A million and counting

Print edition : January 24, 1998

ARUNDHATI ROY's Booker-winning, internationally acclaimed novel The God of Small Things (Frontline, November 14, 1997) crossed "an international dateline in publishing terms" around Christmas 1997: it had sold a million copies worldwide and was climbing relentlessly, according to her London-based agent, David Godwin of David Godwin Associates.

Arundhati Roy autographs copies of her book at a Colombo book shop. - SRIYANTHA WALPOLA

Here is a break-up of estimated sales (all in hardback editions unless otherwise specified): the United States - 240,000; Germany - 210,000; the United Kingdom - 130,000 plus 100,000 in a U.K.-based paperback export edition; Italy - 120,000; Book Club editions (paperback) - 100,000; India - 80,000; Norway - 75,000; Holland - 40,000 (paperback at hardback price); Canada - 40,000. The list is incomplete and additional sales figures from smaller markets are awaited. The God of Small Things is also due for publication in various other countries and languages in the coming months. What is notable is that sales of the book's editions in languages other than English are approaching the half million mark. According to an international magazine which recently contacted Arundhati's agent, her novel is "the fifth biggest selling book in the world" right now.

Godwin, who does not seem given to overstatement, reckons that a U.K. paperback edition will sell over a million copies and an American paperback edition another million. He predicts that The God of Small Things will end up selling over five million copies. All this, he concedes, is "very unusual" for a literary work of quality.

Ashok Jain case

ON January 8, the Supreme Court cleared the decks for the custodial interrogation of media baron Ashok Kumar Jain in a Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA) violation case. The Bench, comprising Justices K.T. Thomas, S.P. Kurdukar and M.K. Mukherjee, allowed an appeal filed by the Enforcement Directorate (E.D.) against granting pre-arrest bail for Jain, Chairman of Bennett, Coleman & Co. Limited. Earlier, Justice Anil Dev Singh of the Delhi High Court had decreed that the E.D. could interrogate Jain only after taking clearance from a medical board of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (Frontline, December 26, 1997).

The Supreme Court Bench criticised the Delhi High Court for fixing the modalities for the interrogation, which, it said, "would, in our opinion, considerably impair the efficient functioning of the investigating authorities under FERA." "The authorities should have been given freedom," the Bench said, "to chalk out such measures as are necessary to protect the health of the person who would be subjected to interrogatory process. They cannot be nailed to fixed modalities stipulated by the court for conducting interrogations."

The Court also upheld the verdict of Additional Sessions Judge M.A. Khan, who had earlier rejected Jain's anticipatory bail petition on the ground that it would hamper proper and effective investigation.

Jain was admitted to Bombay Hospital the day after the Supreme Court judgment was delivered and was reported to be in the intensive care unit. E.D. officials declined to comment on what measures they proposed to take to obtain Jain's statement on the charges against him.

The Supreme Court also decreed that the period for investigation of FERA charges against Jain be extended for another six months. Under Section 41 of FERA, the investigation will have to be completed within a maximum period of one year from the date of search at the premises of the accused. Jain's residence was raided by E.D. officials on January 4, 1997.

Gill's conviction upheld

CHANDIGARH District and Sessions Judge Amar Dutt upheld on January 6 the conviction of K.P.S. Gill, former Director-General of Police, Punjab, for "outraging the modesty" of Indian Administrative Service officer Rupen Deol Bajaj.

Judge Dutt, however, reduced the sentence awarded by the Chief Judicial Magistrate's court in August 1996 (Frontline, September 6, 1996). Instead of facing three months in jail, Gill will now have to pay a fine of Rs.2 lakhs to Rupen Bajaj and a further Rs.50,000 in legal expenses. Gill, who will serve a supervised probation of three years, was also ordered not to drink in public places.

Rupan Deol Bajaj.

Gill's troubles began at a party he attended in 1988 in the wake of Operation Bluestar. Rupen Bajaj contended that during the party, Gill had, in an intoxicated state, slapped her posterior. Although the High Court quashed the First Information Report she filed, the Supreme Court later described Gill's act as a "gross error".

The most notable feature of the subsequent trial was the complete unwillingness of witnesses on either side to provide reliable or accurate testimony. Most of the guests at the party were senior bureaucrats and officials. The Chief Judicial Magistrate's judgment relied largely on Bajaj's testimony, arguing that a respectable lady with no malice against Gill would not lie.

For a change, neither party in this high-profile case has chosen to go public with their reactions. While Gill's supporters see the case as a test of national respect for his role in checking the Khalistan insurgency, Bajaj's advocates have taken the position that it was a key struggle against sexual harassment. In fact, the relative media disinterest this time around has come as a pleasant surprise. Both Gill and Bajaj still have the option of going to the High Court, a possibility neither has ruled out as yet.

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