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David Davidar, author and publisher, photographed at The Book Shop his father-in-law's book store in New Delhi. (Candace Feit for The Globe and Mail)
David Davidar, author and publisher, photographed at The Book Shop his father-in-law's book store in New Delhi. (Candace Feit for The Globe and Mail)

Publishing

A Canadian scandal behind him, David Davidar surges in India Add to ...

And then, last June, Penguin abruptly announced his departure, saying that he was leaving to pursue “his successful writing career and other projects.” His sudden exit remained a mystery for a few days until it emerged that a recently dismissed Penguin employee, Lisa Rundle, had filed a $423,000 lawsuit against the company, and a separate $100,000 suit against Davidar, alleging that she was fired after complaining of sexual harassment by her boss.

Rundle and Davidar presented sharply different versions of events; she claimed in the lawsuit that he waged an escalating campaign to seduce her, culminating in him barging into her room while they were attending the Frankfurt Book Fair in October, 2009; he “grabbed her by the wrists, forcing his tongue into her mouth,” according to her statement of claim. Davidar himself put out a lengthy, exhaustively detailed statement claiming he and Rundle had a “close friendship,” a “consensual flirtatious relationship” that included kissing on two occasions, and that “he has not sexually harassed anyone. He has not assaulted anyone.” It concluded by noting that he is “happily married.”

While the story was inevitably an exercise in she said-he said, Penguin opted to fire Davidar, quickly settle Rundle’s suit and, not long after, reinstate her to her job of director of foreign rights and digital publishing.

Since then, Rundle has left the company. In May, she accepted the position of director of subsidiary rights and list management with HarperCollins Canada. She moved, she says, “because I was offered a very interesting job here.” She declined to answer any question related to Davidar (she says she cannot comment on Davidar, or the terms of her out-of-court settlement with him and with Penguin).

Davidar and his wife Rachna Singh stayed in Toronto for seven months after he was fired, figuring out their next move (despite any rumours, he says, “We haven’t split up, not even for a day”) and, over the course of two months, he wrote his third novel, Ithaca, which will be published in Canada in October.

He says he was awash in offers following his departure from Penguin. “Fortunately I had a whole bunch of options. I had job offers – ‘will you run this company’ – in both India and Canada – and also offers to run imprints [within publishing companies]” he says. “But I thought it was easiest to start up here, where the market is growing – that it would be smartest to come here.” Book sales in India are increasing at 10 per cent a year.

There was another push factor: His wife had lost her job running the McNally Robinson store in Don Mills, Ont., when the independent bookstore chain went bankrupt. Singh comes from minor Delhi publishing royalty; her parents own, and she once ran, what may be the bibliophile city’s best-loved bookstore. The couple has no children. While they loved Toronto, Davidar says, it seemed a good time to come back to India.

Although the Canadian scandal was given extensive coverage by the Indian media, Davidar appears utterly untarnished here. A confluence of factors seems to have shielded him: One is his history. “He was an enormously beloved character,” says the head of a major Delhi publishing house familiar with his professional history; she declined to be quoted on the record, as she is now a competitor. “David occupied a position in Indian publishing that no one else has. He ran the biggest company, he made it as big as it was, he was a great author’s publisher, he had brilliant relationships with people like Vikram Seth who loved him, and by all accounts he was a very good boss.”

A second factor is simply Davidar’s profile among women in his circle in India. He had several consensual relationships, according to former colleagues. Women he’s worked with describe him as “passionate,” “magnetic” and “charismatic.”

The harassment allegations puzzled those who knew him in Delhi, confirms Sheela Reddy, Delhi-based books editor for the newsweekly Outlook.

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