New Delhi: The revolving doors at India’s English-language publishing companies are finally slowing down. A frenetic round of changes at the top or just below is almost over in terms of appointments and announcements. Penguin India, Random House India and Pan-Macmillan all have new editorial heads now.
At Random House India (RHI), the top editorial post is effectively being bifurcated. As is the company’s publishing imprint. Earlier brought out as Random House India publications, its titles will now come out under two separate imprints: Vintage for literary fiction and non-fiction; and Ebury for popular non-fiction.
Meru Gokhale, currently with Penguin UK, will take over as Editorial Director of the Vintage Imprint for RHI. Gokhale – who most recently published the 78-year-old first-time Pakistani writer Jamil Ahmad’s The Wandering Falcon to critical acclaim – will be dividing her time between India and the UK. This could actually mean good news for Indian writers published by RHI, since Gokhale’s part-time location in London will enable her to market these titles globally as well.
As for Ebury, it will be managed by Milee Aiswharya as Editorial Director. Aishwarya is an old RHI hand and has been managing the company’s lifestyle titles for some time now.
Gokhale will start on July 16, a fortnight after which Chiki Sarkar, the outgoing Editor-in-Chief at Random House India, will take over as publisher at Penguin India, the country’s largest English language publisher of trade (industry parlance for non-textbook titles) books. From a boutique operation of sorts, where her personal involvement was palpable in every title, Sarkar moves to a large enterprise with several imprints, a wide variety of genres and an annual output of books running into triple digits, besides vast numbers of imports.
Sarkar, of course, replaces Ravi Singh, who quit as Publisher at Penguin India a couple of months ago, but has not yet disclosed his next port of call. Informed guesswork points towards his joining his former boss at Penguin, David Davidar, whose Rupa-funded venture Aleph Books is taking shape.
Most publishing employment contracts include a no-poaching clause, and it is possible that Singh would have to allow a certain time to elapse before leaving Penguin and joining Aleph. That is, of course, assuming that Davidar had such a disengagement clause in the first place when he parted ways with Penguin Canada.
Of the three recent top-level changes in India’s English-language publishing firms, the first was the one at Pan-Macmillan. Saugata Mukherjee moved over from his senior commissioning editor role at Harper-Collins India to take on the mantle of Publisher. Mukherjee will publish under three imprints: Picador, Pan and Macmillan. The move was necessitated in part by the exit of Shruti Debi’s as editor of Picador India – she is now the India face for UK-based literary agent Aitkens Alexander Associates.
Mukherjee’s first hires have both been publicists – Rachna Kalra from Penguin and Ayushi Srivastava from Harper-Collins. Over at Aleph, Davidar has been shopping for one too, proving that publicists are short in supply and correspondingly highly in demand in India’s English-language publishing trade.
Much speculation had ensued after the exits of top and senior editors from three publishing firms, suggesting that their replacements would be from the mass media, more specifically, from English magazines. The argument was that senior editors of English magazines have all the skills already – several are published authors themselves - are well-networked, and may have a more sensitive finger on the pulse of what people like to read.
However, while all the speculation proved unfounded, the one crossover that is taking place is at Harper-Collins India. Ajitha G S, who had worked at Time Out and Outlook Traveller magazines, among others, is moving to Harper-Collins in a senior editorial role. Passionate about books and a demanding editor where her writers are concerned, Ajitha might even be the first of more journalists to cross the line into what is becoming, if slowly, quite a hot sector to work in.