Serendipity and After/14

a novel about publishing of a novel

When my publisher asked me on phone about the latest development of my novel, I was a bit amused. The question should go from me to him, but it happens to be the other way round.

He was actually inquiring whether the CD comprising the new version of Shadowland was ready.

“It’s ready. Ramaswamy sent me just this morning. My son transcribed it in a CD soon after. How would I send it to you?”

“I’m coming to your apartment this night,” he said.

I waited for him till 9 pm, then I phoned him.

“Sorry, I can’t go today. I had to go see an artist for a book cover. He took so much of my time. So I’m late to leave my office. I’m coming tomorrow.”

He didn’t turn up the next day even. My wife was worried. “You should inquire why he didn’t come.”

But I was writing this novel. I had not anything else to think about. It was his duty to collect the CD. How could I help if he didn’t come?

Someone pressed the calling bell on the third day. It was 10 pm. I knew it was him.

As I opened the door, I saw him standing, a jhola slung across his shoulder, in his trademark pajama -punjabi, hair turned almost all white, his face tired and sweaty from the day’s wear and tear and humidity.

“Please come in,” I said to him.

“Sorry to disturb you at this odd hour. Please give me the CD. I’ll leave in a minute.”

“Please sit down,” I ordered him as if he was my patient.

He sat in the sofa, visibly uncomfortable. Fortunately for me, my wife likes him just as much as he dislikes my friends. She soon came with a plate full of sweets and placed it before him on a central table.

“So many sweets?” he said in a genuinely surprised tone. “I would just take one. Please.”

“Are you a diabetic?” I queried him.

“No.”

“Then you must eat every item. You look hungry.”

He followed my order and started eating.

Externally, there is nothing special about him. An ordinary look, a frail structure. Not the least bit trendy or fashionable. A typical struggling Bengali intellectual. I’ve seem this kind. I’ve interacted with many of them in College Street coffeehouse, Kolkata book fair and even in my clinic. I have problem with this kind.

He has a high-pitched voice that you see among the oppressed and the exploited. It has a grit in it. His eyes are sad; there’s a hint of burn-out all over his appearance. But he’s no fool.

“What’s the Font you prefer for your book?” he asked me.

“How about Garamond? Ramaswamy suggests it. He says it’s the Font for high-quality literary fiction.”

“There’re two kinds of Garamond: garamond and garamond-A. Which one do you want?

I was in a spot. “Well, give us proof in each kind. We’ll see and decide.”

“Should I send it to you or Ramaswamy?”

“You can send it to both of us. I want to see if it is soothing to my eyes. Ramaswamy is leaving for London on the 16th of next month. He wants to okay the final proof before he leaves.”

“Just give me five days. We have to transfer the Word document to the Pager. You can’t do it straight up. It has to be done one chunk at a time. It’ll take a bit of time to do with your long MS. We’ll begin tomorrow anyway.”

Now he is sipping tea.

“I’m sorry you have to throw away all the proof you made. It must have cost you some money. I can compensate it if you ask for it.”

“Oh, don’t talk like that,” he was quick to respond, “you’re my esteemed writer and I never mind about these contingencies.”

During our conversation I scan him thoroughly. It’s obvious he doesn’t come from a standard middle class background, let alone a rich one.Why is he into this business?How did he embrace this profession? Is it profitable enough for him? Or is it a passion? I intuit an angst in him.

“You were with ABP, I learn.”

“Yes, I gave thirty five years of my life for them.”

“In which department?”

“Editorial. I was appointed as a proof reader and worked the whole tenure in that capacity. They didn’t give me any promotion.”

“How many people work there in your publishing house?”

“Four. My wife and two sons. There is no other staff. I can’t afford.”

“What do they do?”

“Both of my sons are artists, autodidact, none of them have gone to Arts school. But they are good at drawing and illustration. Sometimes they do cover art for our books. My wife takes care of our accounts.”

“So you’re a nice team. An entire family in publishing!”

“Right. We all work hard for it. We all attend our office at College street at various hours. We maintain a strict schedule.”

“Do you know Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children was published by such a family publishing like yours?”

“ Really?” His face gets radiant with a glow of happiness.

“Do you have any paid editors?”

“We have, but they are all freelance and work on book-basis. All learned fellows, with good command over language, very savvy and updated. Some of them teach at universities.”

“You’ve built this publishing alone?”

“Yes, and you know it’s a brand now. The other publishers see my rise with envy. Even that fucking ABP. I’m the most sought-after publisher in Kolkata. Every year my writers get award for their books. Some of them have become famous just with their first book. I always work with new powerful writers. I like to discover them. I like to nurture them. I create them.”

He stops to take a breath. He looks excited.

I look at him intently.

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Tim Barrus, thanks for your excellent critique, I learn from it and am never hurt.

mary.scriver, I like your insights about publishing. But my take is on Indian publishing. You should know about it.

Tessa, SF Ali, mark-john clifford thanks for your encouragement.