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Indian literary scene saw fests, awards, strong publishing

Friday December 24, 2010 12:21:18 PM, Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS

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New Delhi: The world of Indian literature acquired a touch of glamour in 2010 with new festivals, accolades on the international turf, the return of Khushwant Singh and some strong publishing, valued at $4.5 billion (Rs.200 billion).

If the Jaipur Literature Festival in January 2010 drew to India some of the biggest names in popular literature like Roberto Calasso, Alexander McCall Smith, Louis de Bernieres and Geoff Dyer, then the country had a brush with literary fame when the "Hay-on-Wye" festival - the most prestigious literary festival of Britain, debuted in India in November.

The line-up of writers, though not as sprawling as in Jaipur, was impressive. The high point of the festival was an interactive session moderated by Shashi Tharoor, MP, with Bob Geldof, musician and founder of Live Aid.

Kolkata tuned in to its homegrown literary heavyweights at the Kolkata Literary Festival presented by Apeejay Group and the Oxford Bookstore. Mumbai held its own with Literature Live, a free-entry festival organised by columnist Anil Dharker.

"The year surpassed what we were hoping in terms of the number of festivals, size of audience, sale of books and enthusiasm among people to attend literature festivals. It was also good news for upcoming authors, publishers and book sellers," said Sanjoy Roy, managing director of Teamworks Ltd, which organises the Jaipur Literature Festival and the Hay Festival.

"The Hay Festival captured the minds of literature lovers. The country saw four major literature festivals, including three new ones," Roy told IANS.

Indian writers made their mark in the global literary arena. Rana Dasgupta won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for his novel "Solo", while Raghuram R. Rajan's book "Faultlines" won the Financial Times-Goldman Sachs award for the best business book of the year.

The Hindu awarded Manu Joseph for his work of fiction, "Serious Men". Three Indian cookbooks, "Flash in the Pan: What to Cook and How", "How the Banana Goes to Heaven" and "Hajra's Recipes of Life, for Life" were cited by Gourmand, the global arbiter on food writing, as the best cookbooks from India.

The year also saw the return of Indian literary doyen Khushwant Singh with two books - "Absolute Khushwant", a collection of ruminations and opinions, and the novel "The Sunset Club". Singh's spirit triumphed over his failing health at 96 when he signed books and jested with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's wife at the launch of his book.

A curious trend in 2010 was the phenomenal sale of books about President Barack Obama and those written by him - largely because of his visit to India in November.

"I think it has been quite a year with very strong books, variety in publishing and awards as well. The fiction list was stimulating with the very literary to excellent mass market," V.K. Karthika, publisher and chief editor of Harper-Collins India, told IANS.

An estimate by the India Trade Promotion Organisation and the Federation of Indian Publishers noted that the Indian publishing industry is currently valued at around $4.5 billion (Rs.200 billion). Of this, education and non-education books accounted for nearly $3 billion (Rs.130 billion).

"The business range grew tremendously as well as the cinema range. It has been a year of committed publishing," Karthika said.

As for business, the year saw a slew of new titles - both big and small - as the market bounced back from the slide of the last two years, showing an upward curve. The book market currently rides on the strength of 16,000 publishers.

The country publishes some 70,000 titles every year.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at






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