Wednesday, April 11, 2007

In Conversation with Jayapriya Vasudevan

Ahmede: We know that yours is the only literary agency in South Asia, could you tell your readers a bit about the work it does?

Jayapriya Vasudevan: Jacaranda is India¹s first literary agency. We started in 1997 with a handful of books, and a dream to work with new writing. Ten years down the line, the love for the written word has helped us grow from strength to strength. While we have, over the years, worked with only a select list of books, we continue to seek and promote new writers and have grown from representing work nationally, into a company that now represents authors internationally as well, through our association with The Marsh Agency in the UK. We represent a list of authors from India and China, and have also received queries from the US, the UK and even Australia. Our Chinese list is small but interesting. Mostly non fiction.

Two works of fiction. Like any agency, we evaluate books, present them to appropriate

Publishers, negotiate contracts... The culture of using an agent is non existent in this part of the world. It's taken us a while to get where we are. We are extremely proud to have had Anita Nair and Shashi Warrier from the time we began. I guess authors need to see that we do make life easier in terms of the fact that they do their job, which is to write, and we do the rest.

In addition to the work at the agency, we also work in the area of promoting writing and the arts, through Writers' Block, our festival of writing. These have been held in Bangalore, Mumbai and Beijing. The next festival will be in Singapore. This is a very informal forum for writers to meet their readers. We work with a mix of writers from all over India, work with writers with translations, across different genres, with a mix of the arts (music and poetry, dance, theatre). It's an unpretentious event with great energy. The Singapore festival will have writers form South East Asia and again, work with a few languages.

Ahmede: There has been a flow of South Asian fiction into the world's literary scene lately; in the manuscripts you get what do you look for before you decide to represent a writer?

Jayapriya Vasudevan: We get several submissions every week, and we do guarantee that each manuscript gets a fair reading. We prefer that the manuscript is sent to us, based on our submission guidelines. We list submission details on our website: Our team of editors reviews each book that comes to us. If the editor is unsure about the book, a second editor reads it , and we finally discuss possibilities as a team. The book needs to grab our attention , to stand out , to speak to us...

I personally look for good `people' in manuscripts. That's my hook I guess. For representation, we just look for something that appeals. There are no rules. It's really an instinct that makes us take authors on. I do truly believe that good writing will sell, no matter how or when. It just will.

Ahmede: Of the young writers of South Asian descent will you name one or two writers whom you really liked?

Jayapriya Vasudevan: Anita Nair is a special favourite from India. Her new book Mistress remains one of my all time best books. I have been reading a great deal of Chinese and Japanese fiction recently. I must also admit to thoroughly enjoying Monica Ali's Brick Lane!

Ahmede: What is your next project about?

Jayapriya Vasudevan: Our latest project is 'Let's Kill Gandhi,' by Tushar A Gandhi. Published in English by Rupa and Co, it was released on the 30th of January, this year, in Delhi (on the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi's assassination). The book is already in its second print run, and scheduled to go into its third reprint. Tushar's sensational book on his great-grandfather, Mahatma Gandhi retraces the steps of his assassination, giving a detailed account of the murder, in a milieu that is both political and religious. Very few people are aware that there were several failed attempts. After the murder, the manner in which the trial of the conspirators was conducted, the judgement and the execution have long been shrouded in mystery. Tushar believes that the police, intelligentsia and politicians of the day had information on all the attempts, including that of the actual assassination, but did nothing to prevent them, thus conveniently placing the Mahatma in the line of fire.

The religious fundamentalism and political wrangling that led up to the partition of India is mirrored in today's world. The campaign of hate, the desensitising to human suffering, the acts of barbarism and terrorism are in the forefront. Gandhi died for a cause. He once said 'An eye for an eye ends up making the whole world blind.' Tushar uses the book to underscore the need to learn from history, and look at life with the Gandhian philosophy of non-violence.

The book is about 900 pages long and will be published in Marathi soon. Other

Indian language offers are also being reviewed.

Future projects include more non-fiction - an autobiography, a cookbook and two business-related books. There are a few titles in fiction as well. Black Tongue by Anjana Basu ( we represent her in the UK only) is just out. Shashi Warrier's Kashmir will be out this year. As will a book on an honest look at the call Centre Industry, from our non fiction list. As you can see, it's a mix. Of fiction and non fiction. Of Indian writers and Chinese writers ( I lived in Beijing for a few years).

We do very little Children's writing. We did an anthology for Teenagers in China late last year. We do not work with poetry.