Wednesday, January 26, 2011


If you think the headline of this article is an oxymoron or that I am a soiled-kurta-clad, beedi-smoking glum publisher in his sixties who hardly ventures out of his dark den full of books, let me confess it’s neither. I am fortunately a part of a rare tribe—a young first generation independent publishing entrepreneur—and considering I have survived for almost a decade now, there is a bright chance that I will be able to recount romantic stories to my grandchildren about venturing into a zone that sane men and women mostly avoided like hot fire. And you thought that dynasties meant business only in Indian politics.

Come a new year and if you are a publisher in the twenty-first century version of the city of Shahajehanabad (mind you, if you are a publisher situated in the mecca of Indian publishing—Ansari Road—you are closer to Shahajehanabad than you are to New Delhi) all you hear as parting phrases are ‘See you in Jaipur then’ or ‘I know you will be busy with Jaipur’ or the likes. Let me reiterate what I have already shared with you; I have never been to the Jaipur lit fest (JLF) and have never had a strong desire to. I find the experience of reading an evocative book more intimate than watching an author perform on a stage and going and shaking hands with him. But I urge you to not get swayed by my opinion. My track-record in such things is pathetic. Last time, when a gorgeous Bollywood superstar launched one of our dear author’s books, she almost gave up on me because of the lack of a post-great-event excitement. It was only when she saw that I was supremely excited in doing naughts and crosses on our flight back did she infer that I am just differently wired.

JLF is a great concept for Indian literature, and everyone associated with it should be commended—the festival directors—Namita Gokhale and William Dalrymple; Teamwork Productions and the sponsors DSC. Their efforts have gone a long way in making books and authors fashionable. However, there is a genuine need to make the festival more inclusive. Recently, one of the JLF directors is quoted as having announced that the onus of contacting them and participating in the festival is on independent publishers and authors. I would like to humbly submit that actually, the onus of being accessible and welcoming lies with the powerful and it will only be a positive reflection on JLF’s strength and self-confidence if they were to reach out to the larger Indian publishing world.

Let’s begin with what matters most—the authors. JLF needs to provide a platform to fresh voices and a select number of the deserving and new authors could be made part of some of the panel discussions. It could invite requests on its website with transparent parameters thrown in. Even take informal interviews if you have to! And now let’s talk about what matters even more—the books. Ten best representative books from trade publishers could be invited on a complimentary basis to be delivered straight to the venue. The books can be sold during the last two days. Visitors would be able to get a real and comprehensive flavour of Indian literature and JLF would be able to make the process a self-sustaining one. I would even suggest that like this year’s focus was ‘bhasha’ literature, the 2012’s could well be the Indies— the independent publishers and authors.

I, though, intend to do full justice to my role as a publisher and would be immediately writing to the directors of JLF to facilitate the participation of our authors. Who knows I may be sharing my thoughts with you the same time next year with a headline that says ‘Confessions of a first-time visitor to the Jaipur Literary Festival’. Till that time, keep reading.


ArunachalaHeart said...

Though I dont know what actually transpires in a lit festival your post subtly shouts out your love for publishing.

if one has such love and keeps the charm 'alive' always a true book lover would revel in a cup of coffee with such than a banquet dinner in a lit fest.

for in such a person one finds what one expects in a lit fest:
a great book.


Richard Crasta said...

From a writer who would have liked to visit the Jaipur Fest, but was not invited, and too poor to go on his own: I understood the Indian featured writers to be part of a privileged fraternity/sorority, people who know each other, scratch each others backs, and are seen all over the place at every possible event. And so it goes: why say it is just Indian politicians who are corrupt. Corruption is everywhere, in all facets of our society (including religion, meditation, education, you name it).

AMANO said...

Shobit, It is good to read your take on this festival; in fact, I was considering emailing you it about owing to the interest shown by the UK media. Apparently, Dalrymple was accused of being an arrogant Briton (never met him so do not wish to comment) as well as a racist .. a racist? now that does seem a rather stupid remark and one that perhaps came from either a racist or a nationalist of some kind; racism is not just an attitude of whites towards "darkies", it works both ways. Before anyone judges Dalrymple they should perhaps read Nine Lives, one of the sweetest books about India I have ever read. In his support of the Bauls, Dalrymple is surely more than just a pundit. Yet, I speak as someone from the UK and am not really seeing it through Indian eyes.

Shobit Arya said...

Many thanks Mithin, you are really kind and generous. You must visit the Hay Festival in Kerala next year, it's closer to you.

Richard, maybe corruption is a part of our DNA, guess it would take many generations to weed it out.

Samarpan, William Dalrymple is Scottish, want to change sides now :)

Anonymous said...

It's just a bunch of pretentious people networking, even if some of them happen to be talented. The very idea of it makes me a little queasy.

Shobit Arya said...

Pretentious people are networking everywhere, let's not allow them to make us queasy :) JLF is good for reading and books, so let's give them their due.