WHEN KESHAV PRASAD MISHRA’S novel Kohbar Ki Shart went out of print towards the end of 2012, very few people took notice. This is perhaps unsurprising, since the novel had never been a bestseller: first published in 1965, its second reprint in 2007 comprised a mere 1,100 copies, some of which remained unsold until last year. Yet, it is possible to imagine that it might have had a healthier commercial life, considering that it was the inspiration for the first Bollywood film to gross over Rs 100 crore: Hum Aapke Hain Koun.
“Aap keh sakte hain thodi hamari bhi galti hai” (You could say it’s partly our fault), Amod Maheshwari, the young, mild-mannered CEO of Rajkamal Prakashan, publishers of the novel, said apologetically when I met him in July. “Perhaps promoting the novel along with the films might have helped.”
Keshav Prasad Mishra began his career as an auditor in the office of the accountant general in Allahabad in the 1950s. A “shy, reserved man” who “wrote by night”, according to his son, Bhuvan, Mishra was in his late thirties when he wrote a short story inspired by an incident in his ancestral village, Balihar, in the Ballia district of Uttar Pradesh.