How Much Should Have Nawazuddin Spilled? We Asked Authors, Editors
As Nawazuddin Siddiqui withdraws his memoir, most authors and publishers agree he should’ve taken approvals first.
A memoir ain’t an easy thing to write. Imagine laying bare the unseemliest, ungainliest bits and pieces of your life from a time when you were a Nobody (you are clearly a Somebody now to be writing your memoir) and inviting curious onlookers to have a good looksy. No, the job isn’t easy; but it is made far harder when you have to, also, navigate bits and pieces from other people’s lives. Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s An Ordinary Life has made no ordinary ripples, managing to be pulled from the shelves within a week of its release.
For the uninitiated, the Bollywood actor’s book faced legal ramifications after he wrote at length about his past relationships. While one aspect of his book mentioned a fellow actor he had a relationship with (while simultaneously involved with someone else) – yet another spoke of suicidal urges which saw him teetering on the edge of a railway track as a jilted lover.
“I Wouldn’t Cross a Line”
The long and short of it is that Siddiqui’s book is off the market – but it leaves in its trail, a plethora of questions…. How much liberty can you take, after all, when writing about your life? What good will withdrawing a book after its most contentious parts are already out there, do? And what of the publisher’s money?
I have written two memoirs; one about my childhood and one about my love story, and I can tell you from experience that memoir writing is a challenging task. I would want to spill every detail of my life without holding things back. However, I wouldn’t cross a line with other people’s lives; you can’t put them on the anvil with you.Ravinder Singh, Author, ‘I Too had a Love Story’ (among several other commercial bestsellers)
What is the best way out, in his opinion?
If I were to write a memoir of my life involving other people, I would take their approval first and get them on my side. If they refused and I still felt their stories were integral to my book, I would take liberties to fictionalise their stories under pseudonyms. The safest route, though, would be to keep them anonymous.
Concurs Prerna Vohra, Commissioning Editor at Hachette Book Group:
Nawazuddin could have gone with ‘former Miss India’ or ‘a certain actress’ to avoid trouble. As an editor, I would have suggested anonymity as the best way to go.
But aren’t publishers already involved in the process of the book at a time when potentially libellous things are being written in the first place? What nature of vetting would a book such as Nawaz’s memoir, go through?
If it is a memoir detailing the lives of people other than the author’s, you get it vetted by a lawyer. Every such book needs to go through a legal check because you do not want to invite defamation suits. You can then advise the author accordingly, or change the language in the book. Sometimes, authors don’t pay heed to your advice, but if it could blow up into a legal matter, you need to put your foot down!Prerna Vohra, Commissioning Editor, Hachette Book Group
It isn’t just the ‘offending’ author in a lawsuit – in this case, Nawazuddin Siddiqui – who’d face the heat from a slapdash withdrawal. What of the publisher who has invested their money and charted a distribution deal?
The biggest fallout, of course, would be in sale numbers. The publisher would also have to pulp all copies of the book which would mean losing all the money you’ve spent on printing. It’d be a loss-making procedure.Amrita Mukerji, Deputy Managing Editor, HarperCollins
Better Late Than Never
Vani, author of The Recession Groom, thinks the call is still better late than never.
See, of course, the damage has been done – the book is already out in the public domain. But if Nawazuddin Siddiqui wants to, he can relaunch the book without the controversial excerpts. All the same, it [taking back his book] is the right thing to do. Tweets are deleted all the time, politicians renege on their statements – so why not withdraw a book that has hurt so many people?
Besides, as Vani asserts, this isn’t the first time a book has been recalled.
Remember when the book ‘How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life’ was pulled for plagiarism? Yes, people will remember what Nawazuddin wrote about, but at least you can rest easy that you’ve done the right thing.
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