His was a mill that ground slow but awful sure, and a manuscript that had passed under his pen was a thing of beauty, in which no comma or semi-colon was allowed to stand without accounting for its existence.
It was no easy matter to slip an ellipsis past his hawk-like eye: he was scornful of the implications of vagueness that lie behind those three little dots, so beloved of fabulists. As for split infinitives, he was their Grim Reaper, his nib the instrument of their perdition.
Plainly put, Ravi was one of the great editors of his time: the sort of expertise he brought to the printed word simply doesn’t exist any more, not just in India but anywhere.
When I joined publishing exactly twenty years ago, almost the first manuscript I was asked to handle was the second volume of a now internationally famous history series called Subaltern Studies. Having studied and enjoyed the writings of courageous pacifists, novelists with ivory-towerish inclinations, and anti-Nazi propagandists (Forster, the Woolfs, Russell, and the group known as the “Bloomsberries”), my first instinct was to try wriggling out of handling a script on what sounded like the military history of the depressed classes and of Ambedkarites in uniform….
I ventured a few squeaks to express my reservations and unsuitability as an editor for a script dealing with such folk to my boss, the well-known publisher, Ravi Dayal — it was he who had agreed to publish the series at the end of the Seventies after prolonged discussions with the Subalternist guru, Ranajit Guha, but he froze me with the glare of a basilisk. I remember that glare. Those who have read Billy Bunter, that wonderful public-school series in which a fat subaltern boy is harassed and bullied by his super-ordinate classmates, including a collaborating Nabob of Bhanipur called Inky, will recognize the allusion when I say that the Dayalian glare that day was of Quelchian proportions. It was not, shall we say, calculated to warm the cockles of the heart.
Dayal said frostily that he himself had edited the first volume of Subaltern Studies and that it had been an education. With the iciness of a native who was actually an upper-class Bloomsberry Brit disguised in Gandhian khadi, he said he hoped that the subsequent volume, which he was pleased to hand over now, would confer a similar benefit upon me. He suggested that I might like to first read the first volume. I had learnt, in Britain, that such suggestions are somewhat more emphatic than the Ten Commandments. A pedigreed Englishman never does anything as vulgar as command. He suggests.