Lost opportunity

EducationWorld September 2018 | Education World Postscript

The death in London of celebrated writer and Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul on August 11 was not unexpected; he had been ailing for a long while. Although your editor who once knew him well, was estranged from him in the last decade of his life, one can’t help experiencing pain of loss because Naipaul’s acute observational skills, capability to read between the lines, interpret nuance and condense experience into terse and unsparing prose, are interred with him and gone for ever.

Your correspondent’s most intense engagement with this great writer was in the early 1990s when I was the Mumbai-based CEO of Datamatics Direct — India’s pioneer and premier direct mail marketing firm, a division of the Datamatics Group, chaired by Dr. Lalit Kanodia. At that time in collaboration with Naipaul and his agent Gillon Aitken, I ideated a brilliant plan to design, print and publish a limited edition collection of 23 of Naipaul’s books divided into the Caribbean, Americas, India and Islam series.

Under an agreement, Naipaul consented to write a special introduction for each series, and also sign the first volume of each set which would have earned him Rs.72 lakh. However, the Collected Works of V.S. Naipaul (CWVSN) project foundered because the sheet-white, chain-smoking Aitken expressed inability to raise a modest sum of £10,000 (Rs.10 lakh) required to launch a direct mail campaign targeting 50,000 high-net worth individuals across India, despite his boast that he had Britain’s top book publishers in the palm of his hand. This sure winner project didn’t enthuse Dr. Kanodia either and belatedly aroused the tepid interest of former Citibank India CEO Jerry Rao. But by then it was too late. My friendship with Naipaul was broken.

If that project which would have invited (by direct mail) 50,000 high-net worth individuals to purchase — first paid first served — the curated, autographed and limited edition (we planned to print only 2,000 sets) of CWVSN for their personal libraries at a mere Rs.35,000 per set, the market price of each set would have been over Rs.10 lakh today. Alas, it was not to be, and Naipaul will be less valued for it.

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