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A life in letters

November 3, 2012

The Hindu


CHAT Publisher-writer David Davidar says books are here to stay

David Davidar is a man very confident of himself. And, he has the track record to generate that optimism. After all, he was the man who told us that far from Antarctica, Penguin was a literary bird that deserved a place on our bookshelves. He brought in authors otherwise inaccessible some 30 years ago. And quietly, unobtrusively, changed the way we read.

That he was himself a no mean author became almost a footnote. Now into his second innings with Aleph — an independent publishing house he founded with Rupa and Company’s Kapish Mehra earlier this year — he is happy to tap a niche market.

When David speaks, the words come in measured scoops. He holds back about some of the “big” authors he has signed. And dismisses any talk about his writing with, “Yes, I got to do that too.”

However, the author in him has taken the backseat and publisher David is in full public glare. Nothing ruffles him — competition or the digital revolution. “Everybody was worried by digital publishing, considering a digital book costs around one-third of a printed book. Today, it is not a bad word to say I publish myself. There are so many digital books, but publishing thrives in this part of the world. Look at the Booker winners or even those on the shortlist, so many are from developing countries.”

As for other publishers, David says: “I pay no attention to competition. We deal with authors we would want to read. We get so many proposals but both Ravi (Singh) and I don’t get swayed easily. We will do only 25 books a year. We will produce across certain genres. We want to produce great books in economics, politics, films, even food..”

Then, there is the small question of distribution too. Is that why Aleph has tied up with Rupa — a kind of win-win situation with Aleph getting the best authors and Rupa providing its distribution network? “Absolutely, but there is more to it. Rupa wanted to be associated with some top-notch authors and get into newer markets.”

Meanwhile, Aleph that has just launched Shankar Aiyar’s Accidental India , prepares to roll out books by Gen. (retd.) V.K. Singh, Valmik Thapar, Devdutt Patnaik and Barkha Dutt, among others.

“Barkha’s book called This Unquiet Land talks of India’s faultlines. We have Valmik Thapar tracing the tiger journey. And Devdutt Patnaik’s on history of business.

Rajmohan Gandhi has come up with a history of undivided Punjab, probably the first book in the genre. Of course, we are bringing out Pavan Varma’s Manifesto and young Shovon Choudhury’s The Competent Authority .”

These are titles David rolls out in a hurry. What he reveals at leisure is the series he has planned on most Indian cities, trying to capture the soul of say, Delhi, Chennai and Patna. Patna, the age-old Pataliputra whose past has often been overshadowed by the present.

Well-known novelist Amitava Kumar is putting pen to paper for Patna, as is Nirmala Lakshman for a story of Chennai. Then come the stories of Delhi, Calcutta…


There are so many digital books but in this part of the world, book publishing is thriving. Look at the Booker winners or even those on the shortlist, so many are from developing countries.