‘I wrote because I lacked self-confidence. As a writer, you can pretend you are a worm’
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CHARMY HARIKRISHNAN: Tell us something about your New Yorker days. What was the old New Yorker like?
The only New Yorker I know is the old New Yorker. It was a family business and there was an iron curtain between the editorial and the business departments. The money was made from glossy advertisements. If somebody wanted to sell a diamond and if there were only five people in the world who could buy it, he would advertise it in The New Yorker because all the well-off people would get The New Yorker. At the base of The New Yorker there was this great irony—as crass and commercial as the advertising was, so sensitive and delicate was the writing. It was like two different magazines. The editing process was amazing at the magazine. Not a word appeared in The New Yorker which hadn't been scrutinised by 16 readers. And many of these readers were master proofreaders, grammarians. When you picked up The New Yorker, you got the most finished piece of writing that was available at the time. In 1987, The New Yorker was acquired by a very rich media empire and within a few years, everything changed. The editor was fired although he had created The New Yorker. I happen to think small is beautiful and literature, by necessity, has to be nurtured and stay small. Once it becomes part of a big, huge organisation, something goes out of it. Books become commodities, magazines become commodities, newspapers become commodities. My wife still says that I should call my book about The New Yorker (Remembering Mr. Shawn's New Yorker: The Invisible Art of Editing) 'The Essential Word' because we used to spend months trying to find the right word for a particular impression.
COOMI KAPOOR: At a time when anyone afflicted by blindness in India could not have recovered from the handicap, you managed to overcome it. Can you tell us how you did it?
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