Ramachandra Guha bags Rs 97-lakh deal for seven books | books | Hindustan Times
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Ramachandra Guha bags Rs 97-lakh deal for seven books

In a bidding war that had three Indian publishing houses vying for the rights to the next Big India book, historian Ramachandra Guha raked in Rs 97 lakh this week for a seven-book deal that includes a new two-volume biography of Mahatma Gandhi, reports Indrajit Hazra.

books Updated: Mar 27, 2009 00:56 IST
Indrajit Hazra

In a bidding war that had three Indian publishing houses vying for the rights to the next Big India book, historian Ramachandra Guha raked in Rs 97 lakh this week for a seven-book deal that includes a new two-volume biography of Mahatma Gandhi.

Although HarperCollins India and Random House India offered Rs 1 crore-plus as advance for a five-book deal, Guha and his agent Gill Coleridge went with Penguin India for less money, adding two old titles. “It was a very difficult decision,” said Guha. “But in the end, we went with Penguin because of their overall strength. We were especially impressed by their presentation of the Amitav Ghosh backlist that Penguin released when his novel Sea of Poppies was published.”

Traditionally, big money in India goes to novelists. Ghosh’s ‘Ibis’ trilogy got a reported advance of Rs 55 lakh — roughly Rs 18 lakh per book. Only Nandan Nilekani’s Imagining India has got a heftier advance of a reported Rs 25 lakh.

So does this mean a big change in the way Indian publishers look at non-fiction?

“Guha is the biggest name in non-fiction in India,” said Ravi Singh, editor-in-chief, Penguin India. “So when he writes a book about the biggest subject in India — Gandhi — it’s a different ball game. Earlier writers of non-fiction like Bipan Chandra have sold over 100,000 copies. But it wasn’t hyped by publishers or the media.” Chiki Sarkar, editor-in-chief, Random House India, said, “If Ram had written the biography of his other hero, Ambedkar, all the publishers would have fought for it, but the money wouldn’t have been as much.”

For best-selling historian William Dalrymple, it’s “terrific news” for writers in India. “Earlier, firangis like Patrick French, Katherine Frank and myself, and people like Amartya Sen and Suketu Mehta who were writing from abroad were hogging the big-ticket non-fiction limelight,” he said. “Now, publishers are showing great interest in writers from within India.”

Guha started working on the Gandhi book before he started writing India After Gandhi, his 2007 best-seller published by Picador India. “India After Gandhi brought Ram out of the academic shelf and put him squarely in the mainstream,” said Picador India editor-in-chief Shruti Debi.

The seven-book deal includes Makers of Modern India, an anthology of the writings of political leaders who were also men of ideas, and a collection of essays, The Past and Future of Indian Democracy. The backlist will include States of Indian Cricket, Savaging the Civilized and Environmentalism. The first volume of the Gandhi biography is scheduled for 2012 publication, while the second is for 2015.