February 22, 2020
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So the book launches are passe? How about some singing and spoofing the subjects of the books? Seth and Ghosh join in.

illustration by Jayachandran It’s a dilemma: how does a writer who hates to peddle his work in the marketplace get enough readers for his latest book of short stories? Amit Chaudhury has written poignantly and sadly about the era of art being sold in the marketplace in Real Time—Stories and a Reminiscence (Picador). In one story, White Lies, for instance, a gifted musician earns a livelihood—and ulcers—by teaching rich housewives with more ambition than talent to sing. Amit resolved his dilemma more satisfactorily. He had his book launch alright, a glittering event at Delhi’s British Council followed by cocktails. ("How else will I get readers?" he reasons). But instead of reading from his new book, he decided to sing for his supper, in classical Hindustani style.

illustration by Jayachandran The marketplace is having its effect on other books as well. For decades, the National Book Trust had been content to produce books that others didn’t dare to, forbiddingly dull books between duller covers. But now the subsidised publishing house has decided to turn over a new leaf. Trying perhaps to make up for the years of sloppy marketing, the NBT released its latest book, Women Who Dare (edited by Varsha Das and Ritu Menon) with two book launches. Crammed into the event were readings, documentary film extracts and a hilarious mono act by Maya Krishna Rao in which she spoofed the 21 women profiled in the book: an improbable mix of academicians like Romila Thapar and Veena Das with the usual suspects like Kiran Bedi and mountaineer Santosh Yadav.

illustration by Jayachandran Even the reclusive Vikram Seth and Amitav Ghosh have been dragged out of their retreats by Delhi’s autograph-hungry (non)readers. In a carefully worded invitation that skirts any mention of reading, Amitav’s two publishers, Ravi Dayal and Permanent Black, are hosting cocktails "in celebration" of his The Imam and The Indian—Prose Pieces. Seth, however, will have to do most of the talking as the chief guest at a memorial lecture organised by Soli Sorabjee in memory of former Target editor Rosalind Wilson. The topic this year: ‘Friendship and Poetry’.

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