Often we don’t realize how much work continues to go into producing Srila Prabhupada’s books at the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, or who is responsible behind the scenes.
Meet one of these devotees – Hare Krishna Das from Russia. A member of a BBT team headed by trustee Brahma Muhurta Das, he is helping to develop incredible automated systems to optimize the production, ensure accuracy and make proofreaders’ and editors’ jobs easier.
Growing up in Uzbekistan, Hare Krishna Das always had an innate attraction to books and dreamed of working with them.
In 1990, while the Soviet Union was crumbling and he was still in school, he first came in contact with his destiny. An art teacher at school happened to be a devotee, and somehow evaded authorities’ radar to go from classroom to classroom, presenting Srila Prabhupada’s books. Intrigued, Hare Krishna Das took Sri Isopanisad and Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.1 from her.
“When I read the books I felt like Prabhupada was speaking directly to me,” he says. “I always wanted something non-materalistic and idealistic, and he answered many of my questions.”
Soon after, another devotee stopped by Hare Krishna’s apartment, and he raced downstairs to stop his sister from shutting the door so that he could purchase a Bhagavad-Gita As It Is. Asking for an address where he could attend regular programs, he then joined ISKCON at only sixteen years old.
After getting his degree in physics at university, Hare Krishna Das began by traveling with B.B. Govinda Swami as his translator from 1997 to 2001, then was offered the service of production manager at the Moscow branch of the North European BBT in 2001.
“I was immediately attracted to work for the BBT because when I joined books were the basis of everything,” he says. “We only had a few, but everything we did revolved around them.”
After eight years serving at the North European BBT headquarters in Korsnäs Gård,Sweden from 2004 to 2012, Hare Krishna Das and his family moved back to Russia in 2012, where he now works for the NE BBT from a small town called Kaluga.
Hare Krishna Das is part of the team that helps create better systems for publishing Prabhupada’s books
Hare Krishna’s service as a project manager involves assisting in the development of books from concept to print. For each book he has to assemble a team of qualified editors, proofreaders and translators, and make sure they have the right tools and resources. He works with every facet of production, including layout, technical processes, e-book and app production, and websites.
To make the whole process easier and to ensure accuracy and responsible publishing, Hare Krishna has been helping develop a number of new automated systems for the past five years.
Instead of using the old print-book-first approach, the NE BBT is switching to the ebook-first approach where a proprietary file format is used to generate everuthing — e-books, iOS, Android and Kindle versions, apps, etc – from one single set of files.
“In the old way, if we found a mistake, say in the Devanagari Sanskrit script, we’d need to manually make the correction across all the different versions and the forty-five languages or so the BBT publishes in – a total of about 270 sets of files,” says Hare Krishna Das. “With the new electronic format, we just have to make the correction once and the files all get regenerated on their own, removing the difficult human factor.”
Automated systems also generate the Devanagari script in Prabhupada’s books automatically, so that when someone makes a change in the transliteration, it is immediately applied to the Devanagari.
Other uses are fascinating. When translating Srila Prabhupada’s books into other languages, sometimes due to human error a verse or translation can be omitted. But the automated systems are able to check against the original English edition to make sure that nothing is lost.
The systems can also spellcheck Sanskrit verses and automatically fix hard-to-spot duplicate spaces or commas that should be italicized. They can even automatically do layout.
“The human touch is of course very important, and technology is nothing on its own,” says Hare Krishna Das. “But when you combine the two, you have an excellent process.”
Another important element of responsible publishing is the BBT’s repository system, based on Git, a version control system developed by Linux creator Linus Torvalds.
The repository is one central point where files for all the books are stored. It also records every change made, and who made them. Furthermore it keeps all “slices” of a project at each stage of development. Thus if a mistake is made, or work is somehow destroyed, one can always return to the previous stage with minimal loss.
Meanwhile in a related BBT project, the Editorial Audit Trail, Ananta Krishna Das is uncovering who did what in editing Prabhupada’s books during the time before the repository existed. This project covers not only English but other languages as well.
“Responsible publishing means that we should know where every word in our books came from,” Hare Krishna Das says. “How faithful is itto what Srila Prabhupada wrote? And is it complete?”
The combination of the Editorial Audit Trail and the repository, according to Hare Krishna, will be invaluable to future generations of ISKCON. “With the repository system, we’ll be able to track every single change made for the next thousand years,” he says. “Anybody in the future will be able to go back and see who made each change, when it was done, and why.”
The BBT is also developing a digital corpus of Srila Prabhupada’s books in English, so that they never get lost and will be accessible to future generations to publish their own editions.
Used along with machine learning, a subset of artificial intelligence, this corpus will also be very useful in the present in different ways. For instance, BBT staff will be able to check the faithfulness of a translation against the original English books, even if they themselves do not speak the language.
All this is a lot of work, but for Hare Krishna Das, it continues to be as exciting as it was when he first started nearly twenty years ago.
“This field is very satisfying and full of meaning,” he says. “And it’s so huge, you can dedicate your life to it.”
Aug 06, 2022
Brahmatirtha das Director, Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies