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IN the 1950s, Soho was a part of London much frequented by writers and painters. Its restaurants were good and cheap and its pubs overpopulated. Dean Street could have been described as the centre, and in Dean Street was a pub officially called the Yorkminster. Its unofficial name was the French Pub, for its owner was French. Gaston Berlemont looked exactly like Hercule Poirot and capitalised on the resemblance. He gave impecunious artists credit, not always willingly. Above the teeming, noisy, and bohemian bar was a restaurant that served excellent French food. This restaurant was where I first met V.S. Naipaul.

arts-graphics-2008_1184758aAt that time I had a friend called Francis Wyndham, a literary critic and an editor with the publishing firm of Andre Deutsch. He kept telling me about a very promising young author from Trinidad and saying I should meet him. I had read and liked Naipaul’s first two books, but I did not see why I should meet a writer simply because I liked his work. After all I was a writer too. Francis coyly said that his author and I had many things in common. I wanted to know what.

“I don’t write novels,” I said. “He doesn’t write poetry.”

“He was at Oxford a couple of years before you.” Francis said.

“That,” I said, “is ridiculous. Why should I waste this poor man’s time because he was at Oxford a couple of years before me?”

“It’s strange,” Francis replied. “Vidia said exactly the same about you when I mentioned this to him. You see, you two do have a lot in common.”

Finally he arranged lunch at the French pub. I liked Naipaul very much as a person. He was very shy — so was I — and as I had told Francis we had nothing whatsoever in common.rieff-600

Over lunch, we talked about books we had read. I have forgotten what they were. Later I mentioned the matter to a friend, who knew Francis and laughed.

“Don’t you know what Vidia Naipaul and you have in common,” he inquired.

“Francis may have been too polite to say so, but you both have brown skins. He may think he was the only White friend either of you had, and that you should keep each other company in this English wilderness.”

swal1That was the first time I ever met Naipaul. Later, when he wrote An Area of Darkness, I reviewed it. I thought it was a wonderful book. After this we had lunch together once or twice. Over the long years since then, we have had occasional, but always friendly, meetings in one place or another. He is a very wise and witty man, when he allows himself to be. I, therefore, rather wish that our last meeting hadn’t been at a recent literary conference that started in Delhi and went on to the famous heritage hotel built out of the old fort of Neemrana.

Apart from the hazards of precipitous steps, not meant for people like me who suffer from vertigo, it was a beautiful place, in which 60-odd writers uneasily allowed themselves to relax and face one another. On our first day there, a poetry reading took place. I read some poems and Naipaul congratulated me on them. I felt pleased about this. He had become different in his appearance and now looked like a famous writer as well as being one. He had also acquired what most famous writers do, an entourage, which constantly hovered around him.

That evening we had dinner in a garden, and were sitting about at various tables afterwards. Some distance away from where we were, I noticed mild confusion. Soon after this another guest came up and said, “Sir Vidia has had the most frightful fight with the American Ambassador’s wife. Each of them ordered the other to leave the party. I don’t know who won.”

A few moments later Naipaul stamped crossly up steep steps to our table, sat down, and said, “The Americans are giving a reception for us tomorrow night. All of you are my friends, and none of you will attend it.” A prolonged and confused silence fell upon us all.

At this point another friend of mine arrived, led up to the table by his wife Lin. This was Ved Mehta, who cannot see. In the uncertain light, she did not notice Naipaul or inform Ved that he was among those present. This was unfortunate, since he, addressing us all, inquired in a concerned fashion, “Do you think Naipaul has become a megalomaniac?”

The English writer David Pryce-Jones, who was with Ved and me at university, leant over and whispered, “Careful, Ved! Careful!”

Ved replied, “Why should I be careful, David? I honestly think there’s something wrong with him.” Sir Vidia rose and walked away.

Next day, like Achilles, he sulked in his tent, or bedroom, demanding that the Ambassador’s wife should send him a written apology. Author after author went up to plead with him before he rejoined the conference.

He was not present at the American party. The rest of us went. A great change had taken place in the shy young writer I first met in the French pub. Change isn’t always for the better.

Dom Moraes is a writer, poet and columnist based in Mumbai.

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Bombadil Publishing was founded in the autumn of 2007 as a youth to youth publishing house. This new concept invites youngsters to write for their own peer group, expressing their ideas, stories and visions in a clear, professional manner. There are no editors, but mentors and life coaches who guide the authors through the world of publishing; authors and mentors work in symbiosis and are involved in the entire process together. At Bombadil Publishing a book is only a true representation of the author’s inner thoughts, ideas and passions if the authors are able to express themselves without shackles or censorship.
During the past year, Bombadil Publishing, named after the adventurous and independent Lord of the Ring character, Tom Bombadil, has started a revolution in publishing, and given a voice to so many young people around the world. In fact Bombadil now has authors on all continents, and new countries and areas are added at a very fast rate. The reason behind this expansion seems to be the wish of the young Bombadilians to unite across borders, sharing their love and passion for books and the written word; since they are dynamic youngsters who really want to involve and share what they believe in, Bombadil has evolved from being just a publisher to becoming a lifestyle.
Lifestyle is important as it reflects a philosophy, which penetrates deep into the inner fabrics of the person. A lifestyle is subscribed to, not bought. All authors get paid royalties and all authors retain copyright to their work, as fairness is part of the lifestyle to which Bombadil subscribes ‐ fairness and equality regardless of colour, creed or social standing. Issues, thoughts and ideas are discussed and spread, not to belittle but to empower. Confident youngsters should stand tall side by side their confident peers giving a more equal and peaceful world. Such confidence is spread because young people are heard through their written words.
All manuscript and book ideas are welcome at Bombadil, and the traditional division into genres and groups has been taken away. Saying that, a book is still assigned a genre once it is published, though sometimes such genres are not the traditional ones, and new ones evolve. There is for example Fairasy, a mix between fantasy and fairy tales, aimed particularly at readers between 12 and 15. Fairasy is a bit softer and a bit kinder, doing away with some of the blood gushing of traditional Fantasy and the naivety of frog kissing princesses of fairy tales.
Another new genre is Challenge Poetry, which opens up a new straightforward poetic pathos in a refreshing and honest disposition. Both of these genres are the inventions of Bombadilian authors. They wanted to express themselves, and focused more on the idea than the potential boxes into which these ideas could fit. So they broke the boundaries and were heard – their way. They wanted to be free and became free with Bombadil.
Freedom is expressed in many ways, and an important cornerstone of Bombadil Publishing is the idiosyncratic need for freedom of speech without which there cannot be democracy. True democracy is based on the ability to make informed choices, but if freedom of speech is not exercised because knowledge and information is censored, there cannot be true democracy. Many young people are today not able or even allowed to form an educated opinion about the world into which they are about to enter as freeliving, influential members of society, and their voices are not heard. Many young people write with a zest for life and a passion for the world they live in, and it is Bombadil’s mission to allow this passion to echo throughout the world. Perhaps when all young people are united through their passion, a new and open world will emerge where there is democracy, individual integrity and respect for the world and its people at large. One voice will be heard, and many voices will make each of those louder!
Bombadil Publishing is incorporated in both the United Kingdom and in Sweden and publishes books mainly English and Swedish, though many more languages are being added. The management is in Nora, a small town in central southern Sweden, amongst great lakes, birch forests and majestic elks. All books maintain a high quality and are printed in Sweden. To compensate on the effect publishing has on forests, a tree is planted for each title published. Read more on www.bombadilpublishing.com send an email with stories, ideas or manuscripts to Marianne@bombadilpublishing.com.

UNESCO’s world book day is on 23 April. To mark the event, Bombadil wants, nay, needs submissions from all authors between the ages of 12 and 26 – short stories, poetry, letters, essays – and anything else you can think of, to be published within twenty-four hours! Short or long, fact of fiction, poetry or prose, it’s all welcome!

This is a not-for-profit book. We will cover our expenses and then donate the profit to charity. So, we will not be paying royalties, sorry, you will just have to make do with the glory of challenging the idea that publishing is slow and unwieldy and that books take years to produce. That and the satisfaction of seeing your name in print and reaching Bombadil’s audience with your writing! People, pick up your pens, tap on your typewriters and compose on your computers and become part of the Bombadil revolution! The deadline is 21st April. Email submissions to worldbookday@bombadilpublishing.com

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