HarperCollins is proud to announce the publication of The Last Courtesan: Writing My Mother’s Memoir by Manish Gaekwad

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NEW DELHI, June 12, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — A heartfelt memoir written by a son about his mother’s life, reveals the untold story of Rekhabai, a tenacious courtesan who defied societal norms to forge her own destiny in a changing world

Published by HarperCollins India

Hardback | 200 pp | INR 499

Available wherever books are sold | Releasing on 24th June 2023

“The eye-opening account of a brave courtesan, who had dreams like every other girl to support her family but was sold at a very tender age. Even as a child, she had a thinking mind, a spiritual quest. She was fearless in every situation, lived her life on her own terms and gave her son wings to fly and dream. In her memoir, she narrates her tumultuous journey to her writer son with sparkling honesty, an abundance of joy and an irrepressible spirit. A must-read!” – Rekha Bharadwaj, Singer.

“A heart-breaking testimonial by a son about his mother’s exploitation. A must read for those who want to understand the legacies of colonialism & sexism, especially among nomadic tribes.” – Ruchira Gupta, Journalist, Activist & Founder – Apne Aap.

ABOUT THE BOOK

The 1993 Bow Bazaar bomb blast in Kolkata brought an end to the kothas in the busy commercial district. Over the next few years, as dance bars and disco music replaced the old-world charm of mujras, kathak and thumri, the tawaifs began to abandon the profession. Rekhabai, a courtesan, found herself at a crossroads, facing an uncertain future. Where should she go? What should she do next?

Originally from the Kanjarbhat tribe, Rekhabai was sold and trained as a tawaif while she was still a child. In the 1980s, when kothas were no longer recognized as centres for aesthetics, and society disapproved of the tawaif’s art, as it felt it was sex work in the guise of adakari (performance), Rekhabai made a name for herself in Calcutta and Bombay as a singing–dancing star. It was an era when she had to dodge guns, goons and Ghalib’s ghazals to carve out her own destiny, provide for her large family and raise her son in an English-medium boarding school.

In this poignant memoir, she narrates the unbelievable story of her survival to her son with candour, grace, and humour, never missing a beat and always full of heart.

Manish Gaekwad, the author, says, “Once, when I was a kid, I had returned home from my boarding school for my winter vacation. One cold morning, as I sat on the sun-lit floor, poring over my schoolbooks, my mother sat across from me, inserting a blank tape into a cassette player and recording her voice. At some point, she looked at me and said, I am doing this so that one day you will know my life’s story. I did not pay attention to her and continued reading my book. I never listened to that tape. Many years later, as I held my mobile phone, recording her, one of the first questions I asked was, where is that tape? I don’t know, she said. Listening to her speak again, I feel the story came out in better shape this time around. I was not only listening, but also asking the right questions, and making her share finer details of various episodes in her life. What probably helped is that by this time I had worked as a news reporter, a screenwriter, and had also written a book previously. I did not want to hear her story just because she is my mother, and I would like to idolise her. I was invested in her story because of its remarkable journey – of a woman who was sold, exploited, and yet survived and lived on her own terms. In this book, she narrates her turbulent life just as she always wanted to. Me being her son is incidental to her brilliant story – she deserves to be heard, read, and rejoiced by all.”

Swati Chopra, Associate Publisher, HarperCollins India says, “The Last Courtesan is an extraordinary memoir because of Rekhabai’s ability to speak her unvarnished truth, and Manish’s ability to record and write it as such. A chronicle of a lost age, its cruelties, repressions and pleasures, the book gives its readers a chance to experience a different time through its flawed and heartbreakingly vulnerable protagonist. A must-read for anyone who loves well-written nonfiction, and above all a good story.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Manish Gaekwad has worked as a journalist for publications such as Scroll.in and Mid-Day, and freelanced for The Hindu. This is his second book. His first novel, Lean Days, was also published by HarperCollins India in 2018. He has written a web series, She, with filmmaker Imtiaz Ali on Netflix, and is currently working as a senior script creative at Red Chillies Entertainment. He lives in Mumbai.

ABOUT HARPERCOLLINS PUBLISHERS INDIA

HarperCollins is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, having begun publishing in India in 1992. HarperCollins India publishes some of the finest writers from the Indian Subcontinent and around the world, publishing approximately 200 new books every year, with a print and digital catalogue of more than 2,000 titles across 10 imprints. Its authors have won almost every major literary award including the Man Booker Prize, JCB Prize, DSC Prize, New India Foundation Award, Atta Galatta Prize, Shakti Bhatt Prize, Gourmand Cookbook Award, Publishing Next Award, Tata Literature Live! Award, Gaja Capital Business Book Prize, BICW Award, Sushila Devi Award, Sahitya Akademi Award and Crossword Book Award. HarperCollins India also represents some of the finest publishers in the world including Harvard University Press, Gallup Press, Oneworld, Bonnier Zaffre, Usborne, Dover and Lonely Planet. HarperCollins India has won the Publisher of the Year Award four times at Tata Literature Live! in 2022, 2021, 2018 and 2016, and at Publishing Next in 2021 & 2015. HarperCollins India is a subsidiary of HarperCollins Publishers.

30 YEARS OF PUBLISHING IN INDIA

At HarperCollins, we believe in telling the best stories and in finding the widest possible readership for our books in every format possible. We started publishing 30 years ago in India and a great deal has changed since then, but what has remained constant is the passion with which our authors write their books, the love with which readers receive them, and the sheer joy and excitement that we as publishers feel in being a part of the publishing process.

Over the years, we’ve had the pleasure of publishing some of the finest writing from the subcontinent and from around the world, and some of the biggest bestsellers in Indian publishing history. Our books and authors have won a phenomenal range of awards, and we ourselves have been named Publisher of the Year several times. But nothing has meant more to us than the fact that millions of people read the books we publish, and somewhere, a book of ours might be making a difference to someone.

As we step into our fourth decade, we go back to that one word – a word which has been a driving force for us all these years. 

Read.

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