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Pirates bring Ambani book out of closet

Ten years after it was effectively banned in India, photocopied versions of The Polyester Prince are being sold freely on the city's pavement, reports Shreevatsa Nevatia.

india Updated: Jan 28, 2008 11:28 IST
Shreevatsa Nevatia

Ten years after it was effectively banned in India, photocopied versions of Hamish McDonald's book

The Polyester Prince: The Rise of Dhirubhai Ambani

are now being sold freely on the city's pavements and traffic signals for an astonishingly wide range of prices - Rs 100 to Rs 1,600. The unauthorised biography is said to be selling by the dozens.

The timing of its appearance is curious. Hawkers said they first got the book on January 13 and 14 — a couple of days before the IPO of Anil Ambani’s Reliance Power Ltd opened for subscription.

Representatives of both Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Industries Limited and his estranged brother's Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group declined to comment on the underground sales.

Sanatan, a hawker selling the title for Rs 400 in Fort, had a unique marketing line. “The makers of Guru (the Bollywood film loosely based on Dhirubhai Ambani’s life) used 25 per cent of this book to make their film. The other 75 per cent that is in here was too controversial to show.” Sanatan is perhaps correct.

The book mentions how every year Dhirubhai played an April Fool’s Joke on an elderly employee, and also describes the arrest of Kirti Ambani, a general manager at Reliance, on charges of conspiring to murder Reliance rival Nusli Wadia.

On the phone, Australian author McDonald sounded bemused: “I wonder why it has suddenly appeared, 10 years after it was published. I am not even making any money out of this.”

In 1998, before the book could make it to Indian stands, the Ambanis had moved the Delhi and Ahmedabad High Courts, asking for injunctions against the book’s release on grounds of “anticipatory defamation.”

The Delhi High Court passed a verdict in favour of the Ambanis, halting the release of the book. The rights for the book’s Indian edition had then been sold to Harper Collins, which had numerous printed but unbound copies of the book in their warehouse. “After the Delhi stay order against the book, the Ambanis said they would get more such [court] orders from other states, and had threatened to sue,” said Renuka Chatterjee, who was heading Harper at the time. “Harper then decided to withdraw the book.”

McDonald recalled feeling gravely disappointed at the time. “Let a book be published and then be sued,” he said. “It getting blocked even before it can hit the stands is a serious infringement on the right to free speech.”

The Australian, though, is not one to be cowed down. “I have been keeping up-to-date with the actions of the two brothers and am thinking of an update,” he said. “I wish I find a publisher who is brave enough to publish the book in India.”