Tara Books: endless creativity


For one-of-its-kind publisher Chennai-based Tara Books, making book is an important cultural intervention. Tara is specially known for its visual arts titles, particularly for pioneering stunning books made entirely by hand, screen printed and hand bound. D Ramalingam brings more on their craftsmanship. The beginning…

Gita Wolf and C Arumugam.Established in the year 1994 by Gita Wolf, Tara Books has definitely made a mark for itself. Over the years, Gita has been joined by other writers and creative professionals who were drawn by her vision of bringing a variety of marginalized voices and perspectives to the reader while continuously playing with different form of the books.

Today, the publishing house creates its own books as well as collaborates with a range of unusual talents from signboard painters to tribal and textile artists. While the core group is based in Chennai, other members reside in London, New York and various locations across India and the world.

The creative edge…

Gita is a highly original and creative voice in contemporary Indian publishing. She has pursued her interest in exploring and experimenting with the form of the book and its status as a revered cultural object. She has written several books for children and adults, many of which have won prestigious international awards and have been translated into several languages. Trained in English and comparative literature, she left her academic profession to explore her interests in visual and literary communications.

Gita Wolf has authored more than 20 books, the recent one titled, ‘Do!’ is an introduction to basic verbs, aided by the elegant pictograms of Warli art, meant for children and is screen printed. Four more authors have assisted her in this book. Warli art is created by people belonging to a tribal community of Maharashtra state.

The books or the masterpieces…

Imagination runs riot in Tara but they are down to earth in sourcing their ideas from tribal and folk artists, street art and oral narrative traditions. Tara began as a children’s publisher, but the list has expanded to include a strong but select collection of visual arts titles and adult fiction. Working with local communities and exploring social and political issues form a critical point of view, Tara’s non-fiction list comprises craft books for children as well as titles for all ages on the themes of peace and justice.

They categorize their books into ‘For all age’ graphic novels, picture books/visual arts; ‘For adults’ picture books/visual arts, photography, art & design/pop culture, fiction/non-fiction; and ‘For children’ picture books, fiction/non-fiction, arts & crafts and stationery in creative format.

A peek into a masterpiece…

Just to take one example of a book meant ‘For all ages’, titled Metamorphosis, an artist envisions the asanas of yoga. In this book, Padmasana is depicted through a lotus form, showing the flower and asana posture, explaining that “the central bloom among the Yogic asanas, Padmasana relies on a deeply rooted spine to allow the mind to blossom into deep meditation.”

While, Parvatasana is depicted through a seated mountain, explaining that “Parvatasana is a meditative pose that quiets the body from base to peak, and elevates the mind into a place of still and focused contemplation.” Like these, it relates 18 other asanas to eagle, lion, crane, camel, scorpion, fish, dog, tortoise, peacock, cobra, tree, plough, cow, pigeon, bridge, bow, plank, monkey, wheel, etc.

As per Gita, “This playful merging of the human form with lions, snakes, scorpions and stone bridge is a brilliant vision of yoga’s potential to transform the relationship between body and mind and in the process celebrated the union of matter and spirit.” This 48 pages book (203 x 178mm), printed by offset and bound in Thailand, costs Rs 395.

Hand-made books: Tara’s specialty

Tara’s expertise is the production of books made entirely by hand, right from the paper to the printing and binding. Tara printing unit is a bustling workshop employing 16 skilled printers and binders who are drawn largely from the locality. So far, they have created a total of 1,80,000 handmade books. Calculating the printing impressions, it will run into 11,000,000. “We aim to touch about Rs 2 crore turnover this year,” informed Gita.

Ably assisted by her production manager C Arumugam, Gita produces offset printed literature overseas while handmade books are produced at their own printing unit. Starting with five persons, today their core group consists of 11 designers and typesetters, apart from printing unit workforce. Manikantan, incharge of the unit, trained by Arumugam, is proud of his work. He informed that they produced 18,000 copies of a particular book for a customer in Canada which took one year to complete.

Talking about outsourcing printing, Gita and Arumugam told that it becomes cheaper in Hong Kong, China and Thailand than in India. Arumugam, who is in touch with all well known printers in Chennai and in other parts of our county, bemoaned about pricing and lack of training at shop floor, especially binding.

The clientele and the distributors…

Asked about their clients, Gita and Arumugam informed they consist mainly of art lovers while for fiction/non-fiction, they attract general readers.

“We have worked out selling rights with various publishers for about 40 books in European, Japanese and African languages. Our distributors for India are Rupa & Co while they have a distributor for UK & Europe and one for US & Canada. There are agents in France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Japan and Korea. Publicists also take care for India and overseas markets,” informed Gita.

Some books and their price range…

Out of 68 titles mentioned in their 2009/10 catalogue, 19 titles are produced as handmade books. The Nightlife of Trees is a large format book (25 x 30 inches), signed and numbered edition of 25, screen printed and hand bound is priced at Rs. 10,000 each. Another one, Meena Art Prints contains screen print images from Meena village in Rajasthan known as Mandana Art, available in sets of 15 and in various sizes, is priced at Rs 19,000.

The accolades…

In the year 1996, they won an Award for Book Design from Canada. In 2010, they were listed in IBBY Honour List and figured in the annual list of USBBY for Outstanding International Books. They got MPLA Award for Excellence in Printing and got FESPA Award as well. Like these, they have been rewarded for Arts Craftsmanship, Fiction and Children’s Book in Germany, Spain and USA. Regularly, they figure in White Ravon’s Catalogue of World’s Best Children’s Books.

Blessed by such creativity and talent, Tara Books is busy bringing out one masterpiece after another.

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