January 22, 2020
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The Millennium Book on New Delhi; Mastermind and Zadie Smith

WHAT better venue for the launch of The Millennium Book on New Delhi—a lavish coffee-table collection of essays edited by B.P. Singh and Pavan Varma—than the elaborate ballroom of the quasi-Indian palace Edwin Lutyens built for the Viceroy of India? The story of New Delhi's growth from "a provincial station halt" to the political, cultural and commercial hub of the Indian republic is really about how the capital city has survived its rulers and its creators. No one was more acutely conscious of the irony of a 50-year-old republic that had effortlessly adapted Lutyens' imperial architecture to its own needs, without adding anything new to it, than the present occupant of Rashtrapati Bhavan, President K.R. Narayanan. What about a national theatre, concert hall, museum and another, bigger airport, he wondered as he was presented a copy of the book.

What has a TV quiz game on mindless trivia like the scores of cricket Test matches got to do with the publishing world? But India's leading publisher, Penguin India, decided to launch their new quiz book, Mastermind, compiled by Siddharth Basu from his TV showgame, in a manner fit for a literary giant. To top it all, invitees were given a live demonstration of the quiz game, with incredibly mundane questions shot at equally incredible speed at volunteers who took the ominous black chair. As it went on and on, one invitee at least indicated he had enough. "Poor David! (Davidar)," he was heard muttering as he squeezed past the blissfully asleep Soli Sorabjee.

It's not just desi novelists who are cashing in on the current flavour in fiction: India. After the succés fou of White Teeth by Zadie Smith, who has neither stepped into the subcontinent nor has a single desi gene in her body but writes with insight her first novel on Samad Iqbal, a Bangladeshi waiter in a London curry house, it's now the turn of American travel writer-turned-novelist, Peggy Payne. Her Sister India is set in Saraswati Guest House in Varanasi, and is all about eastern mysticism meeting western yearning. A sorority to look forward to.
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