In a temperature-controlled basement laboratory at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) Jitender Chauhan is carefully stitching together sepia toned pages. Each leaf is stacked with precision before FS Oliver’s Alexander Hamilton, an Essay on American Union is needled and bound. “It is a painstaking process but we need to be attentive, after all we are handling a book that is possibly rare and national property,” says Achal Pandya, head of the department (conservation), at the IGNCA. Part of the Rashtrapati Bhavan collection, the publication will be sent back to the President’s library in a fortnight.
As part of a two-year project that will conclude later this year, the IGNCA is restoring 150 books with 150 folios each for the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Before outsourcing the mammoth task to the Centre, most books were restored in-house. “To our knowledge, this is the first time books in the President’s library are being restored,” says Venu Rajamony, Press Secretary to the President. He adds, “A team from National Archives of India was invited to inspect the books and make suggestions. Following examination of their report, quotations were invited and the IGNCA was chosen to execute the task of restoring certain number of damaged books.” The library has a total of 30,000 books.
While over 50 books have already been restored by IGNCA, 20 are currently in their laboratory. The rarest book in the collection, A Catalogue of the Original Works of William Hogarth, also posed the greatest challenge for Pandya and his team of four. In the first batch, that arrived at the IGNCA from the Rashtrapati Bhavan in August 2013, the volume of prints in black ink, Pandya recalls, had stained covers and some torn folios, apart from brown spots on the paper separators between the folios. “It took 45 days to restore the book,” says Pandya. The restoration required for manual cleaning of each folio, apart from restitching and recreation of the cover. “Little filling and in-painting was done to match the original parts,” adds the conservationist who is a PhD from the conservation department of National Museum Institute, Delhi.
Even after being sent back to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the publication is being monitored by the team. Every three months, one member visits the library to inspect it for further deterioration. The 1795 Hogarth might have called for additional efforts but Pandya insists that every book sent for restoration has a set of different challenges. Details of each book are documented, from the publication date to the condition. A proposed treatment plan is discussed within the team before implementation. “It is part of the research process. This too will become archival information,” says Pandya. Chauhan, meanwhile, hands him the Oliver. It is put inside a cotton jacket, ready to be dispatched.
The Restoration Process
1. The condition assessment of a book includes documentation of details, including the language, type of paper, number of folios, acidity index, stains, discolouration, charring, damage from insects and fungus.
2. Photographs are taken before and after restoration.
3. Broken pages are repaired using Japanese paper. Each page is cleaned and those deformed are flattened using ultrasonic humidifier and then put under low pressure under the felt. When required, lining of Japanese paper is provided with used starch paste (reduced gluten).
4. If the book cover is damaged, an acid free mount board is prepared.
5. Sections of the book are arranged and bound together using needle and thread. During the binding of the book two cotton strips are sown around the thread, which hold the sections together.
6. Established in 1994, the conservation department at the IGNCA was revamped in 2002. The eight-member team has led several restoration projects, including books for Delhi Police, India International Centre and Waliullah Public Library in Delhi, apart from individual projects.