OTHER PEOPLE has started publishing from Juggernaut Books!


Earlier this year (on 29 February, specifically, because what other more appropriate date for a book about weirdoes?), I signed a contract with Juggernaut Books for my short story collection Other People. Last week, along with the rest of the first list of Juggernaut Books, the first two stories came out in India.

Other People is a collection I’ve been writing for a long time. I started writing “Other People”, the first story, for my creative writing class at Jadavpur University in 2009. It was supposed to be just one story, but it expanded into a whole world and a cast of characters I loved, and I was so lost in exploring them that I never finished writing the story for the deadline that was breathing down my neck. I wrote another story in that world – a simpler but anachronistic story – for a later submission, but then I kept the project aside for a later time when I could develop it more fully.

Life happened. MA happened. Working at Penguin India happened, followed by Scotland, London, many other thoughts, places, people.

In late 2014 I picked up that world again, dusted it off a little, and started writing more stories in it. I loved it still. Older by five years and made a little wiser by life, unleashed into the world from my cloistered existence at home, I felt like I understood this world better, could see the characters clearly, why they were unlike the people who surrounded them, where they were coming from. In 2009 I was only looking at these people from the outside, observing like a visitor; in 2014 I was finally in the midst of them. Inside their heads – where I wanted to be.

I wrote two stories at home in Calcutta – the first two stories that you can read now. I wrote another at Clarion West, Seattle in the summer of 2015, and two more at Rutgers University–Camden, where I enrolled for an MFA now. I am writing another story as I write this post. Other People is a work in progress. The stories will keep appearing from Juggernaut as I write them, and after a while we will have a whole book.

The reason why Juggernaut Books can publish Other People as a serial is that their primary platform is an app. The Android app is out in India already, and the iOS app is soon to follow. (My mother, who has an ancient Windows phone from Nokia, feels a little excluded from the party.) They are new, and they have a fantastic team – probably the best team in India I could publish with right now. Chiki Sarkar, who is the publisher, was my employer back at Penguin India; and R. Sivapriya, who is now my editor, was a senior colleague I was always too much in awe of. (She used to curate the literary classics and translations list back at Penguin India. How many languages does Sivapriya read in? We junior copy editors back at the office could never stop speculating.) They enjoy literary fantasy, which not many publishers in India do yet. The monsters and other outcasts of Other People feel like they’re in safe hands with them.

Update on life, reading, very long novels and other things

I haven’t written much in the past couple of months, not here but not elsewhere either. I missed writing for the February and March issues of Kindle, had to extend the deadline on my dissertation proposal and several other things. The reason, besides lots of travelling back and forth, is that I ended up developing a rather serious case of chicken pox. Quite the last thing I expected to happen during this year abroad, but that is why Murphy’s Law is a thing, isn’t it.

Working your way through chicken pox without the presence of mum is quite the daunting thing. There’s no one to hear you whine, make you soup and other nourishing things, regulate your medicine-taking, wash your hair in a tub while you stay in bed just because you happen to feel icky. What I did manage to do, however, in the two or three weeks when I was completely unable to get out of bed, was to catch up on a lot of reading. Being ill gives you the perfect excuse to read as you please, for you’re in no state to edit, read critically, make notes or turn your reading into opinionated articles immediately after. So I ingested a lot of pills, gummy candy and oily takeaway and in between re-read sections of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell because my friend happened to have a copy in his house. (I was in London. My own copy was in Stirling.) I read The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon, which I had downloaded a couple of months ago. I started reading The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, which, of course is a very long book and will take some time to finish. One day when I was in the mood for poetry, I read The Absent Traveller: Prakrit Love Poetry from the Gathasaptasati of Satavahana Hala in a moving though somewhat opaque English translation by A. K. Mehrotra. The last three were on the Kindle, so the Kindle has obviously seen some use. (And got some love. I think I will buy it a cover now.)

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

I have much to say about The Luminaries, even though I’m not yet halfway through it. The novel interests me for several reasons. Of course it won the latest Man Booker prize. It also happened to be the longest book that’s ever done so. Now, long books are not my favourite thing. They are hard to move around (both from one city/country to another or even generally around in your backpack) and take forever to finish. I almost never buy a hardcover or even borrow one from the library, even when I really want to read the book and the wait for the paperback is long. I may not have bought The Luminaries if it wasn’t available as an ebook. And even if I did, it would have been much less likely that I’d actually finish it. Few of us can afford the luxury of reading a book solely at home any more, and that’s the only way a large hardcover demands to be read.

The other thing I have something to say is about the plot. From where I am currently in the novel I can see a glaring perspective error, but I’m hoping the author will justify it at a later point – the book did win the Booker prize after all – so this is not about that. What I’m enjoying about The Luminaries is that it actually has a plot that moves, without compromising on the kind of richness and nuance that is meant to characterize a ‘literary’ novel. Things actually happen. The story at the core is a murder mystery and the novel manages to keep it intriguing. It’s not richness and nuance for the sake of themselves, piled on a story that is basically insipid and a drag.

What I’m genuinely intrigued by, however, is the return of the very long novel. The other very long novel that everyone has been talking about is The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. At some point I’m hoping to get to read that book. Do very long novels really work in this time and day? Am I the only person who struggles to finish them? Who knows. Now that I have finally managed to start off 2014 on this blog, maybe sometime later I’ll write more on the subject.

About the Kindle and other reading devices

Finally tonight I managed to figure out a way of reading books on my brand new Kindle Paperwhite — no longer so brand new, since I had bought it for my birthday in July. Happy? I’m not so sure. The closest I can feel is a sort of weary numbness. Of course, the fault for it not working properly for so long was entirely mine — I was going on repeating some minor technical glitch. The second Kindle I had bought the same month and shipped to Rimi for her wedding, I hear, has been working perfectly well. So has everyone else’s. This is not a point worth pondering upon. However, there are these others.

The first step is the induction. There was a time when I — not unlike the rest of traditionalists back where I come from — had resolutely pledged to read (and stand by) the printed word. For a brief period that bias took almost a hypocritical shade, for — being the publisher of an online magazine — I expected other people to read good literature on a website while I myself wouldn’t read it unless it was in paper and ink.

Read the Printed Word!

Things only started getting very murky when my parents’ house in Calcutta ran out the space for decently stocking the steady stream of books I kept buying. The first to go were my lovingly catalogued bookshelves. Soon books were being poked into any little space that was empty on the shelves. After a while, I had a stack of books permanently on the floor. Besides, there was the daily (okay, let’s say weekly) exercise of dusting, de-cobwebbing, napthalene-izing, which I often didn’t have the time or the energy to do, and which always made the maid grumble. Never had it occured to me so strongly that owning a large and well-maintained collection of books was like owning a piano or a Ferrari or the proverbial white elephant — it demands a kind of privilege of circumstances that you cannot acquire by merely paying the price printed at the back.

Then, last year, I finally moved out of home, and that added another dimension to the story. I went to New Delhi with about five books. I returned from New Delhi, a little more than a year later, with four cartons of them. (One of the nicest perks of being a Penguin employee in India is that you get 50% off on all books across the Pearson range. And you get the occasional book for free.) Most of these books are unread and will remain that way until I return to India — because, as anyone who’s ever tried to pack books in luggage may have observed, books are some of the heaviest objects to ship. (They are also incredibly fragile — as are most loving owners’ feelings about them — so packing them is an ordeal in itself.) They will not even be taken out of their cartons, since there’s no space left in the shelves in that house.

This was the time when I took to the Kindle — in the agony of a half-read book being wrenched from your hands because the luggage limit will Just. Not. Stretch. The Indian store of Amazon had just started business this summer. I had only two other friends who owned Kindles, and both of them received them as gifts from relatives who lived in the USA.  One of the reasons I did buy mine was the convenience of being able to order it on my own, without having to beg someone in another country to please-please-please-get-me-this.


It wasn’t until I reached Scotland that I heard the hype about Kobo, and when I did my vibe dulled a little. A Kobo Reader is cheaper than a Kindle, opens a number of file formats (including comic book files!), and isn’t attached to any particular store — all of which are several kinds of excellent. (I am yet to meet a person who owns one, though, so I can’t do a comparative analysis of device performance. Will leave that to the techies, in any case.) But more importantly, it’s the ethical factor for which Kobo is being largely championed. Almost unanimously through the Western publishing and reading circles, Amazon is considered the evil corporate that is taking the food out of the mouths of independent booksellers, distributors, publishers… all the way to the top. (When Penguin and Random House merged together earlier this year, Amazon was a name that was heard a lot.) Kobo, on the other hand, has this lovely collaboration with indepedent bookstores, through which you can buy both the device and your books from a non-chain bookstore.

On the other hand, notice that all these non-chain bookstores happen to be in the USA. It will be long before the Kobo network reaches India, and longer before the independent bookstores in the country have the kind of framework to meet them halfway for a collaboration like this. The only e-books I was reading through my college years in India were pirated PDFs and comic-book files downloaded off the Internet. Before the Amazon India store opened its doors, even those who owned Kindles almost exclusively read pirated e-books. (It’s technically possible to buy and download an e-book from any Amazon store, but the American or British price of a book is significantly higher than the Indian price — even in the e-book format — and why would anyone want to pay more?) Many of these people have started paying at least for the occasional e-book, getting the actual product, since Amazon India has started business. As for myself, I read a lot of Indian writing in English, and the only place I can find some of my books in the digital format is Amazon. Very few Indian books are up there even on piracy websites. Like the Nook, which never caught on in India because its parent company Barnes & Noble doesn’t have a presence there, the Kobo Reader doesn’t currently add anything to the reader’s convenience in India. (You can read many file formats, true, but you will still have to pirate them off the Internet.) Which is to say, as Charlotte Harper confesses in the Guardian about a month ago, ‘I have turned into my worst nightmare – an independent bookstore-loving bibliophile who shops mostly at Amazon.’ At least for now. Let’s see.

A version of this post was published here by the lovely new website The Reader.