10 years Yoda Press The Indie Superhero

_The Fingers Remember, Cover design: Jericha Senyak; Once Upon a Furore, Cover design: Oroon Das; Confluences, Cover design: Oroon Das
_The Fingers Remember, Cover design: Jericha Senyak; Once Upon a Furore, Cover design: Oroon Das; Confluences, Cover design: Oroon Das | © YODA Press

One of Delhi’s most popular independent English-language presses turns 10 this week. Aditya Mani Jha talks to Arpita Das, the founder of Yoda Press.

There are three kinds of bookstores that seasoned book-hunters always enjoy: the cheap kind, the kind that has all the obscure amazing books you always wished were at one place and the kind that has the greatest chance of surprising you on a given day. On good days, Yodakin would tick all the three boxes. Its commitment to promote indie titles, from Navayana, Zubaan, Tara Books, Three Essays Collective and the like, was not just admirable; it was a sight for eyes that had been wounded by shelves and racks and stacks of Paulo Coelho, Dan Brown and others. Yodakin was the brainchild of Arpita Das, publisher and founder of Yoda Press, which completes 10 years this week.

The very first book published by Yoda was 2005’s Once Upon a Furore by Boria Majumdar: a non-fiction book that sought to string together some commonly overlooked chapters in the history of Indian cricket. Their most recent book is the forthcoming The Fingers Remember, a poetry collection by Aditi Rao. In the intervening ten years, this eclecticism has seen them publish books as diverse as The Other Global City (edited by Shail Mayaram), Confluences (by Ranjit Hoskote and Ilja Trojanow), Would You Like Some Bread With That Book? (by Veena Venugopal) and the graphic anthology This Side, That Side (curated by Vishwajyoti Ghosh), one of the best books of 2013.

This Side, That Side brought together Partition narratives from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, in a collaboration that was notable, among other things, for including several artists and writers who had never worked on a comic-book before. When I asked Das about the success of This Side, That Side and what it meant for Yoda Press, she said: “TSTS, as we have come to call it, turned out to be a mammoth collaborative project; between us, Vishwajyoti Ghosh (the editor-curator), Goethe-Institut (our partners), and all the contributors from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. But when the book came out, it also meant all these people were talking about it at the same time, and that is a big reason why the book has done so well.” 

A favorite book culture space

For independent presses to flourish, bookstores that promote indie titles are a must: with Yodakin shutting shop, this mantle has been taken up by May Day Bookstore & Café (at Shadi Khampur in West Delhi), run by veteran theatre activist Sudhanva Deshpande. Das, who also teaches a course in publishing at Ambedkar University, acknowledged as much, calling May Day her “go-to indie, leftie bookstore right now”. She told me about how a number of independent publishing houses like Zubaan, Tulika and LeftWord once came together for a collective bookshop called “U Choice”. Sadly, the store did not last long.
Das opined: “Perhaps book retailers with different strengths should come together and create a book culture space with events, readings, across the counter sales, booths (on rental) for meetings, free WiFi and coffee. It would be a collective business and cultural space.”

True to form, Yoda’s most recent title is by an author who, like the best indie artists, has immense promise but has flown mostly under the radar so far. When Aditi Rao won the Srinivas Rayaprol Prize in 2011, she wrote a blog post about how (and why) she hadn’t published a book yet and how she would “research literary magazines in India” so that her poems could be read on places other than her website. Three years later, Rao is finally publishing her debut collection, The Fingers Remember, due to be launched on 21 November, to coincide with Yoda’s 10-year-anniversary. Das was a bit nostalgic as she remembered her first encounter with Rao’s work:
“Aditi sent us her manuscript early in 2013. I remember I was on the verge of taking that final decision about closing Yodakin and was down in the dumps, and happened to unwrap this magical manuscript which lifted my spirits immediately.”

On the eve of Yoda Press turning 10, one hopes that Das continues its long and successful run of publishing offbeat, cutting-edge works that challenge the tyranny of the marketplace.