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David Davidar: A close scrutiny

David Davidar looks and talks like the protagonist in his new book, Ithaca - self-assured, languorous, and one with the reputation of being one of the best in the publishing industry. He talks to Sonakshi Babbar about the controversies, his book and new his publishing house, Alpeh.

books Updated: Oct 04, 2011 12:59 IST

David Davidar looks and talks like the protagonist in his new book, Ithaca - self-assured, languorous, and one with the reputation of being one of the best in the publishing industry. As I show him the uncanny resemblance between him and the figure on the cover, he chuckles, "I didn't choose the cover! My publishers did!"

Ithaca, Davidar's latest tryst with fiction writing, is a bildungsroman which sees the lead character on a personal journey, stepping over the rock-solid stones as well the patches of grass which life has to offer.

He denies similarities between him and the lead character, Zachariah Thomas.

"It's clearly not autobiographical! It's not the story of my life, but just about a world I know a lot about i.e. the world of the publishing. One usually uses materials around oneself to tell a story, and I always write a story when I think I have something to say, this is why I didn't see trouble in locating it in a familiar world."

Having worked in the publishing industry for more than two decades, he is more used to taking editorial decisions and pandering to the whims of authors, but he loves it now that the tables are turned.

Davidar has previously written The House of Blue Mangoes (2002) and The Solitude of Emperors (2007).  How does he feel to relinquish the editors' chair to be the author time and again?

His face lights up.

"I love it! This is my third novel, and I have dealt with editors more than once. I have had to deal with it more than once, I m grateful to have an editor who understands my work and has a vision, working with me.  Its important to have a good editor because an editor can take the book up to the next level," he says.

Ask him who has been easiest and most difficult to work with and he immediately refuses to tell the difficult (with a tone, which implies - are you freaking mad.)

But he happily counts on his fingers the easiest, "My top favourites are Vikram Seth, Suketu Mehta and Kiran Desai. It was a pleasure working with them."

Last year, Davidar was unceremoniously fired from Penguin, after he was accused by a former colleague of sexual harassment. He dismissed the allegations then and still remains unapologetic about the episode in his life, "When it happened, I talked to my wife and deliberately made a detailed report of the exact time and date, and situation which will leave no room for doubt. It's up on Wikipedia for anyone to check."

Last to be bogged down by controversies, Davidar went ahead and did what he always wanted to do - open his own publishing house, Aleph, in partnership with Rupa publications.

So was this a quick decision to save your face?

"Well, not quite. I have been lucky to get the opportunity to do what I really wanted to do at some point of time. Obviously the timing and circumstances could have been different, the opportunity came earlier than anticipated, I have to deal with it. I feel great at Aleph, I can publish books, which I absolutely love, and every single book on the list is something I personally like. We're looking at almost 30 books and will announce 15 books in a grand function on 19th December later this year."

Still reeling under the public scrutiny over the controversy, he has immersed himself heart and soul into his new role, which he cites as the reason for backing out of the Kashmir lit fest, "You know, I am so busy with the Aleph and the release of Ithaca, I had no time."

"While I support Namita and Sanjay, they're doing an amazing job, I didn't want to get involved with a controversy of which I didn't really have a deep understanding of, so I backed out before the event was cancelled," he adds.

Davidar is 53 now, when we meet, he is wearing a crisp white shirt and well-cut dark trousers and smoking a cigarette. We're sitting on the steps outside the auditorium at India International Centre and he tells me his knees have become really bad, "Now, I play virtual tennis on my iPad."

A tech-savvy person, he believes that being innovative and using technology is the way to go forward for the publishing industry. He also commented recently that reviews have lost their relevance in today's world.

Bemused, I ask, "What about people like us who write reviews day in and day out?"

He laughs out aloud, "I say that because only a minority of people like me who're heavy book buyers, would read the reviews. Today, new ways like Facebook page, Twitter and film trailers appeal to people. I think it's high time that our publishing world got to grips with the new marketing techniques."