted/

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