A look behind the book: Latest volume in Ome Swarlipi

{Write-up initiated to record steps for publishing book containing music compositions using OmeSwarlipi. The book is available here.}

Sitar Compositions in Ome Swarlipi was published for non-Hindi speaking enthusiasts who were interested in Indian classical music and were looking for different levels of string compositions in major Raga-s. In the past decade, readers have occasionally voiced their reactions to the book. One thing that was stressed by many, was publication of next volume with different Raga-s and compositions.

OmeSarlipi mein Misrabani, 2020
Companion Volume to Sitar Compositions in Ome Swarlipi

Since 2010 when this volume was published, mobile phones have made internet accessible across India and teaching has begun to incorporate healthy use of resources available online – an objective with which Omenad, Online Music Education for Novitiates, Academics and Demonstrators was started in 1999. Several universities and institutions in India have invited experts to initiate students in using Ome digital notation system and a number of performers and academics now routinely use Ome Swarlipi in documentation and teaching. While the notations in Bhatkhande system or even Ome Swarlipi come easy to students of music, the language of instructions on host website – omescribe.com – posed a challenge. I remember when a young student sent a proposal to the ministry to prepare learning material for computer languages in Hindi, it was summarily rejected. The student, an acclaimed professional developer today, had noticed that intelligent students, his classmates, suffered solely because they were unable to understand primary instructions in English; once he helped out, they progressed competitively.

We received feedback from several teachers that students today are prone to study using digital means; they need primary instructions in language they understand to move ahead full steam. Once summers were over and institutions were unable to invite students back to campus, it was clear that the whole academic session of 2020-21 would prove a dent in learning. By August we realized that we cannot stay involved in other projects and shelved them all, so we could bring out an instructional volume in Hindi, which has become a dire necessity in the pandemic-directed home-learning. Core objective of book had to satisfy two requisites, now. Inclusion of more Raga-s, different from those in earlier volume, and instructions in Hindi on how to write (better term, type) Swarlipi notations.

Raga-s that students begin their Indian music instructions with – Yaman, Des, Khamaja, Bihaga, Kafi, Bhupali etc. – were already in the 2010 volume, so readers are offered some other Raga-s, institutionally taught at varying levels. The selection covers common ones from each year of undergraduate courses in different universities and we are grateful to teachers for their suggestions. We also received queries and pointers from them, which are the strength of this book. Head of the music department at Bombay University, Dr. Chetna requested us to explain how to incorporate poetry with notations. Prof. Velankar of BHU drew attention to writing of Kan Swar-s. Prof. Ravi Sharma and Mr. Vedprakash Sharma from Delhi wanted us to include accessibility features for the visually impaired in Ome Swarlipi. We have begun discussions on working on this aspect; the current focus however was the book. Raga-s, if repeated in this volume, should contain some fresh compositions.

Altered life-style during the pandemic has forced everyone to rethink. The 2010 book was published through Lulu, a company specializing in online printing and distribution. So, it was settled that the Hindi volume would also be published online. We had already tried Bangalore based service for a conference report some years back, and music notations had been printed flawlessly. So, after formulating an outline of content, we got in touch with them.  They had affirmative response on choice of paper but could not assure us on some design query. We therefore dropped the idea of printing thumb-tacks to indicate various Raga chapters, as in the previous volume.

Preparatory discussions had already cost us six weeks; it was time to start dealing with content. Not counting the two text-heavy chapters, remaining eight ones dealt with Raga-s. Despite several iterations of contemporary modernity, the manner of imparting information about Raga, has remained a constant since first book of Pt. Bhatkhande. Interestingly, all major music-academics in India have created, innovated or modified notation-system and often owned or controlled a printing press.  Pt. Bhatkhande aside who was at fore-front of institutionalized music education, Pt. Paluskar, Pt. Narayan Rao Patwardhan, Pt. Omkarnath Thakur, have all contributed to possible structures and symbols for writing Indian music notations. In their books, these stalwarts have started with introduction of Raga with structure, notes; historic, contemporary, and logical practice of Raga. This is followed by compositions and Tan-s.  For string compositions, Toda-s follow Vilambit and Madhya/Drut Tan-s. Dr. Lalmani Misra had also created various symbols and the Mizrab-Bol patterns that required accurate representation. His compositions were published in Tantrinad, first volume of the planned four, weeks after he passed away on 17th July 1979. The composing errors could not be removed as there were no further reprints. While the Mizrab-Bol layer is not always used in Tan, Toda, it is essential in composition. String compositions carry notes in first line, Mizrab strokes in second line and Tal-Matra indicators in third line.

First step was to select compositions from Dr. Misra’s published and unpublished works for each Raga. As a teacher, he had written several simple compositions in each Raga (Volumes of Tantrinad carry 15-16 compositions in most Raga-s). Definition of ‘simple’ had changed in five decades, so selecting them was little less than simple. Once compositions were identified, they were typed in Ome Swarlipi and grouped under Raga headings in a text file named Composition. Next was selection of Tan and Toda-s, grouped after being typed in Ome Swarlipi font in a text file named Tan. It was time to create chapters and so text files after Raga names were created. Each file – Bilawal, Bihag, Durga… — started first with introduction of Raga. This information was gleaned from recognized masters and specialists. Prior to deeper discussion of the Raga, a chart with basic information was created. This was followed by two Ragang Tan-s for practice.

Before proceeding any further, it was necessary to match layout of the file to specification obtained from the Printers. In this case, we were using a 6×9 inch paper size with 0.6 inch margin on three sides and 0.7 inch on top. We selected to place header at 0.35 inches from top cutting a bit fine but where printing is automated, such chance can be taken. It was decided to keep title headings on header on the inside and page numbers on the outside. Although, for ease of searching, it is preferable to keep headings on the outside, but pushing them in allowed freer head space to actual compositions.

The design expert recommended using 10.5 font size for main text fonts and 9.5 for OmeSwarlipi notations. Text would be justified with 0.2 inch indent for first line in paragraph. Based on these and other considerations, styles were created for composition notations, composition titles, and text in body, paragraph and note sections.

Armed with styles the information within chapters – mainly, Raga introduction – was formatted. At the top of starting page, all choices under header/footer were selected, Different First page, Different Odd & Even  page, and Show Document text. Page number was enabled on outside at bottom. This was of great help when finally all chapters were stitched in a single file. A word of caution. Wherever, a chapter ended on odd page, sectional break was given. If a blank page is inserted without giving section break, headers and footers would continue and page would not be completely blank. Where both, new page and section break are given, extra pages would be inserted on printing. We solved problem by removing duplication and ensuring that section break separated each chapter. MS-Word automatically starts new chapter on odd page, inserting page where necessary.

From the Composition file, Gat-s in particular Raga were selected and inserted in Raga file after introduction. After applying relevant style and streamlining information to this point, Tan and Toda, first Vilambit and then Madhya/Drut were selected from ran file and added one by one. For accuracy of information, a large font had been selected in the Gat and Tan files. This is necessary to ensure that Mandra Teevra marks on a note being used as Kan Swar are correctly placed, because a Kan Swar is expressed as Superscript which reduces size by half. This also implies that for continuity of writing, regular A4 or Letter size be chosen for the document, to allow full span for writing of compositions in 14 or larger font size.  So, when text in Ome Swarlipi font is copied from stock file to chapter file, the font size needs to be reduced. We converted it to size 9 first and once it was successfully copied, applied style for bringing font size to 9.5 in the chapter file.

Draft of two text chapters – on Misrabani and Ome Swarlipi – was sent to scholars for peer review and they were finalized by mid-October. The text chapters and plan of Raga chapters was sent to Dr. Pushpa Basu. As the senior-most disciple of Dr. Lalmani Misra and esteemed scholar in her own right, we requested her to write the preface for the proposed book. On her directions, details regarding compositions, Tan-s and Toda-s were conveyed electronically, and discussed over phone. The preface was timely received by second week of November.

The design expert had prepared cover of the book and was ready for threading and layout. Individual chapters as well as a stitched single-file version, were submitted. The only file not to be joined with the rest, was one with introductory title pages and table of content.  This would be included only after finalization of main book. Once the merged files in PDF format were received, it was distributed for proof-reading. Ome-Swarlipi chapter (Yug-Sangat Swarlipi) was sent to Dr. Santosh Pathak of Banasthali university, who has delivered lectures and conducted seminars on use of digital notations. It was also proof-read by Terence Tuhinanshu, the designer-developer of the Ome digital notations. Each composition was tested vocally and on Sitar by author, Dr. Ragini Trivedi, in addition to visual proof reading.

After taking notes, errors were rectified in Word version and reconverted to PDF. There were several proofing cycles as conversion to PDF led to drop-outs and displacement. The page numbers were finalized at this stage and the introductory file was also added to remaining ones. The design expert readied the submission PDF and internal and cover files were uploaded to printer’s servers. Their automated engine reconverted the PDF and even though we were not fully satisfied, we decided to proceed at this juncture, arranging for copies of book on different papers.

The self-publishing service we employed is competent as well as competitive. It is not without reason that self-publishing is also referred to as ‘vanity-publication’. Often the new author is not familiar with protocols of printing and his work may come out in a less than desirable or even acceptable shape. He may not have resources for typing, lay-out and design, proof-reading and fact-checking. He may not even realize which material in book was under copyright requiring permission for use. It is actually the job of the publisher. Some printing services offer such facilities too, charging the author on per-job basis. Still off-line publishers, network with sellers, book-suppliers and arrange for publicity and review. Online print facility compensates part distribution with linking of book to major online stores. But it is still to gain trust and favor of institutional libraries. Traditional printing is an ancient business with narrow and strict practices.

Readers familiar with development of Ome Swarlipi fonts would recall that the Ome Bhatkhande font was born out of limitations of traditional publishing when a prestigious publishing house after requesting for Dr. Misra’s unpublished work, refused to publish remaining Raga compositions of Tantrinad, compiled in a single volume as Tat-Ninad. Even Pt. Bhatkhande had to start a press after ordering foundry-types for music- notations as regular letter-press owners were loth to do so. Having graduated from letterpress to DTP/ offset printing, publication houses refused books with Indian music notations because they could not be typed on computer key-board.  If a book contained less than five percent of compositions which could be manually marked, then they might accept it. No major Indian publishing house from Bharatiya Jnanpith to a name of your choosing, has published a book carrying forty or more compositions involving notations, in past two decades. In our case, instead of press, we had to start with designing glyphs for Indian music notations and software to input these successfully into standard composition form.

Authors have labored on their own with page-designers and layout setters to publish compositions requiring complex notation marks. Dr. Basu did so herself in Raga Rupanjali and Twentieth Century String Compositions. Mr. Prakash Ringe brought out two volumes of his father, Acharya Vishwanath Rao Ringe ‘Tanarang’s compositions, with local help. Indian scholars recognize and value such self-published volumes respecting service done by authors to enrich Indian music community. Har Mandir Singh ‘Hamraaz’ has brought out six volumes of Hindi Film Geet Kosh listing every song in Indian films from 1931-1985. It is beyond capability of a commercial publishing concern to take up such life-long ongoing projects. Small printing press have supported local authors to produce globally valued books. For niche areas like Indian classical music, circulation is so limited that volume publishing is seldom required. When Sangeet Karyalaya Hathras takes up publication of Bhatkhande’s Kramik Sangeet Pustak Malika, it is not for profit alone but as service that makes available a popular book to readers; had there not been such a sustained demand, it would not have been financially viable to print these volumes. Bharatiya Jnanpith has brought out editions and reprints of Prof. Lalit Kishore Singh’s Dhwani aur Sangeet and Dr. Lalmani Misra’s Bharatiya Sangeet Vadya because these volumes could be successfully converted to digital format.

Industry waits for standards, which are dependent on volume and circulation, which in turn, require time. The author had meanwhile written books using these fonts, which were printed from PDFs by different publishers in 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2013. Ome Fonts have been available free of cost for over a decade but except for a few scholars, no one understands how to exploit this digital boon in producing books and online teaching material. This book might prove to be the starter for the paradigmatic change, which Indian music has been waiting for. It needs barely a dozen different authors to start using the digital notations, for publishing industry to take note. And this is where the self-publishing houses play an important role. They empower the author to present his work in time with full control on design and presentation. They may termed to be “green-publishing” as they produce a book on demand and there is little or no wastage.                                

Although some of such services impress the writers to obtain ISBN numbers, some others explain why it is not mandatory. This standard was created for easy stock entry for book-sellers. Computer revolution made this ubiquitous and now it is mistaken as indicator of quality, generally by institutional buyers. Apart from fiction and popular interest books, most cater to readers within a certain discipline. Niche readers look for book pertinent to their area. Tabla practitioners would look for compositions of a certain school or style and at times, for a primer. Vocalists may seek out fresh Bandishes or learn deeply about a particular school. While there is every possibility that a book may become very popular or globally-sought, most of the times, it is only enthusiasts, connoisseurs and students of a given discipline who would buy it. More often than not, a self-published book would be affordably priced, even though the actual cost of production per copy is high. This is possible through costs saved in services, mainstream publishers must obtain, to ensure quality. As there is no volume sale involved, it is an individual title that is purchased from online stores. No reader ever uses ISBN to call for a book, either in library or in a store. Books are sought and sold by Title and Author, at times by subject. The ISBN number was much-needed answer to keeping track of stock by sellers and retailers, but it is not to be confused with Catalogue number, which carries information about the book regarding content as well. Libraries still rely on Catalogue numbers, which are prepared by professionals. So long as the author does not dream of becoming overnight best-seller, he is far better placed in opting for an online printing service. Most have their own store and for a fee (sometimes, free) link to stores like Amazon, Flipkart etc. These stores have their own accession numbers/ SKUs and the book is directly sold to customer, thus eliminating need for ISBN. Authors who have a website, may share the link to book or invite orders; many would tweet the link or share it on social media. So, it is much easily possible today, to advertise one’s book. And if indeed, the book is destined to be a global best-seller, premium publishers might themselves approach. For some authors and books, which involve extra-ordinary presentations, online printing is not vanity but solution born of necessity.

It would have been a dream print-service, if only they had explained their printing process. In India, where everyone talks of ‘jugaad’ or spontaneous work-around, most people are not very handy doing things on their own. Ikea, had to find a service-collaborator that would visit Indian homes to assemble the Do-It-Yourself furniture, Ikea upholds globally as its USP. If the print-service we use, realized that explaining one’s process (check out CD Baby) helps customer fine-tune their requirements, things would get smoother. When we were asked to create another book project and request for alternate paper shade, submit it for review and wait for a manually carried out inspection, it was clear that requests like ours was not routine.  It can only be guessed that print service uses most of its machines for printing on white paper and orders by default are routed automatically to one of these, while ones with alternate paper-rolls need to be setup individually. Next time, we would plan to submit multiple projects to cover all paper-shades on offer. Experience is still a requisite that separates new-comer from old-hand.

As things stand, work on a large-font version of the book would start shortly after review of printed book finishes successfully. However, there would be handicaps in ordering such a volume from outside India. For ease of reading the large font volume needs to be printed on colored paper, which is fifty percent heavier. Increased book size and hard cover binding would further increase the weight of the volume and this would drastically increase the book-price. Other than the burden of purchase on author of buying the first few copies, no cost would incur till there is a demand and then, it would be borne by someone who is willing to pay. This is the advantage of small footprint self-publishing service. Apart from labour of love, nothing is lost.

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