A very brief account by Veena of how the publication of Osho’s books started.
When I first met Osho in 1971 in Bombay very few of his discourses had been published in book form. Most of these were small booklets quite strangely translated (one of them started each discourse with ’Hello Chaps…’! Rather un-Osho-like!) The booklet Flight of the Alone to the Alone was to change my life. Suddenly all my unvoiced questions were answered without me even asking them! Of course many people have had the same experience when first picking up a book of Osho’s. In 1972 an American sannyasin woman called Prem started to compile the first full-length book which was based on answers to questions asked by early Western disciples. This was called I Am the Gate.
When I returned to England in 1972 I set up the Nirvano Centre in Bell Street in London. All I had was one set of tapes from his first English series of discourses – Vigyhan Bhairav Tantra – and two books, the ones I have mentioned above. Knowing that westerners like to read, I asked Osho if there were any appropriate books I could suggest to people to read. He gave me a list of seven books of which I can only remember six.
The first and most important in his opinion was The Book of Mirdad by Michel Naimy. Others were The Prophet by Kahil Gibran, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones and The Way of Zen by Alan Watts, Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, and a book on Tantra whose title I can’t recall. Of this book he said this was the only book written in English which had some notion of what Tantra was about – all the rest were just seeking sensation.
My one copy of I Am the Gate was passed from person to person! We then had the idea to try to get English bookshops to stock it and embarked on a campaign to bug the bookshops. Every few days we would phone various bookshops saying we would like to buy the book and did they have it. The campaign worked! Eventually Foyle’s started to ask who this Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was and ordered a few copies to put on their shelves. Very slowly, faced with what they thought was a growing demand (our phone calls!), other bookshops started to stock the book!
I returned to India in 1974, took part in the great Kailash experiment and finally settled in Poona at the very end of that year. At that time Canadian Krishna Prem had just edited My Way: the Way of the White Cloud and a team of editors – Anurag, Krishna Priya and now myself, were working on Roots and Wings. From then onwards I became a fully-fledged editor, working on the books for the next 4 or 5 years. A Publication Department was set up with Pratima co-ordinating the whole business side of publishing, while doing some editing herself, and Yatri heading the book design department. There were 3 fulltime editors with others filling in between their other work. Maneesha’s special task was the Darshan Diaries.
We, or others who were good at typing, would first transcribe Osho’s words from tapes and then edit them.
Getting the books printed was a nightmare! I think we started off with about 3 publishers in Bombay and one in Poona. None of them, however, could produce anything anywhere near the quality we were after and so we literally set about teaching them how to print books – despite the fact that none of us had ever had anything to do with the process before, except Yatri.!! At first the publishers were stubbornly against the improvements we wanted to make so it was an uphill battle, but finally one publisher got first prize in an all India book competition with one of our books. Of course we spared no expense and used the most beautiful paper available to print on. This, coupled with Yatri’s western designs, our superior photography and our painstaking guidance on each tiny detail (simple things that the Indians then didn’t think important but we did, like having the margins equal widths, making the text the same length on facing pages, justifying with equal spacing between words, not starting a page with the end of a paragraph etc etc) turned the tide and suddenly the publishers were eager to print our books and to listen to and profit by our instructions.
Although Pratima was the overall co-ordinator, each editor was responsible for the printing of the book they had edited. We were all involved and we all put our heart and soul into doing this wonderful task.
My printing baptism by fire was getting The Empty Boat printed – about 1975. (Definitely responsible for early grey hairs on my head!!) The new printers doing The Empty Boat were very hostile. They wanted our business but were not prepared to alter their ways of doing things to suit us. They were insulted that a woman was dealing with them and simply tried to fob me off with an underling. I had to be really insistent and finally demanded to go down to the place where the work was happening. These were pre-computer days and this ‘letter press’ process involved each letter being placed with tweezers in a wooden frame! As the Indian workers couldn’t read or speak English, and they were working back to front, the mistakes were multiple and I finally decided the only way to get things done was to sit with the hapless, shirtless worker in temperatures of at least 40 degrees and read each line he did and correct him on the spot. Eventually the first chapter was done to my grudging satisfaction and I demanded to see the big boss to show him what it was that I was expecting of him. His face was quite something to behold as I know nothing that good – and it was really only nominally good – had come off his presses. Something in his pride was touched, however, and slowly he began to accept that there was a possibility of producing something of a better quality.
As the weeks progressed I was no longer relegated to the printing floor but was offered an air conditioned office with food and cold drinks and someone to run between me and the poor guy downstairs with each page that was set. I would proofread and correct it, and down the page would go again. This would happen until I was satisfied that everything was correct and then we would go on to the next page. It took me three months but finally it was published. Whew! Talk about blood, sweat and tears!!
Osho loved books and he was fascinated with the process of publishing his own. He read every word that we edited and coached us in the way he would like things done. We had to make necessary grammatical corrections but of course he was adamant that his meaning was not to be changed and we were to retain the flavour of him speaking and never try to impose our own style on his words.
Needless to say, this took some doing, but he patiently guided us on every detail and monitored everything we did. We sent queries to him every day and he would tell us what he wanted. It turned into a very sweet collaborating process and I know for a fact that he was enjoying himself ‘writing’ his books through us.
Some of the kinds of queries I would make would be as follows. If I couldn’t make sense of a sentence he had uttered I would have a shot at writing it as I thought I understood it and he would either say OK or rewrite the sentence or even paragraph. Sometimes I would query a word which I felt he had not used correctly, and hazard a guess as to what really was the word he wanted to use. Often he would consult a dictionary and then either agree with me or substitute another word. Sometimes he got his scientific facts wrong (for example he got himself tied up in knots once on hereditary genes!) at which point I would research the topic in the library, send in the correct facts and ask him what he wanted to do. Invariably he would rewrite the whole thing – sometimes it was as long as half a page – and I would delete the words from the original script and insert his corrected version
Usually someone else did the original transcribing as I couldn’t type very well. By the time I or the other editors finished checking and editing this typed script it was quite messy so Osho usually liked to wait till we got the first proofs back from the printer before checking what we had done. On receiving the proofs he would take up his red pen and go to town – altering things, inserting things, deleting things, rearranging even crossing out paragraphs. Sometimes he would write a whole page, in red ink, to be inserted, as he thought of other arguments to use to make his point clear. I would get the proofs back from his room and chuckle because he was just like a teacher marking a student’s compositions with a red pen.
In those early days Osho read nearly every final proof before it went to press and we simply did not print it until he was satisfied. His attention to detail was so great that he even found typo errors which we had overlooked, much to our embarrassment.
About the books written in ‘blank verse’… One day, when I was transcribing a discourse I found myself editing his words in a ‘blank verse’ format (like Shakespeare uses). This seemed to be the way he was talking – the words seem to flow poetically. I was bemused and went on doing it for a while and it seemed rather beautiful. So I typed out the bit I had done and sent it in to him and asked him what he thought. He liked it and said to go on doing it. When the proofs came back from the printer’s Laxmi got to hear of it and was upset! She said that it would make the books much thicker and therefore more expensive and that western people wouldn’t like the poetic style. I said that expense shouldn’t be an issue and that the westerners were more able to judge what westerners liked than she! In the meantime, I had shown another editor what I was doing and she really liked it and started to edit in the same way.
We both wrote to Osho asking what to do and he, seeing a split in the ranks, asked us to come to darshan. Then, like a judge, he heard our points of view and then Laxmi’s! I giggled to myself thinking how like a trial this was! Considering both sides he finally ruled in our favour. And the ruling proved correct because, of the first five books that Sheldon press chose to publish in England, three were written in the ‘blank verse’ style.
Later, I suddenly found that this style didn’t work anymore – he was speaking in a slightly different way. Maybe his English had improved and so became more ‘complicated’. Again I wrote to him and told him what was happening and he replied that that was fine and to edit in the way I felt was right.
Osho also enjoyed being in on the designing process and, being artistic himself, often sketched in alterations to and made suggestions about the design work shown to him.
We were often under considerable pressure because it was sometimes twice a week that we made the horrendous trip up and down the Ghats on the old Poona/Bombay road which at that time was officially one of the most dangerous roads in the world. Now the journey takes 3 hours – then it took 7 if nothing happened. As there was only one lane we were usually held up by accidents or breakdowns to the many trucks traversing the dangerous curves so the journey could often take much longer.
Osho also liked the books to be out by one of the various festivals that were held in the commune. Everybody who has been to India knows that it is often not possible to get things done on time – to put it mildly!! Sometimes we were sitting at the bookbinders on the morning of a festival waiting for 10 copies to be bound so we could dash back to the commune in time for the bookshop opening at 11 o’clock. The glue in the binding would still be wet.
Getting the books published now is much easier with computers and improved printing methods but we had such a great time and learnt a lot – about getting books printed but mostly about our own egos.
Text by Veena – first published in OSHOinUK in November 2007