Books and the Blues

The newspapers might have lost interest but Indian blogs and social networking sites are still full of salacious details about publisher-writer David Davidar getting sacked due to alleged sexual misconduct. Davidar's sordid personal life aside, he was considered competent. But he was hardly a genius like Tiger Woods that so much space should be devoted to analysing his errant behaviour. It's scandalous alright but it's not the first time a woman has filed a million-dollar suit against a lecherous boss. But in this lethargic season while we wait for the monsoon, when even football and India winning the Asia Cup can't shake off a heat-induced stupor, who minds a little diversion involving sex, power and money?

Over the years, in India's publishing circles, there's been virtually no criticism of Davidar, the writer. Personally, I never managed to finish his book The House of Blue Mangoes. Maybe that's just me. But prudence would kick in and I would think hard before bluntly commenting on a heavyweight publisher in print or elsewhere, since like most journalists I harboured some vague and romantic literary ambitions. (Luckily for everyone, I've tossed them all aside.) Because of his formidable position at Penguin, Davidar has escaped the scrutiny and brutal assaults authors are usually subjected to by unforgiving reviewers, and readers.

Man Booker Prize winner Kiran Desai endorsed his second book The Solitude of Emperors describing it as "unflinching, unsentimental and deeply moving". Of course, it is possible Desai loved it. But for information's sake, Penguin published Desai's The Inheritance of Loss. Murky? Nah, we're all too cynical. On Amazon, there is not a single customer review for The Solitude of Emperors, published in 2007. It's rated at 2,933,150 on the all-time great books list. In other words there are almost three million books in print right now considered better than his. That's a figure that should make Davidar flinch.

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