Mumbai-based writer and The Pioneer columnist Ashok Banker has created a record of sorts by signing an unprecedented three-book contract for The New Ramayana, a 540,000-word imaginative retelling of the ancient Indian epic.
Banker's is perhaps the biggest book contract ever signed by an Indian author. The first book in the series is expected to be published in late 2002 or early 2003.
Disclosing this to The Pioneer on Tuesday, Banker said that North American hard cover and paperback rights had been bought by Warner Little Brown, USA. The UK and Commonwealth rights were sold to Warner Little Brown, UK, while German rights were given for a six-figure (USD) sum that seems to be a record for an Indian author.
According to him, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Dutch, and Czechoslovakian rights are under negotiation, while various other foreign rights are expected to follow in time. An offer for film rights may be in the offing from a major Hollywood studio, details of which will be confirmed only once contracts are signed.
While the total advances against royalties are difficult to calculate as more contracts are still being signed in various foreign currencies at varying rates of exchange, the deal is already worth eight-figures INR and easily expected to cross nine-figures INR, not including the possible film rights deal.
"All I can say is that this could possibly be the biggest book contract ever signed by an Indian author," Banker said.
The New Ramayana is an imaginative retelling on an epic scale, narrated in an original narrative style that was specially singled out for praise by the editors. Based on independent and in-depth research conducted by the author himself, The New Ramayana is part of an ambitious project envisioned by Banker, who is already at work researching the seven-volume The New Mahabharata.
"I have grown up listening to and reading fascinating tales of Ramayana and Mahabharata. My dream has long been to bring ancient India to life for a whole new generation of Indians - and readers everywhere. Though there have been English translations of parts of the two epics. But, so far, no writer has attempted to write a full-length narrative of the two epics, Banker said. Banker has chosen not to permit an Indian edition; instead, Little Brown, UK will export copies to the sub-continent through their local affiliate company, Viking Penguin India.
Banker worked secretly on the project full-time for two years, giving up the hackwork and prolific column and scriptwriting he was known for, while research and gestation of the concept dates back over 20 years, since the time he wished there could be a version of the ancient Indian epics narrated in a style and language that would appeal to modern readers.
A prolific writer, the 37-year-old writer has so far authored seven books, including five novels. They include: Vertigo, Ten dead Ad men, Byaculla Boy, Murder on Champagne and Iron Bra. Besides, he has written four Internet books and a book on CD-Rom. Prior to signing The New Ramayana, he had signed five non-fiction book contracts. Of these five books, three have already been written; one has just been published. Banker, who was at one time writing six to eight columns for different publications, has of late cut down his writing assignments in newspapers. However, he has uninterruptedly been writing a weekly column Footsie in Sunday Pioneer ever since it was launched last year. A lone son of Gujarathi father and anglo-Indian mother, Banker had a difficult childhood. That did not deter him from pursuing writing as a career. He took to writing at the age of 13-14 years, when he used to write for children and letters to editor columns in various newspapers. Even in his school days, he had written three futuristic novels, none of which were published.
Though he aspired to do graduation in English literature in St. Xavier's college, a 19-year-old Banker dropped out of the college in 1983, owing to financial difficulties at home. He later began working with Hindustan Thompson Associate (HTA) as a trainee copywriter. He was an ad-man for the seven years, during which he saw lots of ups and downs on his domestic front. Knowing full well that writing would earn him a living, Banker became a full-fledged writer in the early 90s.
Published in DailyPioneer.