Noted publisher Shobit Arya is neither pretentious with his books nor at the lunch table
He claims to whip up such magic with omelettes that some day one will have to walk across to Shobit Arya’s home to savour the delight. The invitation will take some time coming. For the moment though, he is happy to share the culinary secret with us. “Many years ago, just when I got my printing press going, there was a dhaba wallah by the name of Jameel near the press. He used to make such wonderfully fluffy omelettes that I often had them just to take my mind away from work. Over a period I observed him. He would never beat the egg in a bowl but on a flat plate, making sure to leave the yolk untouched until the very end. I learnt from him. Now, I can make really fluffy omelettes,” says Shobit, helping himself to Panzanella salad at Le Meridien’s quietly elegant The One restaurant.
Dapper and unpretentious as ever, Shobit, the brain behind Wisdom Tree publishers, reveals that for many years he maintained his printing press alongside his publishing business. In fact, he got into publishing because of printing! That was some 13 years ago. “For many years we used to do printing for others and while doing that I thought we could do some of our own too!” The move has been, well, wise. And quite successful. Today, he counts the likes of Ashok Banker and Shashi Tharoor, Bharat Thakur and Awdhesh Singh among his authors. His book list is eclectic; there are lifestyle options, those feel-good ones too. Then there are those that hit the headlines like Banker’s “Sons of Sita” or “India: The Future is Now” that has been edited by Shashi Tharoor and saw the young guns of Indian politics make a beeline for the book at the release. Then there is the recently launched “Spiritual Intelligence” by Singh where the author adds a nice little parallel to the concept of emotional intelligence. Or the autobiography of Pandit Ravi Shankar that related the maestro’s story through plenty of visuals.
Thankfully, Shobit stays assiduously clear of those high tomes which bring up the bulk in many public libraries, being pretty happy to publish books that would strike a chord with the common man, not necessarily only with those nurturing intellectual pretentions. It is a well thought out strategy. “When we started out, nobody was doing books of that genre,” he says.
It is a niche well created. However, it is not a nice safe perch yet. The fresh challenge comes from the big guns with giants like Random House and Penguin joining hands. It might just squeeze out competition, feel many. Shobit though insists, “The challenge is in front of us. We will have to be smart. We will have to distribute our books with care and make sure that our dedicated readers get the books. Maybe, online distribution will help us.”
Where he won’t have to fight for his share is at the lunch table. He is such a frugal eater that he can make a partner at the lunch table appear a glutton in comparison! As he confesses, he just takes some fruits for lunch, preferring only an elaborate dinner. Today, though, by his very modest standards, he is guilty of over-eating. Taking a little helping of the cucumber-onion-capers salad, Shobit says, his average day in this age of fierce competition and multi-tasking, could encapsulate a meeting with his editors, confabulations with his authors and even a visit to the press. “I am a hands-on person. I prefer to look at every book, every page myself.”
He can go on and on about his books, how he tries to have a book launch at least in the author’s city, how he plans to have more launches across the country and the like. For the moment though, cottage cheese steak vies for his attention. He nibbles some more. But fails to finish the stuff, nursing a guilty feeling, “I do not waste food. I was taught this early in my life by my father.”
It is only on persistent requests that he finally agrees to have juice and illy coffee with eggless cake and lychee mousse. The mousse is pretty good, the coffee even better he declares, then remembers Jameel’s omelette. Jameel, anyone?