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Villager becomes a tycoon: Why everyone’s talking about Yasmeen Premji’s debut novel

It is a sweeping tale set between the 1857 mutiny and India’s Independence and features maharajas,courtesans and soothsayers.

Yasmeen Premji,the self-effacing spouse of Wipro chairman Azim Premji,is launching her debut novel Days of Gold and Sepia next week in Bangalore.

Published by HarperCollins India,it is the saga of ‘Lalljee Lakha’,an impoverished villager from Kutch who becomes Mumbai’s ‘cotton king’. It is a sweeping tale set between the 1857 mutiny and India’s Independence and features maharajas,courtesans and soothsayers.

Interestingly,Azim Premji’s ancestors came from Kutch,with Wipro having its origins in the cooking oil trade. In fact,Wipro is an acronym derived from the name ‘Western India Products’.

“The novel took root in my mind after listening to the accounts that my granny,mother and mother-in-law gave of their childhood. I was always fascinated by the extraordinary lives of ordinary people,” Yasmeen Premji told The Sunday Express. Lakha was “a person I would have really liked to meet”,she added.

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Wives of founders of several software companies are successful writers,including Sudha Murty,wife of Infosys’s Narayana Murthy; Rohini Nilekani,married to UIDAI chairman Nandan Nilekani; and Susmita Bagchi,wife of MindTree’s Subroto Bagchi.

After her Masters degree in psychology from the US,Premji had returned to Mumbai and studied interior design. She was an editor with the design magazine Inside Outside before moving to Bangalore. Premji in fact lent a hand in the designing of the Azim Premji Foundation headquarters in the city.

Mumbai-based literary agent Pervin Mahoney,a friend of Premji,said her story “captures the spirit of business pioneers such as Tata and even Ambani”.

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A recently created Facebook page on the novel paints a story of doomed love and family feuds,of personal integrity and human frailty. Author and MP Shashi Tharoor has described the novel as an “elegiac evocation of old Bombay”,and called Premji a compelling story-teller.

Premji said she always knew she wanted to be a writer. As a teenager,several of her short stories were published. What nudged her towards this novel was her father’s death.

In keeping with her discreet profile,the launch will be a minimalist event,with writer-playwright Girish Karnad reading from the book.

First published on: 29-07-2012 at 03:04:32 am
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