As the year draws to a close, David Davidar is ready with the last read for the season from his publishing house Aleph. The book, A Clutch of Indian Masterpieces: Extraordinary Short Stories from the 19th Century to the Present, has 39 stories to make one reflect on life’s big and little questions and make you see the world differently — as the greatest stories always do. And says the celebrated publisher, “As this book is the result of nearly forty years of attentive reading of Indian literary fiction it might be a long time before I do another similar book.”
Davidar says, “Anyone who is addicted to great literary fiction should pick up this book because it has some of the finest stories written by Indian writers from the birth of the modern Indian short story in the second half of the 19th century up to the present day. The book comprises stories by beloved, award-winning writers like Rabindranath Tagore, Anita Desai, U.R. Ananthamurthy, Khushwant Singh, Nirmal Verma, Harishankar Parsai, Vikram Chandra, Amrita Pritam, Upamanyu Chatterjee and others. The only thematic similarity between these stories is that they are all exceptional feats of storytelling. Come to think of it, one of the most attractive things about this anthology is that very few of the stories are similar to each other. So these stories showcase an extraordinary range and diversity of writing.”
As novelist, publisher, editor and anthologist, Davidar juggles many hats. He admits, “I like all my roles because I continue to write fiction, publish authors I like, edit great books and put together anthologies from time to time. I’m truly fortunate to be able to do all these things.” The collection packs much into one volume, but as the publisher says, “I think any book should be chock-full of delights for the reader. If that’s the way it comes across to you, I couldn’t be happier. I do believe any reader who picks up this book will be entranced by the brilliance of the storytelling.”
Indian writers have always been quick to take advantage of any evolution in the form, says Davidar adding that the earliest modern short stories were being written in India within a few years of their taking root in various countries around the world. Today’s writing spans a variety of styles and forms from the classical to the modern to the experimental and post-modern. Spanning the gamut, this anthology showcases some of the very best stories in a variety of dazzling styles.
Davidar has said more than once that he wants Aleph to be a premium brand in publishing and today, he feels hugely satisfied with the way Aleph is shaping up. And for those seeking to publish, he says, “These days it is ridiculously easy to publish in India because most of the major publishers offer attractive self-publishing options, but there is a huge lack of quality editors in the country, so if you are looking to have your manuscript properly edited and shaped, that might be a bit more difficult to come by.”
Davidar signs off with some sound advice for aspiring writers, “There are two things you must keep in mind when you are planning to write a piece of fiction. The first is that no editor is waiting for your magnum opus and the second is that every editor is waiting for your magnum opus — especially if it is one. Let me explain. It is really, really difficult to write a great novel or short story so no matter what publishers claim, there are actually just a few great books published every year. Even more of a rarity is the exceptionally brilliant first novel or collection of stories and this is what every publisher is looking for. But it is not easy to write a great book, so my advice would be to write as though your life depended on it, take spectacular risks with your writing, read the greatest authors in your genre to see how their books come together, revise, revise, revise so that your book is a bona fide masterpiece.
“Most of the manuscripts we see are poorly written and imagined. However, if you have talent and are willing to work really hard at your craft and on your story you will probably write a good book.”...