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They are now bigger, glitzier, informal.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The artsy book launch parties in Delhi have always been about cocktails, canapés and the chance to brush shoulders with the likes of Vikram Seth, or his mother. Now they are bigger, glitzier, informal and more frequently, taking place out of cultural traps like the India International Centre.
On the evening of May 13, 2009, Hachette India launched Amit Varma's My Friend Sancho at the swanky Agni bar at The Park, the venue that has seen the launch of books by Patrick French, Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan and Rana Dasgupta. While an author reading the excerpts is in sync with the tradition, not many noticed that Ms Madhavan was reading her book from a barstool.
When Penguin India launched Arundhati Roy's The Shape of the Beast in the trendy Olive Beach restaurant in April, 2008, even that little ritual was ignored. There was no book reading, no question-answer session, and no panel discussion. Just a little speech and then the author freely mingled with guests.
"Every launch party does not require a panel discussion," says Ms Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, editorial manager, journals, South Asia, Routledge, Taylor and Francis. Attending about five launches monthly, she was there at the launch of Sadia Dehlvi's Sufism: The Heart of Islam in Le Meridian where thumri singer Vidya Rao wowed all with a beautiful rendering of Sufi poetry.
"Pulling in Vidya was a great idea," says Ms Sheema Mookherjee, senior commissioning editor of Harper Collins India, the event's host. "We're now looking for more innovative launches to stand out from so many similar events happening in town." Agrees Ms Rachel Tanzer, director of publicity, Random House India. "To ensure a hit," she says, "a launch must be unique, unusual, and celeb-filled."
After moving out from New York City where she was doing launches for DC Comics, Ms Tanzer find Delhi's traditional launches boring. "In NYC, you can have a launch on a subway, on the Brooklyn bridge, on the Empire State's rooftop, or the Bloomingdale's loo," she says. Nonetheless, Ms Tanzer sounded happy about hosting a launch in Café Morrison, South Extension, that went on till 2am.
However, every launch venue has its own constituency. "Only a small percentage of Penguin's book launches are held in five-star hotels," says Ms Hemali Sodhi, GM marketing, Penguin India. "Most of our launches in Delhi are held in institutions like the IHC, the IIC, the British Council and the American Center, alongside bookstores."
A full house, of course, is always welcome. Everyone knows that anyone is free to gatecrash into such parties that are increasingly becoming younger, zestier and profitable. Late last year, the launch of Basharat Peer's Kashmir memoirs, Curfewed Night, was held under a cold sky complete with Kashmiri rugs that not only ensured a blockbuster evening but also good press and good sale.
"Launches are more of a marketing exercise than a sales one," says Ms Lipika Bhushan, marketing manager, Harper Collins India. "At the day's end, if we go out of stock at the launch, it is the icing on the cake." That doesn't always happen. Take the launch of Rahul Khanna's The Modern Architecture of New Delhi, hosted in the Ambassador Hotel. Despite the DJ, drinks, snacks and a 100-strong crowd, the evening's success could not translate into bumper sales for the book.
That, however, is not stopping publishers from throwing money on these parties. They know that the people, and the press, will come... and not just for the Patiala peg. "I find launches illuminating, exciting," says Ms Rose, "and if managed well, they can take you into the heart of the book."
How to invite yourself to a book launch party
To get an invite, just gatecrash or contact Penguin Books India (91-11-4613-1411) www.penguinbooksindia.com), HarperCollins Publishers India (91-120-404-4819; www.harpercollins.co.in), British Council (17 Kasturba Gandhi Marg, Connaught Place; 91-11-2371-1401; www.britishcouncil.org/India), the American Center (24 Kasturba Gandhi Marg, Connaught Place; 91-11-2347-2290; newdelhi.usembassy.gov), India Habitat Centre, Lodhi Road (91-11-24682001); India International Center, 40, Max Mueller Marg (91-11-24619431)
Advice: Do give an impression that you are a serious literary type, even if you are not.
Booze is a must
Where's the book?
Vikram Seth's mother at the Deepak Chopra book launch
Vikram Seth's mother at the Amit Varma book launch
Arundhati Roy sighting, at a launch in Olive Beach
Anita Desai spotting, at a launch in Triveni Kala Sangam
Look, somebody's reading!
Listening to Anita Desai in Triveni Kala Sangam
From behind the bar
From across the bar