It’s now two whole days since the awards ceremony concluded. There has been total silence from the press, with not even a routine parroting of official press releases. As Supriyadi comments on the preceding post, so far it’s only my blog and the Penguin site that have anything to say about the awards. Penguin just has a short notice saying that books published by them won in all the judged categories; Mike Bryan, the new CEO, was there to receive certificates on behalf of the Penguin authors who couldn’t make it. No major newspaper has so much as let the name ‘Crossword’ slip from their pagemakers.
This is partly because of the fact that most major Indian newspapers do not even have a books page, let alone a literary supplement of the type of the TLS. At breakfast yesterday in Bombay I talked to Robin David who’s an assistant editor for the Times of India in Ahmedabad, and whose book City of Fear was shortlisted for the Non-fiction category. He was in fact reading the Times of India for 3 July at the breakfast table, which was all about the fire at the Mahalaxmi Race Course. Robin said rather doubtfully that the TOI has an early deadline and the inordinate length of the ceremony had prevented the news about the award from being carried. His doubts are fully justified by the fact that the following day’s papers carried nothing as well.
This, oddly, includes the Calcutta-based papers, all of which have books pages, primarily because no Bengali will proudly say he does not read books even if it’s true (compare the urbanites of any other metro). Perhaps the events in Bombay were too remote and low key to make an impression on them. It’s also true that although the Crossword team worked tirelessly to make the actual event a success, there appeared to be a disconnect between the event managers and the publicity team. It seems that two different groups (or three, if there’s another lot for the website) deal with different aspects of the event and its fallout, and this is not efficient. Ideally, Crossword should have a permanent standing group working on the award, both during the seven months between the closing of submissions to the actual award, and afterwards, and they should be in charge of everything. The ceremony itself will not be news without buildup, and that buildup was entirely absent. It has to be part of a concerted campaign or it won’t happen.
The Indian press, regardless of what they might think of themselves, do not make news. They only react to whatever organisation or individual decides to tweak their tail. If you tell them forcefully that something is newsworthy, they believe you. Come to think of it, the media everywhere are like that, but perhaps more so in this country. Here we still think that if it isn’t politics or foreign, it isn’t news. Hence the continuing greater coverage given to the Booker Prize, because the foreign papers and channels cover it, and agency wire services syndicate it. You can report on the Booker Prize without ever leaving the side of your teleprinter. Anything that does not fit the paradigm will be ignored, or reported on only by people like me, who pay for their own webspace and can shoot their mouths off with impunity. The Crossword Book Award is not news because (a) no one was murdered, (b) no one threatened to withdraw support from the government, and (c) no one kissed anyone on stage.
Aha! Now if only Shilpa Shetty would write a book.