Mask Up! Read On!

In the seventeen years that Navayana has been around, more than ten have been spent in Shahpur Jat, Delhi, a thirteenth century settlement formed by layers of migrations. Today, the earliest migrants here, the Jats (who brought along a ‘Chamar basti’), are easily outnumbered by migrant workers and small entrepreneurs from Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand, the Northeast and more. Below Navayana’s second-floor perch is a tailor shop run by the father–son duo, Shahbaz and Sohail, with a team of six workers, including their own kin. Says the son Sohail, ‘We are from Bhagalpur, known for its tussar, silks and linen. My father migrated here thirty years ago.’ After the lockdown, like much else, both our offices remained shut. When we opened in mid-May, we exchanged notes about how both our small businesses had been flattened, by the virus and its heartless management.

Two of the tailor-workers headed back home to Jharkhand soon as the curbs were lifted. ‘We have lost close to 80 percent of our work, and have not paid rent in three months,’ says the dapper Sohail, 20, who dropped out after class XI and joined his father. Out of need and necessity, Shahbaz and Sohail have been making top quality masks using heaps of leftover pieces of fine fabric: ikkat, kalamkari, khadi, linen. At Navayana, our staff of three had been using sundry masks made of synthetic material. We decided to try some of the cotton masks Shahbaz and his team were making. ‘The face is the gentlest part of the body. It is our pehchaan, singular personality. Our skin is full of pores for oil and sweat. We designed these masks with care and thought,’ says Shahbaz, who prefers his gamcha.

Each mask is double-layered cotton, with two strong woven threads for an adjustable bow knot to the back of your head. ‘No plastic, no elastic. Most masks will line a landfill. Ours will rest a little easy on your conscience, and fit better,’ says Sohail.

Three months into the Covid-19 crisis, eighty per cent of bookstores in the country remain closed; some have shut forever; those that have opened are doing less than ten per cent of average business; publishing houses have vacated offices. The idea of work (and life) has changed. During the lockdown, our author Anand Teltumbde was abducted by the state, invoking a lawless law (and many join that list each passing day). A world without Navayana is perhaps not unimaginable in such a time of depravity and despair as ours. We’re sure most Navayana readers wear masks of more than one kind, and yet here we are, offering you a fragment of the boundless cloth that Kabir sings of, the cloth that weaves day into night:

I have woven a fabric so fine
With the warp of your breath, the weft of mine

We are in the business of books. The root of text comes from the Proto-Indo-European teks: ‘to weave, to fabricate, to make’. It forms all or part of: architect; context; polytechnic; pretext; subtle; technical; techno-; technology; tectonic; text; textile; tissue. Navayana has never been about business as usual; it has been about embracing the unusual, now more than ever.

So what yarn have we spun to have you support not just Navayana but also Shahbaz Tailor?

We need you to buy our hugely discounted books, for yourselves and for your friends, lovers, opponents and relations. Navayana has to survive and thrive for caste is a far older and more vicious virus among a people Babasaheb called the ‘sick men of India’.

We have curated some bundled offers, designed to suit multiple readerly spirits. You could also make your own selection, and one free mask will be offered with any purchase of Rs 799 (or $50) and above.

There are four offers to start with: Dalit Memories (memoirs of Ambedkarite activists); Imperative Weapons (a package of introductory texts to anti-caste politics); Words, Pistol Shots (some of the finest and hard-hitting poetry from Navayana’s list); and the Library Pack (a complete collection of 50 Navayana titles that total to Rs 19,367 for just Rs 10,999/$600). Click on the images below to grab these packs for yourself.

Shipping charges apply since lockdown-hit courier companies and their staff need to survive too. And yes, we are shipping globally—wherever you are, you can be with Navayana.

This is the time to think deeply, to ask the right questions. Mask up! Read on!

Jai Bhim, Lal Salaam


Click on the images below to access the offers:


Dalit Memories:


Imperative Weapons:


Words, Pistol Shots:


Library Pack: