David Davidar shown the door

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Many of you are familiar with David Davidar. He’s the author of the best-selling novels ‘The House of Blue Mangoes’ and ‘The Solitude of Emperors,’ and was head of Penguin India for many years, before moving to Penguin Canada in 2004, a rising star in the publishing industry. Well, Davidar left Penguin abruptly this week.

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Penguin Group vice-president Yvonne Hunter announced Tuesday that the charismatic CEO is leaving the company to return to his native India to “pursue his successful writing career and other projects.” [TOI]

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At least that’s the spin the company initially tried to put on Davidar’s departure. Via Ashok Banker, I learned that Davidar had been essentially fired after Lisa Rundle, a former Penguin employee, filed a $523,000 sexual harrassment lawsuit against Penguin and Davidar.

The accusations are accompanied by quotations from several e-mail messages Mr. Davidar allegedly sent to Ms. Rundle during the period in question. Last year, he is said to have written that he “could do very little except think of [Ms. Rundle],” that she was “utterly gorgeous,” “a vision in pink sipping a champagne cocktail,” and that she should not be “stubborn” or “fight” him.

“Davidar over time became more and more intense with his persistent protestations of lust and desire for Lisa,” according to the claim, “and in return she became increasingly disturbed and afraid.”

The harassment allegedly culminated in an outright assault at the Frankfurt Book Fair last October when, according to the claim, Mr. Davidar appeared at Ms. Rundle’s hotel room door, “wearing excessive cologne, with buttons on his shirt undone down his waist.”

“Lisa stood in her hotel room into which Davidar had bullied his way, with her arms crossed, still near the door, and asked what he needed to discuss,” it said. “He told her to relax and just let him come in. She refused and said she wanted to go to sleep.”

Ms. Rundle claims she climbed on a windowsill to avoid her boss and again asked him to leave. “He forcibly pulled her off the ledge and grabbed her by the wrists, forcing his tongue into her mouth,” it said. [Globe and Mail]

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p>Davidar says he’ll fight the charges “vigorously,” but the evidence might be pretty incriminating if Penguin has already terminated him.

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p>UPDATE: Davidar’s wife is standing by him.

“We’ll get through this together,” says Rachna, who comes from a prominent book-selling family in New Delhi and managed McNally Robinson’s former bookstore in Don Mills. They’ve been together for 15 years.

“He can’t talk,” she says, gently. “Please don’t ask him.” [Link]

UPDATE 2: As Khoofi notes in the comments, literary critic Nilanjana Roy has written a post in support of Davidar.

Nothing in his record at Penguin India, and nothing in my personal and professional dealings with him, makes it easy to believe these allegations. I know character is no defence, but sometimes a man’s character does count. I hope the truth will prevail, as David has said in his statement, whatever that truth is. [Link]

(An earlier version of this post included speculation from Banker that I’ve decided to remove.)

33 thoughts on “David Davidar shown the door

  1. I thought he was married. Guess that doesn’t stop many. Perhaps this will make him a little more humble?

  2. If only he were more famous then Davidar would become like Gaydar. “I can’t believe my boss did that to his assistant. My davidar must be off.”

  3. “Mr. Davidar appeared at Ms. Rundle’s hotel room door, “wearing excessive cologne, with buttons on his shirt undone down his waist.””

    Now doesn’t that make a pretty picture. Can’t imagine why that would be a turn off. Is he stuck in the 1970s? Icky Indian guido.

  4. Only Hef has pulled off the old editorial-meeting-in-the-bedroom-with-scantly-dressed-women-around stunt. Other than that, it like the roommate switch, can’t be done. so clearly his judgments off.

  5. I bet everytime he watched “Mad Men” and would say “Now this is how you treat a lady!”

  6. Let’s hope no author got her manuscript published after having an “editorial meeting”

    Let’s also hope Ashok Banker is not saying all this because he did not get his manuscript published after having that editorial meeting.

  7. Davidar always seemed like a shady charachter. He had his buddy Khushwant Singh feature a glowing review of his horrid house of blue mangoes in Outlook magazine before a reader brought it to notice. His book even featured a map and was hard cover and was used to literally flush bookstores across the country out of space for better books.

  8. Let’s also hope Ashok Banker is not saying all this because he did not get his manuscript published after having that editorial meeting.

    I thought the same at first but I also wondered if he is voluntarily divulging a conflict-of-interest and letting us decide his credibility.

    Worse yet Lisa Rundle looks extremely unattractive imho

    It may all be only alleged at this point but enough with the predictable denigrating of the accuser in a sexual harrassment issue.

  9. It is wrong of Penguin to fire him merely because a civil suit has been filed against him. He should sue Penguin for breach of contract.

  10. Penguin fired him because the victim had his text messages and emails containing lewd and inappropriate comment and he didn’t deny he sent them. Well he did deny the allegations before he knew she had saved them. When Penguin is paying big legals for employment law advice, mistakes aren’t made.

  11. Rabindranath, the point isn’t the civil suit, it’s evidence of wrongdoing and misuse of his position. Besides you’re failing to consider the possibility that this had happened before and the company had tolerated it. It’s more likely Penguin could sue Davidar than the other way around.

    What’s with all the dissing of the victim? It’s in really bad taste by the way.

    Let’s also hope Ashok Banker is not saying all this because he did not get his manuscript published after having that editorial meeting.

    Reading Banker’s original blog post (which, by the way, appears to be the first Indian blog or news site to talk about the story) I see he clearly mentions that Davidar in fact offered him a contract at that editorial meeting – which Banker refused to sign. Shobha De is also mentioned in that context. Besides, I’m pretty certain Banker’s primary publisher for most of his career has been Penguin India, and Davidar was head of Penguin India too – until this recent resignation.

  12. dont jump to conclusions just yet. the accusations are pretty graphic but here’s another perspective

    When David set up Penguin India, publishing in Delhi–and the media world, which I came from–was a male, and often a male chauvinist, bastion. Penguin was run David’s way; it was my first experience of working in an office that was woman-friendly and non-sexist. Over his decades in publishing in India, there was never a sense that he treated women inappropriately, or with excessive familiarity, or indeed with anything less than respect. Knowing him personally, it’s hard to believe that he would ever use physical force on a woman–that is just not the David I know. Some of the men I’ve worked with were famous for their contemptuous approach to women; in many media or publishing offices, x or y were pointed out to Bright Young Things as people whose desks you avoided unless you wanted to be chased around said desk. David was not one of them. He could be a ruthless competitor and an aggressive, demanding boss, but he was also known for his integrity–and that included the way he treated all of the women he worked with and knew.

    you may wonder why rundle would make up such accusations without cause. well… this has happened in the past . personally, the sexting and flirting is believable. so is the random act in the hotel… but showing up liek a desi guido was a little too much color for me. something’s black in the lentils. also, the guy’s only been in the office (and in canada) for six months. if the accusations are true, the guy is going through a mental breakdown or there are precedents which will come out now. so far, nilanjana’s commentary rings truer than what rundle says.

  13. There’s a nastiness to Ashok Banker’s post about this that I find to be unfortunate. (When someone falls, it’s unseemly to start dishing all the dirt you had on them on the internet. Not if you want to retain the trust and respect of others in the same business…)

    I would also add that “Joggrite” sounds a little suspiciously like Ashok Banker.

  14. I don’t know Lisa Rundle, but I used to know David, years back in Bombay when he roomed (at/around) the YMCA in Colaba, in the eighties. David is a typical Nadar manhunk, and a gracious charmer, and Khandri, David could have any girl he wanted. The guy doesn’t need cologne and a ripped up shirt to charm to charm anyone. This allegation is very out of form. But then so is the case of Shiney Ahuja (the Indian semi-art-house actor) who is currently being prosecuted for sexual harassment. Whatever happens I hope David puts his troubles behind him. And all strength to Rachna. And to Ashok, who always in those days, was flinging himself at…(OK I won’t say at who or what because I don’t want to dig up the dirt on Ashok) he was one of those better off South Bombay kids who was trying to be cool and miserably failing at it, and getting mocked at in the process. You know the kind who would go faux cool, jeans but pristine blue,starched and pressed, sneakers, but clean ones, kababs but not at Bade Miya or Baghdadi but at President, bhangda fry but not at Gokuls. So Ashok, please stop such a xxxxx if you know what I mean.

  15. Amardeep, I hear you on the ‘nastiness’ part. I’ve known Ashok a bit (though I’m not him!) over the years and I know he can be harsh at times. But no more than Jyotsana below is about Ashok, as you can see. Besides, Ashok has been vocal about criticizing publishing throughout his career so his post is quite in keeping with his form. As for trust and respect, well, as you can see here, for people at the top even sexually assaulting an employee gets their friends defensive (and attacking the victim) rather than costing them anything. Whereas criticizing the sexual predator simply because he’s a friend or former colleague is apparently quite acceptable. That speaks of a certain sliminess that is quite distasteful. Not being in publishing, I don’t know what trust and respect you’re speaking about, but it must take a great deal of it to attack a victim and criticize even her looks (as some have done here) while staunchly defending what appears to be an indefensible and highly misogynistic behavior.

    Jyotsana, I’ve known Ashok since college days though we haven’t been in touch the past several years. He’s never lived in South Mumbai, never been ‘better off’. He came from a quite impoverished Catholic Goan family and I recall him owning only one pair of jeans for most of his life. He was also with the same girl/woman since the age of, oh, I don’t know, late teens, and I believe is still married to her and has grown up kids. I’ve never heard allegations or even rumors of him throwing himself at anyone – it’s far from his form, in fact. I find your tone quite nasty and unpleasant. As for the description of his lifestyle, I can confirm that he most definitely was broke most of his young life though I believe he’s now made some money. I think he still owes me for a dinner or two at Mahesh back when it was a simply Gomantak seafood place on P.M. Road where we worked together at the same ad agency. Don’t you think it’s possible that you’re simply slinging mud without knowing the person and getting your hands dirty in the process? It’s quite clear you have some issue with him personally, but that’s no excuse to go making up lies and bitching about him on a public forum.

    Roshan Tarneja

  16. I hear (understandable) appeals to not start badmouthing the accuser. Just hope people will extend the same courtesy to the accused – who should, in fairness, be assumed innocent until…you know…

  17. Jogg,

    I did not say Ashok lived in S.Bombay, he came off as a S.Bombay kid. And yes I do know he is settled down. I am quite sure your standards of being broke are quite different from mine. I have survived on toasted jam sandwiches off the streets by Regal and Eros. And some of us who lived at YMCA back in the day managed to get by on very little. Of course I have never eaten at Kaal Bhairav across from the fishing docks – a little South of Sassoon Docks – but I have at every other place on Colaba Causeway, starting from Olympic all the way South to that place around the street from Colaba Market. Martin’s, KPs etc were payday places those days. So we may be talking of different standards. It’s just that when I find someone stabbed in the back, I don’t like passersby, trying to twist the knife in.

  18. wunderbar, well said. That’s where I agreed with Amardeep about Ashok Banker going overboard in his criticism of Davidar. Then again, if he has his own personal experience of the man, and it was an unflattering one, that’s really for him to decide how much to say or not. But I’m on your side of watching and waiting to see what comes out in the end. (It also helps that I’ve never met or known Davidar or had anything do with publishing)…

    Jyotsna, I can tell you for a fact that Ashok as a boy and young man was utterly broke. He worked his way through his last years of school and had to leave college to get a job for Rs 700 a month. (That’s where I met him, though I was in Accounts Servicing and he in Creative.) He owned the one pair of jeans which he washed himself, and on that Rs 700 he had to commute from his very dinghy flat somewhere in Khar, support a very sick mother (she died later under sad circumstances) and manage her treatment as well. I’ve never personally had a friend poorer than him in my life, and I only visited his flat a couple of times, because it was so sad to see a 19-year old literally feeding his own mother by hand and making ends meet. He slept on the floor because he had no furniture – they couldn’t afford any. He ate raw eggs for breakfast in the office canteen, followed by plain pav. Being on client job bags (as we called the petty cash accounts back then), I often treated him for meals and once I recall his chappals broke and he had to manage the day barefoot because he couldn’t afford to buy new ones. I don’t think you know just how poor he was. Some of us visited him after his mother died and he could barely afford to pay for her coffin. I know another close friend now a film maker who lent him some money and was too sorry to ever ask for it back.

    As for the back stabbing, well, I’ve already commented on that. But I don’t think it’s “back” stabbing if it’s done publicly on a blog on your own website! And it’s far more honest than your attempt at character assassination. The point isn’t that either Ashok or Davidar are perfect, the point simply is that Davidar is in the public eye for whatever reason and anyone, including all of us here, are justified in expressing opinions on the matter, as is Ashok. So why the personal attacks on one and the loyalty defense on the other?

    Roshan

  19. Wasn’t there an Infosys executive who got the ax for the same reasons ? Lots of horny corporate types out there…

  20. When someone falls, it’s unseemly to start dishing all the dirt you had on them on the internet.

    Indeed, and I’m sorry I included Ashok Banker’s speculation in an earlier version of this post. I’m inclined to believe Nilanjana Roy’s words about Davidar’s integrity. Not that he’s necessarily innocent in this particular case (though we should presume he is). We’re all capable of lapses in judgement.

  21. Everybody seems to know everybody else. Please come clean with personal connections, skirmishes, disagreements etc while mud-slinging or expressing outrage :) (If I remember correctly, there is at least one more undeclared history.) I appreciate Roshan’s inclusion of his real-world identity.

    I don’t know Banker personally but from what I know of his biography/life and opinions that is in print here and there, I had long ago decided that he is my hero among all Indian writers in English (that I don’t know personally) and among all Indian upper middle-class youth that had to survive dysfunctional and outside-of-the-norm personal histories. The way I see it, he has nothing to lose anymore; so he can afford to be different and brash in every which way. To me, he is refreshing as it is a very small, homogeneous Indian English writer/publishing world out there.

  22. I don’t asign too much worth on these “I know him and he never did that in my presence” aguments. You don’t really hear that for other crimes: “I knew OJ and he never stabbed me..” Plus, every time a serial killer gets caught all the neighbors are like “but he was the nicest guy.”

    I find it hard to believe Banker is lying, since the incident in question involved a meeting that presumably could be collaborated by other witnesses. Jyotsana’s comparison of this to when Banker was “one of those better off South Bombay kids” who somehow managed to never live in South Bombay and allegedly threw himself at women doesn’t hold, since he didn’t throw himself at women who worked for him. Unless you’re Rand Paul or Bill Clinton, that’s a critical distinction. It certainly is for the law.

  23. It is really disturbing how the commenters in this thread are leaping to Davidar’s defense.

    Sexual harassment is pernicious, and predators do not wear their behavior on their sleeves. I have no reason to disbelieve Ashok Banker’s post — and I appreciate it, actually. I don’t find it at all problematic because it is a raw statement of what he noticed. Nilanajana, on the other hand, sounds like a typical letter of recommendation, generic in her praise. She comes across as tribal in her defense/ It’s more like a “save the face of publishing, Indianness,” etc. that is an undercurrent in her post.

    The reality is that if Rundle did not have evidence of the emails, etc., David would have never been fired so summarily. It is obvious that Penguin protected him for years. There is a reason why they are suddenly dropping him.

    If even half of what Rundle is alleging is true, then Davidar should be sent to share a cell with Alexandar Jon. Scum like these men dominate Indian film, music, fashion industries. Now it is evident that they dominate the publishing world as well.

    My heart goes out to the millions of Indian women who do not have cultural or legal protection against sexual harassment.

  24. What really irritates me is when sexual harassment occurs at school/college, people just say, “Oh just ignore them..” or “boys will be boys” or “That’s life. Grow some balls and put up with it…” Sexual harassment is wrong at every level. People can lose their careers and sanity over this issue.

  25. White Tail, The infosys exec is running a very successful software company that he founded after Infy ‘fired’ him. Nothing wrong with the guy’s character- its all politics one way or the other…

  26. click here to view Google’s cache on Ashok Banker’s blogpost. It is password protected now so you cannot get to it!

  27. whats the password on banker’s blog? i’d like to view his post. alternatively, can someone post it pls?