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Saturday, 5 May 2012

GANGTOK, 15 April: Chetan Raj Shrestha, a conservation architect by training and an elegant writer by passion, will make his literary debut in October 2012 with Aleph Book Company, a new venture which has the publishing scene breathless in anticipation as it marries the respected editing and publishing skills of Indian publishing’s poster boy David Davidar with the established sales and distribution network of Rupa Publications. Aleph announced its first list of titles last week. Chetan is among the 25 books handpicked by Aleph for release over the year, to be published across the five seasons. Chetan’s “A Song and Two Seasons” is slated for an October [autumn] release.
Readers in the region are familiar with Chetan’s work, given that his fiction and reportage has featured extensively in publications not just in Sikkim, but even national and international periodicals. Come October, readers will have in their hands, Chetan’s debut book, “A Song and Two Seasons”, a set of three linked novellas set in Sikkim.
For a taste of what the book promises, check out and download the ‘Book of Aleph’, a catalogue of the 25 titles Aleph has announced for the year ahead. The catalogue includes a lengthy excerpt from the first of three linked novellas.
The catalogue introduces the excerpted story as one “which is visceral in its immediacy and power, a shocking act of violence on New Year’s Eve destroys the family of Puran, a small-time Sikkimese policeman”.
Aleph Book Company, as mentioned, is a new venture [its first title was released on 09 April to mark the Spring releases] set up by Mr. Davidar in partnership with Rupa Publications India.
Mr. Davidar, one would recall, took Penguin India to new height and returned last year after leaving his job as CEO Penguin Canada. As a publisher [for over a quarter century], he has edited and worked some of world's most renowned authors, including, Kiran Desai, Arundhati Roy, Vikram Seth, Vikram Chandra, Rohinton Mistry, Salman Rushdie, Upamanyu Chatterjee, Khushwant Singh, RK Narayan, Shobhaa De, Romila Thapar, Shashi Tharoor, Suketu Mehta, William Dalrymple, Mohsin Hamid and Ramachandra Guha. As an author, his “The House of Blue Mangoes”, published in 2002, has been translated into 16 languages and was a New York Times Notable Book and a Book Sense Pick. His second novel, The Solitude of Emperors, was published in 2007 and was a finalist for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize.
The Letter from the Publishers introducing the Aleph catalogue, has David Davidar and Ravi Singh explaining: “When Aleph Book Company was set up last year to publish fine writing by South Asian authors (and international authors writing about the subcontinent), there were some things we knew we wanted to do. We knew that we wanted to keep our list exclusive and manageable, so that we could lavish on our books the sort of hands-on editorial care and attention to design and production quality that we are obsessive about.”
In a series of interviews leading up to the release of Aleph’s first list, Mr. Davidar explained the rationale behind Aleph thus: “...We wanted to marry the strengths of large publishers to that of the small publishers. The large publishers have obvious positives, scale, penetration, resource etc. However, there is also a downside - when you are publishing 150-200 books in a year, you do not have enough resources to concentrate on everything that is involved in promoting a book the right way. By resources, I mean marketing. With so many books, you don't have the manpower or the resources to give each of the books the marketing or the attention it deserves. Small publishers give each book the attention that they deserve, but they just don't have the resources to distribute the book broadly enough and market it enough, as it deserves to be.”
The publishers also admit: “What we didn’t know was whether we would be able to find enough books to publish that possessed the literary and artistic excellence, originality and style that we were looking for: books that we would truly love, as opposed to those that were merely products occupying slots in sales catalogues, production schedules, warehouses and balance sheets.”
As for the quality of Chetan’s writing, as endorsed by his being selected among the first 25 to be published by Aleph, sample how the publishers narrate the begging of Aleph: “Over the past year, the doubt, uncertainty and nervousness have all fallen away. Not only have the ambitious goals we set ourselves (we wanted to launch with twelve books) been exceeded by the sheer number of brilliant and original writers who have chosen to publish with Aleph, the books themselves have turned out to be wondrously alluring creations.”
“We cherish each of the twenty-five books that we are launching Aleph with for their brilliance, insight, style, panache and sheer readability. Judge for yourselves,” David Davidar and Ravi Singh sign off their Letter from the Publishers in the catalogue.
It is obvious that Mr. Davidar is pouring in his entire experience in and passion for publishing into establishing Aleph as a “premium publishing brand” [his words] and it would have been exciting enough just to receive the range of books they publish over the year, a wait made even more so because among the list will be featured a writer whose oeuvre, although enjoyed for some time by readers here, was crying for a wider readership and earnest publishing it deserved.
Chetan was born in Gangtok in 1978. He is a trained architect (his specialization being conservation architecture). He has lived in Darjeeling, Bangalore, Mumbai and Sydney, and is currently working in a collaborative architectural practice in Gangtok.

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