Davidar himself is allowing the luxury of distance to help him put a certain spin on the Canadian events. He refers to having “quit” Penguin, and remarks ruefully on sexual-harassment policies run amok, sounding like a liberal reluctantly forced by events into a reactionary position. “This is where women can do stuff. All these laws are necessary but they can be exploited. Having been on the receiving end. ... What can I do?”
That spin would seem to be working, locally – most media coverage of Aleph Book Co.’s launch referred to his “having left” Penguin, and when the scandal is mentioned at all, reporters refer to the harassment as “alleged.” That, say many women in publishing here, reflects the fact that sexual-harassment allegations are still not taken very seriously in India.
“It’s a different culture where these things don’t matter,” says Reddy. “In India, these things can easily be overlooked if the person is perceived in different ways as competent. It doesn’t really matter – it’s not damaging to his reputation.”
Davidar is perhaps not unscathed – he declines wine over lunch, saying an attack of gout, brought on by stress, has cut him off alcohol; he makes reference to his departure from Canada as “painful.”
But there is a glint in his eye that suggests the success of Aleph, if it comes, will feel like a form of sweet revenge. He is rumoured to have hired away Ravi Singh, the widely respected editor-in-chief at Penguin India, who has left his job there but not confirmed where he is going. Davidar and Ravi Singh would certainly be a formidable editorial team, says Reddy.
Literary columnist Nilanjana Roy sounded a note of caution about Aleph, however: Davidar is returning to a different field than he left, one with more and better-established publishers, staffed with smart editors, many of whom he trained himself. “There are huge expectations: He’s now spent several years abroad and the expectation is he will bring standards of international publishing to the industry.”
Davidar’s new novel, Ithaca, is set in the world of publishing. It tells the story of Zachariah Thomas, a half-Indian, half-English editor at a struggling London book company about to be swallowed by a conglomerate; his marriage is failing, and he flees to Thimpu, in Bhutan, the first of seven cities where the story takes place. The book is eagerly awaited in the publishing world, at least, both here and in Canada, by former colleagues and the curious who wonder just how much autobiography its pages will contain.
Davidar won’t say if the story of Zachariah Thomas turns out well in the end – the way fleeing a bad business sometimes can.