I recently picked up the latest issue of Caravan, a political and literary magazine, which has been recently re-launched after twenty years. What caught my eye in the magazine as I was flipping through it at the magazine-seller were images of book covers in an article about the poetry collective Clearing House in the seventies, titled Your Missing Person: Clearing House and the Bombay Poets by Anjum Hasan. Now, I am not one for poetry, and to be honest I had never followed either Clearing House or the poets who were a part of it. Still, the idea of a poetry collective caught my fancy, as did the book covers.
The collective comprised poets Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, Adil Jussawalla, Gieve Patel and Arun Kolatkar in the mid-70s in Mumbai. In the words of Mehrotra, who is quoted in this article,
In the early 1970s we all realised that we had manuscripts. There were no publishers. Then Oxford University Press under R Parthasarathy started the New Poetry in India series. Some titles did appear under that. But what would happen to the others? We decided not to wait and formed a co-operative. I had been bringing out magazines like ‘damn you’ and ‘ezra’ from Bombay and Allahabad. And I knew something about the small press scene in America… Clearing House was very successful because the books were cheap. We made a pre-publication offer. And Arun Kolatkar designed the covers.
Hasan comments about Kolatkar’s designs in her essay. About his cover for Cuttack-based poet Jayanta Mahapatra’s The False Start, she writes,
Its khaki cover featured a stark image of two sheets of crumpled paper. The book’s unusual squarish size and its elegant font, the simplicity of the design and the wide space given to the poems on the page, the lack of any form of advertisement in the whole, and the beauty of the yellowing pages—all gave it an air of fragility, an aura of having come out of a set of circumstances that was now history.
Arun Kolatkar, before being a poet, was a painter, graphic designer and art director. He studied fine arts at Mumbai’s J. J. School of Arts, from where he earned his diploma in 1957. He went on to work in many prestigious advertising agencies, including Lintas. From here he proceeded to work at Mass Communication and Marketing (MCM) with Kersy Katrak, one of the most iconic men in Indian advertising. It is at MCM that Kalotkar became a celebrated ‘visualizer’ and art director. He won the Communication Arts Guild (CAG) award six times during his career and was subsequently inducted in the CAG Hall of Fame in 1988-1989.
Today, Kalotkar is definitely remembered much more for his poetry than his graphic design but that said, I hope you enjoy these book covers [all images have been scanned from the magazine] as much as I did when I first saw them, and still do.