David Davidar has been a publisher for over a quarter of a century, first of Penguin (India and Canada) and later as co-founder of the New Delhi based Aleph Book Company. He has also charted out a successful writing career with novels such as The House of Blue Mangoes and Ithaca. He has recently edited A Clutch of Indian Masterpieces: Extraordinary Short Stories from the 19th Century to the Present. Below, he shares snippets of his life and work with Kitaab’s Interviews Editor, Dr. Debotri Dhar.
A lot of my childhood revolved around books. My maternal grandfather was the first person to introduce me to the joys of reading but there were books in my parents’ house and in school my English teacher, Mrs Murphy, would constantly unearth great books for me to read. Besides my interest in books I was a solitary child as my father was a tea-planter and we lived rather isolated lives. Our nearest neighbours lived miles away but if you loved nature and the hills, as I did, it made for an idyllic existence. When my sister was away in boarding school I would often spend the whole day on my own, wandering around with my dog, a fox terrier called Asha, and an air-gun with which I would try to shoot all manner of birds—fortunately they would usually escape.
A renowned publisher, you were also able to chart out a successful writing career. What, according to you, are the gaps and overlaps between your craft as an editor and a writer? How have the sensibilities of one shaped the other?
I have found that in order to be a novelist and a publisher you necessarily have to compartmentalize the way you deal with writing—your own as well as that of others. If I started editing my own work during the process of creation I wouldn’t get much done. The way I usually work is to give my imagination free rein while I’m composing a first draft; I then revise and edit the first draft three more times to arrive at the final manuscript. As a professional book editor it is imperative that I work from within the voice and technique of the writer whose work I’m editing. It wouldn’t do for me to try and impose my own style on the work of other writers. The best editors are always invisible—that is to say, their contribution towards improving the writer’s work is never obvious. I believe my work as an editor has helped my career as a writer, especially when it comes to things like concision, building plot and characters and so on.