At last, just when his publishers, HarperCollins UK, were beginning to despair of bringing out Ruchir Joshi's novel even in "the not-so-distant future"—the time frame in which the novel about a female fighter pilot is set—invitations have been sent out for the launch of The Last Jet-Engine Laugh Ruchir, film-maker of 11 Miles fame and dabbler in journalism, is the latest addition to the literary squad from Planet Kolkata. But even before his book has hit the stands, Ruchir has earned his place in the literary limelight. No, not as a desi H.G. Wells, but for fighting a writer's block more phenomenal than even his advance and finally coming out with the Last Laugh.
There's another way to fight a writer's block: wait till the manuscript is ready instead of going for the big money with just a chapter. This is what Ravi Shankar did with his Tiger by the River, and both he and Doubleday, which has bought the publishing rights for "a satisfactory sum", are laughing their way to the printers.
Nothing succeeds like success, especially when it comes to rousing envy. Overheard in the American desi circuit after Pankaj Mishra's The Romantics won the LA Times book award: "What's the big deal—it's only 1,000 dollars!" and "Amit Chaudhury won it for best book of the year, while Pankaj got it only for best first book". Also, "he's a good friend of Jason Epstein, the legendary editor and co-founder of New York Review of Books".
The question everybody, especially those with an eye on the Booker this year, is asking: "If Amitav Ghosh withdrew from the Commonwealth awards, shouldn't he do the same with the other Commonwealth prize, the Booker?"