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A Suitable Girl interrupted?

Penguin imprint tells Vikram Seth to give back Rs 10-cr advance

Writer missing June deadline leads to publisher’s démarche

Reema Gehi
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Posted On Tuesday, July 09, 2013 at 01:09:08 AM

Within a week of Random House and Penguin merging to become the world’s largest books publisher with an estimated revenue of four billion dollars, the aftershocks have started. The new entity, eager to cut cost and streamline operations, has asked author Vikram Seth to return his 1.7 million USD (approx Rs ten crore and thirty lakh) advance, a part of which was paid to him for A Suitable Girl, the ‘jump-sequel’ to his best-selling novel, A Suitable Boy

Seth, one of the world’s best-loved writers, was scheduled to submit his manuscript this June but has been unable to do so, leading to the publishers’ démarche.

At the time of going to press, Seth’s agent David Godwin was in furious negotiations with Hamish Hamilton the imprint under which A Suitable Girl was to be published end 2013. “It would be unfair to say the deal has been called off,” he told us in the course of a telephone conversation hours before his meeting with the publishers was to begin in London. “Vikram has been known to take his time with his books. Our aim is to settle this new date with Hamish. If we can’t, then Vikram will decide what he wants to do next,” he added. At the same time he cautioned us saying the matter is unlikely to be resolved in the next one or two meetings. 
Penguin Random House’s drastic step goes straight to the heart of the dilemma the publishing industry finds itself in. “Worldwide, but especially in Europe, the publishing world is in a state of crisis. The focus now is on commercial books that can be churned out quickly and cheaply. The space for literary books has shrunk rapidly,” said a well-regarded industry watcher who is also a longtime acquaintance of Seth. 

But an author like Seth who commands million dollar advances and who took eight years to write the voluminous A Suitable Boy, works on his own terms. He does not share his manuscripts with anyone until he is ready and will not be bullied by publishers, having once said, not entirely in jest, it was his job to get the money out of publishers and it was the publishers’ job to get the book out of him.

It must have been more than a minor delay that set the wheels of discontent rolling at Hamish Hamilton, says another publishing industry insider. “It’s possible that Vikram Seth has not started on the book or that it’s nowhere close to completion, which explains the move.”

“He is so good at doing so many things that perhaps he gets distracted, and everything he does, he does with hundred per cent commitment so delays are inevitable,” said the industry-watcher who chose to comment without being named. In the time Seth signed on to do the sequel in which A Suitable Boy’s heroine Lata will be looking for a girl for her grandson, until now he has published another book, A Rivered Earth, and painted his version of bottles of Absolut as part of the vodka company’s campaign. 

Seth has in past interviews said that he would not have taken on A Suitable Girl were he not sufficiently enthused about writing it. At the same time he has refused to feed the frenzy of readers wanting to know more about the sequel. “All I can say is this: I am not quite sure what the book will be like and what it’ll contain, but please allow it to surprise me as well,” he told ?  Outlook ?  magazine in 2009. Well perhaps this is the first of the many to come not just for him but for us as well. 

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Can’t provide bare necessities to its men in the field, but...

Forest department splurges Rs 20L on Kumble’s chambers

The office of the cricketer, who is wildlife board vice-chairman, has CFL fittings worth Rs 99,910, AC electrification of Rs 2.27 lakh and furniture costing Rs 3 lakh

Chetan R
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Posted On Monday, July 08, 2013 at 01:38:17 AM

Warped priority is an expensive government tradition and is hard to break even in an era of austerity. The state forest department is a prime example. On the one hand officials go around collecting donations from corporates to provide bare necessities — camouflage uniforms, solar power lights and jeeps — for its men in the field, while on the other it spends extravagant sums on providing perks for its dignitaries. 

Some anti-poaching camps (APCs) in tiger reserves in the state don’t even have a proper supply of drinking water, yet the forest department has spent a staggering Rs 20 lakh on refurbishing the official chambers of the State Board for Wildlife vice-chairman and legendary cricketer, Anil Kumble in VV Towers. The irony is that Kumble hardly, if ever, uses the chamber and is, perhaps, unaware of the funds splurged by the department on interiors, furniture and fittings. 
Arul Raj, an RTI activist, stumbled on the department’s double standards when he filed an RTI application on the issue. “The forest department knocks on every door with a begging bowl in hand,” Raj said. “A mobile phone company has sponsored 2,000 metres of camouflage uniform cloth, while a Mumbai wildlife trust has donated rapid response jeeps to forest staff. They have even sought help to run these vehicles due to a funds crunch, and yet they waste money on renovating chambers of a top official.”
Kumble was appointed vice-chairman of the state wildlife board in October 2009. Information obtained through RTI, copies of which are with Bangalore Mirror, show that Rs 19.94 lakh has been spent on renovating his chambers on the eighth floor of VV Towers. The expenditure includes CFL fittings worth Rs 99,910, AC electrification to the tune of Rs 2.27 lakh and furniture costing Rs 3 lakh. The rest has been spent on interior work — sprucing up the conference hall, wood-panelling the walls of the anteroom and the corridor leading to the chamber and installing LCD television sets. Apart from this, the department has also bought a Mahindra Scorpio worth Rs 10.58 lakh for the use of the vice-chairman’s office. In stark contrast, the state forest department has spent a mere Rs 42,462 on educating people on preventing fires in forest in 2011-2012. 
“It’s a shame that the department goes on a spending spree while their staff are suffering without even basic amenities,” Sharan Kumar, a wildlife activist said. “So far, wildlife trusts active in Bandipur and Nagarhole have donated four jeeps to each of the two tiger reserves. A Mahindra Bolero jeep and reverse osmosis units for drinking water were also donated to the department. There are more than 40 APCs in Bandipur and more than 30 in Nagarhole tiger reserves. Even today drinking water is a luxury for staff at some APCs. The guards don’t have proper bags, shoes and other equipment which is essential for their stay inside the forest. Frontline staff are in dire need of help, and yet money is spent on making a chamber in the city cosy. It is time government began using public funds properly.”
When asked for his comment, G S Prabhu, principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife), who took charge on July 1, said, “I have just taken over and I will look into the issue. We know how to set priorities and I am aware that the entire forest department including the top brass are dependent on frontline staff to execute policies. Their priorities come first and our comfort comes last.”