Oh, Pondicherry. A place I'd dreamed of visiting since first hearing the name that evoked peppercorns and red wine. Its unique combination of French and Indian cultures was irresistible. Once I'd even applied for an arts residency there. When I sent the application the day before the deadline, it was returned, marked as spam. As were several emails to the residency staff. Saved the disappointment of another rejection letter in the inbox I suppose.
Luckily the following year, my mom had India on her mind, so we met in Chennai and then traveled to Pondicherry. She wanted to visit ashrams, I wanted to visit a handmade paper factory, and a publishing house: Kailash Editions. They're based in Pondicherry and Paris, and produce French travel books about Asia. Many are vintage editions they've translated or resurrected. Other books are made with distinctive touches, like 'rice paper' (mulberry) or silkscreened covers.
I stopped by their bookstore one winter afternoon, after visiting the Aurobindo paper workshop which makes the soft cotton paper for their covers. (Like hand papermakers everywhere, those in Pondicherry use material that's abundant locally – in Aurobindo's case, leftover fabric from garment factories.)
Kailash's parking lot is a relatively ordered affair, on a tree-lined street:
Inside is a comfortable space for browsing, with nostalgic art and displays that highlight the covers:
Later that day, the founder of Kailash Editions, Raj de Condappa, showed me around the Devataras Foundation at Hotel Kailash, a beach resort outside of Pondicherry. Devataras houses a tailoring and embroidery shop – and a silkscreen studio that prints Kailash book covers.
Its staff learn crafts and other practical skills they can use.
The developing table, for making screens from negatives. It's similar to Cyanotypes: UV light works around a resist:
Their distinctive designs are created by Elisabeth de Condappa, and are very well produced.
Kailash Editions are not only beautiful, but a pleasure to the touch. Books like these will never be replaceable by the Kindle – or whatever comes next.
And I'm still scheming to find another way back to Pondicherry to stay for a month or three. Someday.