As mentioned in this column before, there
has developed in Delhi a connoisseurship of the participatory performance form
called the `Booklaunch’. Recently, two fairly different ones from the genre,
held on consecutive evenings, illustrated my point: Kiran Desai introducing her
second novel The Inheritance of Loss at the British Council, followed by
Upamanyu Chatterjee, the enfant terrible manqué of Indlish Literature putting
his latest, Weight Loss, on the public scales at the Taj Man Singh.
Chatterjee’s event was on what one might call the mezzanine lawn of the Taj. Added to the usual clutch of bookie-groupies was a healthy presence of Delhi Baburati, plus some properly wealthy Bubbly-garglers and a thick side-sauce of French Expats. The bureaucrats were there in solidarity with one of their own, the French were there perhaps because of Chatterjee’s wife, who is herself Gallic, the bookie-groupies, some clutching well-thumbed copies of English, August were there because, well, how can you miss an Upamanyu launch, the champagnistas were there despite the ordinary French table plonk, perhaps because they have to maintain general good relations with the Taj.
The reading itself was slow and dark, and left people quite bemused. Why read this passage? The answer from someone on the publishers’ side: because the rest of the book is so extreme that, forget families and children, it was not possible to read most parts in front of any polite audience. Wow. The reading done, the quaffing, munching and shmoozing started and continued well after I left.
The Kiran Desai event was notable for many things, but for me one of the most important markers was that Chandrika Grover, one of the few sane people at the centre of the book-buzz-bazaar, was leaving the Council and with it one of her duties, which was to organise book launches at BC. The Desai evening which Chandrika organised was much more low-key than the Chatterjee party, with its river of plonk and multi-cuisine shamianas, but beautifully organised and well-catered for all that. And quite buzzy in its own way.
Despite not being a great reader of her own work the passage that Kiran D read held the audience, drew the laughs and, most importantly, made people want to buy the book. On a distant first look, Desai herself is a bright, polite person, with none of the `to the keyboard born’ attitude that could have been hers, being, as she is, the daughter of the famous Anita. She seemed to be slightly embarassed at having taken seven years finishing her second novel, but her relief at having delivered was palpable, and cheerfully displayed, and it definitely gave heart to some of us attending the reading and cocktails.
"I hope I don’t take another seven to finish the next one," KD reportedly said, taking of from which some kind pal of mine had a nasty nudge for me: "She took seven to write book two, how long are you going to take? Nine?" Everything was sorted out between me and my friend when I agreed to pay for the dry-cleaners’ bill, which should hopefully erase both the red wine-stain from her Kanjivaram silk sari and any residual ill-feeling.
This article originally appeared in Delhi City Limits, February 15,