Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Simply Anita

Author Anita Nair launches Tumbi, the English children’s imprint of DC Books and also talks about her career

By Shevlin Sebastian

“What I like most about Tumbi is its affordable price,” says well-known author Anita Nair, 42. “The books brought out by good children’s publishers in India are on the expensive side.” Anita was the chief guest at the launch of Tumbi, the English children’s imprint of DC Books, at the 4th DC International Book Fair at Kochi.

“It is encouraging that a regional publisher like DC Books is moving into the national, as well as the international arena,” she says. “An added advantage is that the production standards of Tumbi are very high.”

The CEO of DC Books, Ravi Deecee, says the company will be entering the pan-Asian children’s market by the end of 2008. “Essentially, we are taking Indian content abroad, in the form of folk and traditional tales and creative fiction,” he says. “Several well-known writers, like Jaishree Mishra, have agreed to write for the imprint.”

Meanwhile, four of Anita’s children’s books, English versions of well-known Malayalam folk tales, were released, under the Tumbi imprint, on Friday at a grand function -- children sang and danced with zest, while extracts were read out from Anita’s books.

“These are tales that I heard as a child,” says Anita. “Later, when I narrated these stories to my son, when he was a child, I could see the pleasure it gave him.” She realised there would be other children who would like these stories and decided to write them down.

Saraswathy Rajagopalan, the editor of Tumbi, feels that since Anita’s stories are written in a simple style, children will find it enjoyable. “In most children’s stories, there is a moralising tone, but Anita has avoided that,” she says.

However, Anita’s forte, as is well known, is in adult novels, which have found a home all over the world. So far, her books, like the best-selling Ladies Coupe, have been published in 26 languages and in countries like Greece, Israel, Spain, Italy, Germany and Poland. And she meets fans all over the place.

In November, 2004, Anita was in Warsaw, having lunch at University Café, with her Polish publisher, Tomack, of Swiat Literacki. A blonde woman, in her mid-forties, who was walking past, suddenly stopped, stared at the Indian author, and said, “Are you Anita Nair?”

“It was a ‘Wow’ feeling for me,” says Anita. “I can understand being recognised in Bangalore or Kerala, but in Poland, of all places!” The woman had just finished reading the UK edition of Ladies Coupe, and had liked it very much. “She said, ‘It is amazing to see you here and I am so glad that your book is being published in Polish,’” says Anita, a look of wonder on her face as she remembers the meeting.

So, has the reaction of readers in other countries been similar? “The response has been uniform,” says Anita. “They ask, ‘How do you know our stories?’ To think that my book, set in a particular culture, means something to them, is very gratifying. My conclusion: the human condition is universal.”

The Bangalore-based Vani Mahesh, 35, who runs an online library, easylib.com, says that while living in America a few years ago, she was a member of a book club in San Jose, California. “They were reading Ladies Coupe,” says Vani. “I was surprised to see that women from different professions and countries could relate to Anita’s characters.”

Vani says there is a common thread running through all of Anita’s novels. “The female protagonists are vulnerable, while, at the same time, they possess an inner strength,” she says. “This is an apt description of woman anywhere in the world.”

So, is this true of Kerala women or are they different? “Women in Kerala are like a beautiful self-sacrificing woman who puts everybody else’s life before her own and continues to be a doormat,” says Anita.

Kerala used to be a progressive state, says this English graduate of N.S.S. College, Ottapalam. “But because women watch television serials, which have a pan Indian influence, suddenly I see young, married women who wear the signs of marriage like an emblem. That really gets to me.”

She is also worried about the new practice of purdah among Muslim women. “We never had this system before,” she says. “Suddenly, everybody is in purdah, which is an import from the Gulf countries. I feel uneasy about this.”

She is also uneasy at the new trend in publishing these days: huge advances being paid to celebrity authors. Recently, Amitav Ghosh received an advance of Rs 44 lakh for three books. “I am not so sure whether this is a positive trend,” she says. “Publishers have to earn back this money.” The Indian market is not that big. A bestseller means 5,000 copies and first print run is usually 2,000 copies. “To recover that sort of money you can imagine how many books they would have to sell,” she says.

“What Anita says is true,” says V.K. Karthika, editor-in-chief of the Delhi-based Harper Collins Publishers. “We would have to sell a lot more copies than before.”

Meanwhile, a focused Anita continues to write ceaselessly and readers are lapping it up, book after book.

(Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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