Do literary prizes make a difference to sales? The sad truth is: not much, as previous winners of India’s premier book award pointed out recently. The Booker, however, is a different matter—put it down to colonial mentality, snob value or whatever. It was thanks to Aravind Adiga winning the Booker that the hardback sales of The White Tiger crossed 1,50,000 in India alone. In gambling parlance, it’s beginner’s luck. It emboldened HarperCollins to bid Rs 2.2 crore for just the Indian rights of Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Girl. Luckily for them—or unluckily (only time can tell)—it was Penguin who won the bid. Now rivals are rubbing their hands in glee to see how Penguin will work out the maths of that huge advance.
A Fustian Pact
Who can explain the hold of philosopher-economist Amartya Sen on India’s masochist readers? His Argumentative Indian sold over 150,000 copies, roughly four times the copies he sold in UK. But no one knows how many have ploughed through his rather turgid prose to the end. He has one thing his publisher is happy to cash in on: snob value. Readers will soon have the chance to flash another Amartya Sen hardback soon. His The Idea of Justice will be launched in August, soon after its release in London.
It’s not just common readers that are overawed by Amartya Sen. His ex-wife Nabaneeta Dev Sen once described being wooed by the intellectual giant in the mid-’50s: “She felt like a dwarf who was being approached by the Moon.”