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Olives, red wine and contentment

THE GOOD old mirror is not exactly the best reflection of Pramod Kapoor's personality. What it reveals is just so obvious - double chin and sideburns which have been grey long enough for the sieve of memory to forget their heyday. His obviously well endowed belly goes farther than his pointed nose. He is round around the edges. And ample: All tell-tale signs of abiding prosperity, a contentment well earned.

What the mirror conceals is the story of a man who initially survived on a salary of a few hundred rupees in the Capital. Of a man who did not know what it meant to drive on the roads of Delhi - he travelled by an autorickshaw. Of a man who was denied the simple joys of home-cooked food - he used to eat out at a grimy dhaba, just off the Jhandewalan intersection where Karol Bagh is but a whistling distance. The man used to stay in WEA, "penniless after the 20th of every month". "My dhabawallah as also the autowallah used to adjust the bill on the first of the month," he recalls, the tone is faint, if there is any pride at having outlasted tough times, he does a good job of keeping it under wraps. "I was always into deficit finance and could afford to go out in the evening only once or twice a week," Kapoor reveals, sitting at New Delhi's Olive Bar and Kitchen. There is marble at his feet, gentle rays of early winter afternoon sun slant across to deposit on his lap. There is Italian food on his table. And red wine too.

Starting early

How did it all start?

"My family was into paper business back home in Benares. But from my days in Benares Hindu University, I firmed up the idea of getting into book publishing. Initially my family elders had some reservations about it but I came with their blessings. I started training at Macmillan's office in Daryganj in 1974. Later when I worked with them I got exposure to all facets of book publishing, from production to marketing, etc. I used to criticise everything. I guess it is easier to be brave at that age."

Along with bravery, Kapoor incorporated some wisdom too. And a dash of enterprise. Hence came Roli Books, a pictorial essay that mocked at the tradition of book publishing in a country where books meant academic, fiction was non-existent and printing often of poor quality.

As soup makes an appearance on the table at the ongoing Italian Food Festival, Kapoor recalls, "I started getting all colour books printed in Singapore. We still do but in those days you could not buy your air tickets in Indian rupees! I had my detractors who said my books were purchased for snob value but for every detractor there were people who supported me too. We started pricing the books intelligently because people are not dumb. People who pick up the book are interested in reading. I am a mass-market publisher. I believe the first job of a publisher is to entertain, then to educate. I am not here to do serious academic books. My books are actually like the Ghalib serial on TV in the days gone by, not the saas-bahu saga one sees now on the screen."

At ease

Talking of Ghalib and poetry, Olive Bar is just the kind of place to get your creative juices flowing even as one partakes of Parmigian di melanzana, classic Italian preparation made with eggplant, tomato sauce and cheese, etc or later, Ciliege al vino rosso, fresh cherries simmered in red wine from Umbria.

"I find the ambience here quite relaxing. The food is good too and the quality of service gives no reason to complain. It provides the best food in Western cuisine and is conveniently located for me on my home at Sainik Farms from the office in Greater Kailash."

Everything about Olive might be green and welcoming, including the moon balcony but Kapoor shares a secret. "I cook well. I love Indian curries. I am not fond of non-vegetarian stuff but I can make keema-matar and lamb curry well enough." Then comes a dampener for all those who think the man dons the apron every morning. "I find more solutions to my problems at breakfast table. I cook when in Landour."

All that is for later, for moments of greater leisure. For the moment, the "hands-on" boss of Roli Books is having a great time with his work, his craft. "I am having a ball with my books. I draw satisfaction when the book does well and fortunately we have only had bestsellers. God has been kind." And maybe on his side too.

"I have a temple at home," reveals Kapoor, a day ahead of a special pooja. There is tradition, there is tehzeeb. There is deity. There is devotion. Just the way it was in Benares many, many summers ago. All that has changed in the journey is the canvas. And the waistline.


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