According to the India Book Market Report released by Nielsen during the Frankfurt Book Fair in October last year, the value of the print book market in India, including book imports, is USD 3.9 billion. Yes. Books are alive and kicking.
And how? It seems everyone and their cousins, and especially failed or retired movie stars are writing books. Two examples, off the cuff, are Sonali Bendre and Twinkle Khanna. Now, the grapevine is Juggernaut, the new venture by Chiki Sarkar, has roped in Sunny Leone, of all people, to write books on, hold your breath, steamy romances. The one book on movies that made sense was Jai Arjun Singh’s The World of Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Of course, he is the man who previously did a wonderful book on the cult movie Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro.
True to be told, it is a wonderful time to be a writer in India. If you look around, every other day there is a new book being released, by an author you have never heard before, by a publishing house you never knew existed. Some of these books are actually very good. Some are, well, not so. But these publishers (who have popularised the term self-publishing) give a level playing field to aspiring authors. Now, you don’t have to send your manuscript to those conglomerates and wait for them to send you a rejection slip. Now, you write a book and publish it and sell it. The readers are the judges. If a Chetan Bhagat or an Amish can do it, so can you!
Remember the days when Penguin India was synonymous with Indian writing in English? Come 2015, it was perhaps one of the worst years for Penguin Random House. The biggest blow came when its high-profile publishing director Chiki Sarkar resigned to start a new venture, Juggernaut. Now, Sarkar and her team are working on books to be read on mobile devices, one chapter at a time, which has many people excited.
Another new publishing venture was Speaking Tiger, started by another Penguin India alumnus, via Aleph, Ravi Singh, who published, among other titles, Jerry Pinto’s translation of the first Dalit autobiography to be published, Daya Pawar’s Marathi original Baluta. For its part, Aleph, which cannot wait to publish Vikram Seth’s ambitious sequel to A Suitable Boy, tentatively titled, A Suitable Girl, had to be content with publishing a handsome volume of Seth’s latest poems, Summer Requiem.
In all, the biggest player was HarperCollins India. They had more titles than any other publishers had and did everything, from cook books to graphic novels, from Akshaya Mukul’s well researched tome Gita Press and the Making of Hindu India to English translations of Surendra Mohan Pathak’s Hindi crime classics.
What else? India was not at the Booker Prize, though author of Indian origin Sunjeev Sahota was shortlisted (The Year of the Runaways), and Anuradha Roy (Sleeping on Jupiter) was on the longlist.
Finally, Amitav Ghosh finished his Ibis trilogy, with Flood of Fire, which is so long and so meticulously researched that it reads like a lesson in colonial warfare. Even Salman Rushdie had a new novel, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Days Nights, a reworking of the classic Arabian Nights, which seemingly failed to impress the critics. Among literary fiction, there were Anjum Hasan’s The Cosmopolitans, Kiran Nagarkar’s RIP Ravan and Eddie, Amit Chaudhuri’s Odysseus Abroad, and Easterine Kire’s When the River Sleeps, the novel from the deepest parts of Nagaland, which surprised the mainland India by winning the Hindu Literary Prize in January 2016.
After the blockbuster Shiva trilogy, Amish launched a new series, based on Ram this time, with Scion of Ikshvaku, which was faithfully pirated for roadside vendors. Even Chetan Bhagat had a new novel, Half Girlfriend, for which front-page advertisements were carried out in national newspapers, a first for an Indian book.
2015 was a good year for non-fiction books. The highlight perhaps was TV journalist Barkha Dutt’s debut as a writer with The Unquiet Land. Also in news for reasons right and wrong was Avirook Sen’s Aarushi (the success of the film Talvar helped). However, the bestseller among them was Raghu Karnad’s poetic and adventurous Farthest Field: An Indian Story of the Second World War. Another book was Annie Zaidi’s 2000 Years of Indian Women’s Writing.
Among the notable deaths, in 2015, we lost everyone’s beloved President and a bestselling author APJ Abdul Kalam. Then we got this fabulous book, My Life: An Illustrated Autobiography. It’s a must read.