On 3 November 2010, at the age of 81, P. Lal, doyen of publishing in the world of Indian Writing in English, passed away. Purushottama Lal was the founder of Writers Workshop, the influential Kolkata imprint which has published, among some 4000 titles in English, early works by the likes of Vikram Seth and Anita Desai. Besides, he was a major contributor to the theory and practice of translation (or ‘transcreation’, as he preferred to call it), notably in the epic project of his later years of rendering the ‘Mahabharata’ into English verse.
He was also the friend, encourager and correspondent of David McCutchion, the pioneer in the study of Indian Writing in English who dies tragically young in 1972. The Lal-McCutchion relationship bore fruit in the tribute volume:
P. Lal (ed.). David McCutchion: Shraddhanjali. Calcutta: Writers Workshop. 1972.
and in the collection of letters: David McCutchion. The Epistles of David-Kaka to Plalm’n [P. Lal]. Calcutta: Writers Workshop. 1972. Repr. 1997.
Indeed, I briefly had the privilege of corresponding with P. Lal myself when writing a piece on Raja Rao and McCutchion (‘David McCutchion, Pioneer Critic of Raja Rao’, in Raja Rao: The Master and his Moves, ed. Jaydeep Sarangi, New Delhi: Authorpress, 2007, pp. 9-20, http://yatrarollason.info/files/RaoandMcCutchion.pdf – see entry on this blog for 19 November 2006). Like many, I have quoted P. Lal in my own writings on Indian matters, and I join a chorus of voices in India’s literary world in regretting his passing. p>
The ‘Times of India’ published an obituary by Subhendu Mund on 9 November (‘P. Lal: A Legend Who Created Legends’), and in the wider English-speaking world, ‘The Economist’ featured an eloquent tribute in its 13-20 November issue (‘P. Lal’, p. 97 –
recalling: ‘He was determined to keep the best English writing alive and well in India. And that meant making space for new creative writers, too … when it came to presenting the best of Indian writing in English, nothing was too much trouble’.