Writers, readers had a busy year

New Delhi: The literary scene in 2012 was at its vibrant best going by what Indians read and wrote and there was substantial progress on the digital front, besides several ventures, controversies and author visits during the year.

According to poet-novelist Tabish Khair, who released his novel "How to Fight Islamist Terror from the Missionary Position" in 2012, the Indian literary scene during the year was "at the glitzy 'cosmopolitan' end, a lot of sound and fury, signifying very little, but elsewhere some quietly solid books which will probably get their due in a few years".

The year also saw one of the biggest tie-ups when Bertelsmann and Pearson decided to combine the activities of their respective trade-book publishing companies, Random House and Penguin Group. The closing of the transaction is scheduled to take place in the second half of 2013, following regulatory approval.

The new publishing group will include all the publishing divisions and imprints of Random House and Penguin in India, the US and the UK among other countries.

Indian authors won awards and recognitions, sales saw considerable growth, new writers emerged, literary festivals were galore and acclaimed writers visited the country.

The year 2012 saw congregation of writers and seasoned authors from the country and abroad in events like the Jaipur Literature Festival, Hay festival (Thiruvananthapuram), Kovalam Lit Fest (Kerala) and Kolkata Literary Festival. The year saw the Bangalore Literature Festival (BLF) making its debut. It was held from December 7-9 at the Jayamahal Palace.

"The BLF was off to a good start. Over 80 authors participated – local, national, international, a literary journal was launched and a kiddie corner put up. For three days in December, literature went live in the city," author and BLF co-organiser Shinie Antony told PTI.

The Jaipur Literature Festival stirred controversy over the participation of writer Salman Rushdie. Trouble began soon after the organisers put Rushdie's name on the festival's guest list. The "Satanic Verses" author finally pulled out of the event saying he had information that hitmen were "on the way to Jaipur to kill me".

Four authors – Hari Kunzru, Amitava Kumar, Jeet Thayil and Ruchir Joshi- then created a ripple at the festival by reading out from "Satanic Verses".

But the controversy did not end there. The organisers then decided to host Rushdie's video address at the event.

There was suspense till the last day when the planned video address was cancelled at the last minute over fears of violence following protests by Muslim groups, a decision that triggered an outrage in the literary community. The 65-year-old India-born author described as "awful" the cancellation.

He kept tweeting during the entire controversy. "Threat of violence by Muslim groups stifled free speech today. In a true democracy all get to speak, not just the ones making threats," one of his tweets said shortly after his event was called off.

Apart from the Rushdie episode, the festival will be remembered for the high-profile visits of talk show queen Oprah Winfrey and the charismatic Fatima Bhutto.

There was much activity in the publishing arena. "It was our 25th anniversary and we've had a fantastic year publishing some truly wonderful books and authors: popular Penguins, Katherine Boo, Pico Iyer, Shashi Tharoor, Shobhaa De, Kareena Kapoor to name just a few," says Hemali Sodhi, vice president (Marketing and Corporate Communications) of Penguin (Group) India.

"Our brand ambassador for the year – the customised Penguin car – was a huge hit, and we ended the year by being voted in the top 10 for brand marketing across all categories. So overall, an extremely rewarding year and we look forward to another exciting line-up of books and campaigns for 2013," Sodhi told PTI.

For Pan Macmillan India, 2012 was the first year of its local publishing programme.

"The year started on a really high note with the publication of Kunal Basu's novel 'The Yellow Emperor's Cure'. And as the year progressed we added some really strong titles to our list. The launch of the Pan imprint, under which we publish our more commercial titles, was the major high point of the year," says Saugata Mukherjee, publisher of Pan Macmillan India.

"We have published some really successful books in this imprint this year 'The Shadow Throne', 'Jaal' and 'The Masala Murder' to name a few. The year ends on an even stronger note as we come out with Srikumar Sen's award winning novel 'The Skinning Tree', Anuvab Pal's 'Chaos Theory' and Sandipan Deb's 'The Last War'," he says.

Simon & Shuster India completed its first year of operations in the country.

"Year 2012 was great year for S&S India as we completed first full year of operations and achieved all targets and budgets. Key titles were 'The Magic' which has sold close to 100,000 copies since publications, Indian adaptation of million copies best-seller Dr Spock's Baby & Childcare was published in November," says Rahul Srivastava, director (marketing and sales) of Simon & Shuster India.

Niyogi Books' MD Bikash Niyogi says the year 2012 was a year of "challenge and achievement" for the publishing company.

For Westland Ltd, 2012 was a reasonable year of growth despite the adverse conditions in the book retail market.

"We are especially excited about two initiatives that we launched during the year. First was the tie-up with Yatra to publish Hindi translations of some of our bestselling titles. We also launched Duckbill a joint venture company which is our first foray into children's publishing," says Westland CEO Gautam Padmanabhan.

"We had our fair share of bestsellers including Ashwin Sanghi's Krishna Key and Rashmi Bansal's Poor Little Rich Slum while Amish's Immortals of Meluha and The Secret Of The Nagas continued to dominate the charts," he says.

Poet Jeet Thayil's debut novel "Narcopolis", which talks of opium dens and heroin addiction in Mumbai, was shortlisted for the Booker prize which was ultimately won by Hilary Mantel.

Novels by four Indian authors – Aravind Adiga's "Last Man in Tower", Amitav Ghosh's "River of Smoke", "The Sly Company of People Who Care" by Rahul Bhattacharya and Indian-Canadian novelist Anita Rau Badami's "Tell It to the Trees" were among 154 titles long listed for the 2013 IMPAC Dublin literary award. The shortlist for the Euro 100,000 prize, presented annually for a novel written in English or translated into English, will be announced on April 9 and the winner declared on June 6.

Six Indian writers – Jahnavi Barua ("Rebirth"), Rahul Bhattacharya, C Y Gopinath ("The Book of Answers"), Anushka Jasraj (Radio Story), Poile Sengupta (Ammulu) and Sreejith Sukumaran (Another Dull Day) figured in the shortlists of the 2012 Commonwealth Book and Short Story Prizes.

Amitav Ghosh's "River of Smoke", Uday Prakash's "The Walls of Delhi" and Thayil's "Narcopolis" were also shortlisted for the DSC Literature Prize.

According to Delhi-based booksellers Bahri Sons, the top 10 fictions of 2012 were Amish's "The Immortals of Meluha" and "The Secret of Nagas", "Narcopolis", "Empire of The Moghul: The Tainted throne" (Alex Rutherford), "Our Lady of Alice Bhatti" (Mohammed Hanif), "Fifty Shades Of Grey", "Bring Up The Bodies" (Hilary Mantel), "The Krishna Key" (Ashwin Sanghi), "Casual Vacancy" (J K Rowling) and "Life of Pi" (Yann Martel).

Its non-fiction list went thus: "Lucknow Boy" (Vinod Mehta), "Steve Jobs" (Walter Isaacson), "Confessions of a Serial Dieter" (Kalli Purie), "Behind the Beautiful Forevers" (Katherine Boo), "Breakout Nations" (Ruchir Sharma), "No Easy Day" (Mark Owen/Kevin Maurer), "Joseph Anton: A Memoir" (Salman Rushdie), "Patriots & Partisans" (Ramachandra Guha), "Durbar" (Tavleen Singh) and "Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan" (William Dalrymple).