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The Original Book Production Marathon
Shrila Prabhupada was producing the first volumes of his Srlmad-Bhdgavatam as he was writing them at the Radha-Damodara temple. He had to oversee the production at every step, beginning with buying paper at the market. In India, it is not possible to simply order paper and expect that it will be delivered by truck to your front door. You must go to the manufacturer and choose from eight million different "i"p ties of paper. You must see it being put on the wagon and walk with it to the printer yourself—or else that which arrives is guaranteed to be different from what you have ordered, much less than what you have paid for, of a lower quality, and completely dirty and messed up.
Therefore Shrila Prabhupada went to the paper merchant, chose the appropriate paper, bought what he needed, saw it being put on a hand cart, walked with it to the printer, delivered it, and got written confirmation. Then he would watch the first sheets being run off, and he would even correct them, being the writer, editor, and proofreader himself. Then he would buy the binding material and bring it to the binderv. in India, a book is bound by a group ot old ladies who sit together in one room on the floor. They fold the pages by hand, and then, holding the loose pages with their feet, they sew it all together. Then these handbound books would have to be brought to another place for the covers to be put on. Again, the fabric for the cover must be bought beforehand. Then the fabric is handstretched over a piece of cardboard and the title is stamped on by hand. Finally, the cover is stuck onto the book with glue that has been brushed on by hand and a dust jacket is printed.
Nowadays we produce Shrila Prabhupada's books with a staff of ten to fifteen people — a translator, an editor, proofreaders, typists, composers, tvpesetters. lavoutmen, cameramen—but Shrila Prabhupada produced his books alone, with a technology that was primitive. The type was set with single-lettered lead type. They didn't even have Linotypes, which produce one line at a time. How Shrila Prabhupada went through all these different stages is beyond the understanding of those of us used to making books with machines. And at the same time that he was producing his books, he was writing a topical newspaper, the original Back to Godhead, wherein he made relevant comments on the hot news of the day. He would sell his newspaper to people while they sat in cafes and restaurants sipping their tea. He once told me that the Delhi streets were so hot that he was swooning as he walked along. One time he fainted from the heat and was almost run over by a car, but he was saved by a well-wishing passerby. Despite these difficulties he would go out and distribute his books and newspapers; and with the donations from these sales and a few other sources, he would buy more paper and gradually go on printing his books.
He went on printing his books even though he didn't have a clear idea how to sell them. He tried selling them through bookstores, but they were not moving very fast. He placed them in libraries and universities. And he presented them to the Prime Minister, who greatly appreciated them. From a mundaner's point of view, this was pure pounds, shillings, >nd nence business and had nothing to with spiritual life. But amazingly, Shrila Prabhupada was working just tor Krsna and his spiritual master, who had given him the mission to preach in the English language so that all the people of the world could benefit.