Mumbai: Vaibhav Purandare, author of the forthcoming book Bal Thackeray and the Rise of the Shiv Sena, spent all of Sunday at the packed funeral of Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray, re-learning the enormous popular appeal of a man whose political party’s fortunes had declined. On Monday morning, he sent in the final section of his book’s copy, a report that includes his analysis of the uncertainties of the last week. Purandare’s speed is warranted; Bal Thackeray will be published by Roli Books just over a week from now, on 28 November.
His book is part of a small, impressively timed current of Indian English non-fiction that responds with journalistic speed to recent history. There is some serendipity involved: Purandare, a senior associate editor of the Hindustan Times, has been working on this book, a hugely revised and updated version of his 1999 work, The Sena Story (BPI Publications), for a large part of this year. But Thackeray’s failing health prompted his publishing house to think of advancing its publication, to take advantage of the subject’s timeliness. “We would have brought it out by the end of this year in any case,” explains Priya Kapoor, director at Roli Books. “We got the manuscript about two or three weeks ago. Since (Thackeray’s) health, as well as Uddhav’s, has been a question mark of late, we began work on it immediately. We’ve been in fast-forward mode in the last 10 days.”
The market for books such as Purandare’s, or some of Roli’s earlier first-responder works, including Harinder Baweja’s 26/11: Mumbai Attacked, which came out shortly after the November 2008 attacks, coincides smoothly with the news cycle. “I think people are interested in contemporary history these days,” says Baweja, currently editor (investigations) at Hindustan Times.
“There was information in that book which simply wasn’t in the public domain—the only thing really coming out at the time was breaking news on television.” Baweja also published her book Kargil: The Inside Story, soon after the 1999 war, which she covered for India Today magazine.
“I reported the war from the road,” she says, “but the story haunting me was that of the soldiers fighting at 17,000ft. I think the key (in books like these) is to go back to the protagonists and reconstruct their stories well, with new information.”
Hindustan Times is published by HT Media Ltd, which also publishes Mint.
“It’s not easy to put together,” Kapoor says, “but that’s not a deterrent. What you need is the right theme, a larger event. If it’s well-curated, doesn’t just regurgitate the newspapers, our experience is that these books do really well.”
Publishers have a sense that books must have a life beyond the affairs they cover. But given the combination of writers ready to take on book-length projects, new resources to edit, design, print and publicize a book with relative speed, and some luck, it’s possible to send a book out quickly. In January 2013, barely four months after former Goldman Sachs director Rajat Gupta’s sentencing for insider trading, Rupa Publications Pvt. Ltd will publish Sandipan Deb’s Fallen Angel: The Making and Unmaking of Rajat Gupta, which will cover the Gupta story well up to the October judgement. Rupa will publish the print edition of the book in arrangement with Aardvaark Media, Deb’s e-publishing venture. Deb is a Mint columnist.
“It is possible to plan books in three or four months,” says Dibakar Ghosh, executive editor of Rupa Publications, who remains cautious about event-based publishing. “It’s true that timeliness does guarantee a readership for these books, but executing them has its challenges. The onus is on writers to step up, make it possible to do in-depth research and comment on topical affairs in a matter of months.”
Sports publishing confronts this cycle head-on. HarperCollins India published three books on the year-old anti-corruption movement in 2012, one of them, Swaraj, written by prime mover Arvind Kejriwal himself. But editor-in-chief Karthika V.K. says the most challenging ones they’ve done are books such as V. Krishnaswamy’s Sachin: A Hundred Hundreds Now , which came out a mere month after Sachin Tendulkar scored his 100th century.
“The author wrote about that century, and we got down to edit, design, everything just as soon as that happened,” Karthika says. “The World Cup book (Suresh Menon’s Champions, published in June 2011, three months after India’s victory) couldn’t be predicted, of course.” Some of these books, Karthika points out, can be updated and reissued in the future, such as the books on the Olympics or the Commonwealth Games, which HarperCollins published earlier this year.
Bloomsbury Publications’ newest cricket book, Ed Hawkins’ Bookie, Gambler, Fixer, Spy: A Journey to the Heart of Cricket’s Underworld, has something to do with serendipity too. Although British journalist Hawkins has been following India’s illegal bookmakers since 2009, he found himself following the alleged “fix” of the India-Pakistan World Cup semi-final in 2011 so closely that it provided the impetus for his book, which was published this year in the UK, and was released in Indian bookstores in time for the start of the India-England Test series last week.
On Tuesday in Mumbai, HarperCollins India will release Yuvi, Makarand Waingankar’s biography of cricketer Yuvraj Singh, to coincide with a tumultuous year in Singh’s life, which includes his battle with cancer and a successful return to international cricket. Singh’s own memoir of defeating cancer will be brought out by Random House India in December, less than a year after his recovery from the disease was announced.
“It’s Yuvi’s own book, and if it’s coming out so soon, it’s because he’s used to working hard and at speed, as a cricketer must,” says Shruti Debi, a senior agent and director at Alexander Aitken Associates India, the agency representing Singh.
“Perhaps we have resources to do this a little better now,” Karthika says of speedy publishing. “Especially since there are journalists and writers now who are willing to step up and write books, in a way that, in the past, you almost didn’t dare to.”