The Rediff Special /Vir Sanghvi
'Obviously, the book had touched him enough to get on
to a plane and come to a strange country'
Within three days of receiving copies of the manuscript, Transworld
and Jonathan Cape were ready to make offers for the British
rights. Their enthusiasm took Roy by surprise and she was even
more startled when they asked for a fax number so they could send
her details of their bids. She didn't have a fax, so all bids
were sent to her neighbour Valmik Thapar who passed them on to
an increasingly bemused Arundhati.
But while she was still trying to work out which publisher to
select, David Godwin took her by surprise. By the end of the week,
he had caught a plane to India -- a country he had never visited
before -- only so that he could sign Roy up.
She says now that she chose to go with him because of the commitment
that the sudden trip demonstrated. ''Obviously, the book had touched
him enough to get on to a plane and come to a strange country,''
Godwin told her that American rights would be a problem because
publishers in that country were sceptical about the market prospects
of books set in India. British rights would be easy to sell. But
he wanted to auction them because he believed that this was a
novel that everybody would want to publish.
Godwin was right about England, wrong about America. Eight British
publishers bid unheard of amounts for hardback rights for a first
book. And then, as Godwin and Roy watched astonished there was
a scramble for European rights; France, Germany, Italy, Finland,
Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Greece, Estonia, etc.
But the best was still to come.
Flushed with the success of the British auction, Roy flew off
to Vienna to spend a week with her friend, film-maker Aradhana
Seth. While she was there, various British publishers flew to
America for the Chicago book fair. All they could talk about was
this amazing debut novel. This in turn led to a sudden surge of
interest in America.
Godwin phoned Roy in Vienna. Did she have an American visa? She
did? Good! Because they had to fly to New York immediately since
American publishers were going berserk.
"By the time we got to New York,'' recalls Roy. ''I had got
over the excitement of the book being so much in demand. I decided
that this time I wouldn't go with the highest bidder. I would go
with the publisher I felt
best about. I am very proud of the fact that I went with Random
House because I respected them even though another large publishing
house offered me $ 150,000 more than the Random House bid.''
By June 1996, Roy was back in Delhi. Two months before
she had wondered what she was going to do. Now, she had just made
half a million pounds (roughly Rs 35 million).
It wasn't till September that news of Roy's massive advance --
virtually unprecedented for a literary book by an unpublished
author -- hit the Indian media. She had taken a deliberate decision
to keep quite about her success and she was not pleased by the
"I find that people want to do the same kind of stories about
me," she says wryly, sitting cross-legged in the terrace house
in New Delhi that she shares with her husband, film-maker Pradip
Krishen (the acknowledgements to the book begin: 'Pradip Krishen,
my most exacting critic, my closest friend, my love. Without you
this book wouldn't have been this book). Already apprehensive about
any kind of publicity, she has become even more uneasy after news
of her advance hit the papers.
"The problem with profiles,'' Roy says, tentatively ''is that
a journalist comes and meets you for an hour or two hours and
then he goes away and writes what he says is your life. It is
the absolute opposite of what I do. I mean, it's not like taking
four years to put down experiences that you have observed in 37
years. I believe in economy. Personality journalism is the opposite:
it is padding."
It is for this reason that she will not talk about her early life
or about the circumstances that led her mother to inform her that
she was not welcome back at home. "It is true that I was on the
verge of being thrown out when I was at college in Delhi,'' she
says. "But if I try and explain what the problem was then I will
simplify it so much that it will caricature the whole thing. So
it's better not to talk about it.''
Courtesy: Sunday magazine
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