February 16, 2020
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Laurels for Perkovitch, Romila Thapar; Pankaj Mishra and Amit Choudhary not even in Booker shortlist...


Katherine Frank may have found it hard to lay her hands on Indira’s private papers, but other American writers face no such problem. When James Mailer wrote his Prime Minister of India, he was even allowed by then prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao to sit in at cabinet sub-committee meetings. Similarly, George Perkovitch, author of India’s Nuclear Bomb, had no trouble interviewing policymakers, defence experts, academicians and journalists. The result, agree even Indian scholars, was the most exhaustive and authoritative book on India’s nuclear policy, starting from the Nehru period. The tussle, according to Perkovitch, was never on the nuclear option but on when to go nuclear. Now he has been awarded two prestigious book awards: the Herbert Feis Award by the American Historical Association and the Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy Book Prize 2001 by the Association for Asian Studies.

Our historians are collecting their share of laurels as well. Last month the Sorbonne University in France conferred something better than a book prize on Romila Thapar for her contribution to ancient Indian history: an honorary doctorate at a special ceremony at the university.

Anita Nair was in Delhi for the launch of her second novel, Ladies Coupe, about six women who pour out their hearts and lives to each other as they travel from Bangalore to Kanyakumari. A train compartment, according to Anita, is like a confessional box. "You can say what you want because you’ll never meet the others again." Her American publisher though was more befuddled. "They are used to their Amtrak and can’t imagine why women would want to exchange their life stories on a train journey."

When two of its top books, Pankaj Mishra’s The Romantics and Amit Chaudhury’s A New World, were left out of the Booker 2000 shortlist, Picador India construed it as a triumph of sorts. In its latest catalogue, it quotes Sunday Times and Irish Times noting the "conspicuous" absence of the "year’s best books". Meanwhile Picador’s acquired the rights for V.S. Naipaul’s first novel in over a decade, Half a Life, about Naxalites in Andhra, scheduled for a September release.

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