Indian publisher Sunil Mehta dies at 56

‘Fearless – pandemic or no pandemic’

Sunil Mehta of Mehta Publishing House in Pune passed away on 12 January 2022 at the age of 56. Photo Publishing Next via Internet
Sunil Mehta of Mehta Publishing House in Pune passed away on 12 January 2022 at the age of 56. Photo Publishing Next via Internet

Sunil Mehta, managing director, Mehta Publishing House, passed away on 12 January 2022. Mehta who was 56 is survived by his father, wife, sister, and two children. The dynamic publisher entered the hospital in end-December for what is considered a routine procedure.

Mehta was well known amongst Indian language publishers for his active acquisition of titles for translation particularly into Marathi. His generosity of spirit, his vision, and his belief in Indian audiences particularly for fiction and further across several non-fiction segments, will be missed by the publishing community.

The Pune-based Mehta Publishing House of which Sunil Mehta was the managing director was founded by his father Anil Mehta. Sunil Mehta built it into a modern and globally active organization that embraced the pluralism of ideas amongst both authors and potential readers. He expanded language publishing in translation and the reach of his titles with the use of technology and his professional approach to the industry.

Neeta Gupta co-founder of the Publishers’ Exchange, writes, “It’s hard to even think about Sunil Mehta in the past tense, let alone mourn him, or pay respects in the form of an obituary. I’m just jotting down my deep gratitude for his immense generosity of spirit.

“I first met Sunil Mehta of Mehta Publishers, over fifteen years ago in Frankfurt, and we stayed in touch professionally more or less all through these years. But it was only in the last two years during the pandemic when a group of us Indian language publishers came together informally to form the Publishers’ Exchange, that we started meeting and interacting weekly.

“I just had to pick up the phone and somebody at his office would be on the other side, helping us resolve issues like online and offline retail, software, or copyright-related stuff.

“I think what really set him apart was his enthusiasm and his gentle sense of humor; his commitment to translations and his fearlessness when it came to publishing, pandemic or no pandemic.”

PostScript of 16 January 2022

On the 16th of January 2022 the Publishers’ Exchange hosted a moving remembrance meeting for its beloved colleague Sunil Mehta. After observing a minute’s silence, Sunil ji’s father, Anil Mehta, broke down as he addressed the group. Akhil Mehta, his son bravely fought back his tears as he tried to remember his father’s vision when it came to publishing. 

Friends and colleagues who had come together from across India to say a few words as a tribute to his inspiring life, included, Urvashi Butalia, Pranav Johri, Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, Vasudhendra, Manisha Chaudhry and Vidula Tokekar. Several of the speakers spoke about his spreadsheet for publishing workflow, an expert system which he willingly shared. Others spoke of, “His
 enthusiasm and his gentle sense of humour; his commitment to translations and his fearlessness when it came to publishing, pandemic or no pandemic.”

My own view is that Sunil Mehta was a formidable Indian publisher and not what is too often referred to being either a “language publisher,” a “regional language publisher,” or an “independent publisher.” What becomes apparent is that for Mehta all aspects publishing are components of a structured approach to a business, and each aspect and detail require care, skill and professionalism. In the main his admirers and friends are no less generous or courageous.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

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– Naresh Khanna

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