The walls of former techie Amrita Chowdhury’s Mumbai apartment are practically papered with tomes on psychology, economics, romance, crime and more. As the India head of publishing firm Harlequin — known for churning out bodice-rippers such as the Mills & Boon series — books come with the territory for Chowdhury. And the ones on display are just the tip of the iceberg: “There are more closets filled with books. I think there are more than a 1,000 books in here,” she says, looking around the house. Chowdhury, who assumed her current role at Harlequin this January, traces her interest in books to her childhood. “First as a reader, then as a writer and now as a publisher, I have always been associated with books,” she says.
Chowdhury says her mother encouraged her to learn more about the world around through books. Born in Patna and an IIT Kanpur alumnus, Chowdhury completed her MS from UC Berkeley and worked as an engineer in Silicon Valley in 1990s. During her time at Berkeley, she attended several journalism courses, culminating in a two-month internship with National Geographic Traveller. Chowdhury went on to finish her MBA from Tepper Business School and worked in the US and Australia for several years, but the writing bug had dug deep. “When I moved back to India in 2007, I decided to write a book. I took a two-year break from professional life then.”
In 2009, Chowdhury’s first novel Faking It, a contemporary fiction on art forgery, was published. “At that time, the art market in India was exploding. There were many reports of famous paintings being forged,” she says. But this wasn’t the only reason why she based her book on the subject. “I have a soft corner for art. When I was in IIT, we had to opt for a humanities subject every semester. I realised then that I enjoy art history.”
Fortunately, for Chowdhury, her personal and professional interests seem to have dovetailed neatly. Chowdhury was heading Harvard Business School’s executive education portfolio in India when Harlequin approached her for her current assignment. “I knew I was not the obvious choice for this role, but I didn’t think twice about taking it up. Now I can read both at home and at work,” she smiles. It isn’t as easy as it sounds, though, admits Chowdhury. “The choice of books is different now. I can’t just pick up any book and start reading; I have to proceed according to work demands.” She counts several Indian authors among her favourites and says she is amazed at how author Amish has blended mythology with science in his Shiva Trilogy.
Like many book lovers, Chowdhury stays away from eBooks and believes that the print industry will see a boom soon. For now, there are two things on her agenda — inculcating a reading habit in her children and working on her next book, which will “come out next year,” beams Chowdhury.