Sunday, July 13, 2008

Launch Pad

By Sunil K Poolani

Book launches are important as book publishing. Old hat. But what is new is that launches have today become venues where everything else is discussed except books; not even about the book in question which is supposed to be getting ‘launched’.

Predictably, these books launches are now occasions where people, who might have not read anything other than Mills and Boon or Bible, gather — people who do not understand the difference between a bar of soap and a book. Book launches have also become places where the who’s who of the glitterati and chatterati of the city assemble, flaunting their Armani suits or Ritu Beri salwar-kameezs.

These pretentious people only get attracted or want to be seen there for just one reason: if the author is a celebrity or at least s/he is the offspring of one, and/or if the person who launches the book is a great figure. Like? The recent launches of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s daughter’s book or Jeffrey Archer’s multi-city book promotion tour.

I normally do not attend book launches precisely for the above reasons. And I do not even recommend that to the authors of my own books as launches hardly contribute to the sales of the books. They are at best a vanity in exercise that costs money for no rhyme of reason.

Last week, nevertheless, I attended two book launches at Oxford Bookstore in Mumbai, a great bookstall to have such events as the people who run it cherish and cultivate the value of books, good and great books. Not trash.

The first one was Farzana Versey’s tremendous and gutsy effort. The book, titled A Journey Interrupted: Being Indian in Pakistan, was launched by the indomitable Mahesh Bhatt and Indo-Pak expert Ritu Dewan. Versey’s book is a daring attempt: single lady, Muslim and Indian travelling to the heartlands of Pakistan to explore why India is still obsessed with a nation formed by Jinnah. But why did she choose Pakistan as her subject? For that reason, why are all so-called secular Muslims in India still obsessed with our cousins across the border? I asked her. Her answer was quite simple: “Only because Pakistan is our neighbour and Pakistanis are our brothers and sisters.”

Versey’s book is not a conformist travelogue; it delves into the Pakistani mind rather than the land. It explores that complex society, and Versey also finds herself struggling with her own identity.

When Bhatt is invited for an event, there is no dearth of controversy, no scarcity of sound-bites. But at this launch he was quite serene, was direct to the point, and yes, without making any provoking statements, he was making good sense. And that’s how a book launch should be.

The next one was Prasad Ramasubramanian’s novella, Raising the Bat. Inevitably, the book is about cricket and the 27-year-old writer lived and breathed cricket since the time he touched a bat as a kid. He is quite well versed in all cricket statistics and has never missed a match in action, either on the ground or on the telly.

Acclaimed actor Tom Alter was supposed to be the chief guest, but the previous day his house in Mussourie was burgled and he had to rush there. So the book was launched by the legendary cricketer Nari Contractor, who captained India in the sixties.

Contractor confessed that he has never read a book and has made it a point to not read one ever. Fair enough. But there could not have been a better choice for the book launch as he travelled down memory lanes, peppering with one anecdote after another. The launch was moderated by the best-selling author Murzban F Shroff of the Breathless in Bombay fame.

Good evenings before you hit a bottle of chilled beer.

A confession. I was getting tired and bored of the column I am presenting to you, readers, every week. But, then, I am getting damn good mails and responses from discerning readers. And, yes, I am getting more brickbats than bouquets. Due to which I shall continue.

— Asian Age / Deccan Chronicle


Anonymous said...

Hi Sunil

I was hoping to meet you at the book launch of Anirban Bose's Bombay Rains, Bombay Girls. Peter Griffin was the moderator, yours truly was the official heckler and all in all it was good time-pass (to use crude Mumbai lingo). But after reading your column this morning, I get the feeling that you're acutely allergic to book launches! I feel the same way- I think the entire PR circus an author has to go through post publication is the most distasteful part about being a writer. Its heartening to see books that come out without any kind of fanfare and go on to become classics (like Anurag Mathur's The Insrutable American).

Sunil, I was telling my editor Saugata Mukherjee (at HarperCollins) about the nice things you had written about Silver Fish (also edited by Saugata). He is extremely keen on knowing you (having read your pieces all over the pace) and I've taken the liberty of giving him your email address and phone number (without your consent). Is that okay with you?

Do keep in touch. And don't even dream of winding up your column. It is the week's highlight for a whole lot of us!

Kankana Basu

Anonymous said...

I like your forthright, no-nonsense voice and easy style.
Looking forward to reading more of you,
priti aisola