Publisher, Penguin India, Ravi Singh was in London for the 2008 Man Booker Award ceremony. In an email interview with Hindustan Times , he talked about the Booker, The White Tiger and Amitav Ghosh.
Tough luck for Amitav Ghosh. Does Penguin India feel bad that it turned down The White Tiger? And if you'd like to comment, what were the reasons you decided to pass Adiga's book?
Yes, it is hugely disappointing that Amitav didn’t get the Booker, but no, there’s no regret about not publishing The White Tiger because we tried, within reasonable limits, to acquire the book. The bids went too high and we decided to withdraw fairly early in the battle of the advances. Amitav’s book and Aravind’s were being offered within a few months of each other and resources are finite. It made sense to get what was to us the bigger, more enduring book.
Amitav has an oeuvre of writings; this is Aravind's first book. Is there a disparity in the way awards like the Booker are given out in this context?
I suppose there is. The Booker, like most such awards, isn’t perfect, but it’s good publicity, so it’s worth putting up with the imperfections.
How much of editorial credit should go to the making of books that are published first in the UK and the US like The Sea of Poppies. Or for that matter The White Tiger?
Varies from book to book. In some cases there’s very little done here apart from buying the print-ready files and printing the book. In others there’s considerable interaction between the author and the editors in the different territories — India, the US, the UK, etc. It isn’t unusual for a book to be edited and typeset here and the files sold to publishers abroad. Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy is one example.
Do you think that the Booker's recent policy of giving prizes for 'accessible' books reverses the old 'highbrow-lowbrow' caste system?
I’m not sure there ever was such a caste system. Besides, each year there’s a different group of judges, all UK-based. Yes, but each group would still have its own preferences, so it would be difficult to sustain such a policy.
Do you think that the fact that Amitav's book constitutes the first part of a possible trilogy affected his chances of winning the Booker?
I don’t think so. Why put it on the short or long list, then?
This is not the first time Amitav Ghosh had been in the reckoning for the Booker. Does it matter at all whether he doesn't win? Surely, it would have mattered if he had won.
This is astonishing, but Amitav has in fact never been shortlisted before. And his stature is what it is despite that.
The Booker would have been nice. But in the long run, it makes no difference in his case.
Penguin is a publisher that has plenty of award-winning writers in its stable. How much does winning awards — Indian or international — help in lifting sales?
The Booker definitely lifts sales, sometimes phenomenally. All awards have some impact, but here’s the sadness: a Sahitya Akademi Award — don’t knock it, it has gone to some amazing writers — may mean an increase in sales of 10 copies, the Crossword Award of 1,000 copies and the Booker of 10,000 copies.