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Musharraf Finds an Audience in India


At a White House news conference last month, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf saw a chance to promote his new biography, and he grabbed the opportunity to dodge a question.

President PERVEZ MUSHARRAF (Pakistan): I would like to - I am launching my book on the 25th and I'm honor bound to Simon and Schuster not to comment on the book before that date. So...

SEABROOK: The widely broadcast plug seems to have paid off. The book, In the Line of Fire: A Memoir by Pervez Musharraf, ranks number eight on today's New York Times hardcover nonfiction bestselling list. It's also doing well in one of the least likely of markets, in a country where Musharraf and Pakistan are seen by many as the enemy. NPR's South Asian correspondent, Philip Reeves, sent this notebook.

PHILIP REEVES: India is not exactly a fan of Pervez Musharraf, but it is a country which loves books. You can't easily buy the latest computer accessories. You can nearly always find a book shop, a dark, alluring den filled to the gunnels with books arranged in the most higgledy-piggledy fashion. A few days ago, Musharraf's autobiographical memoir, called In the Line of Fire, like the Clint Eastwood movie, arrived on the shelves. It didn't stay there long. Booksellers in two of India's main cities, Calcutta and Mumbai, say it's sold out. And in the capital, New Delhi, bookseller Baraj Berry(ph) says clients are snapping it up.

Mr. BARAJ BERRY (Bookseller): It is selling very well. We don't have any copies at all. The very first day, the copies we received we have sold out.

REEVES: The general's opus has received plenty of uncomplimentary reviews. But Indians are clearly very curious to know more about their neighbors, a country born painfully from partition and one with which they've had three wars, and still have much unsettled business, particularly over Kashmir. So they're buying the book, much to the disappointment of a young Indian called Mayank Austen Soofi.

He writes book reviews on the Internet. He is, unashamedly, a book nut. So keen is he on literature that he says he won't leave his house without a copy of the complete works of Shakespeare tucked under his arm. There are no prizes for guessing why he has that strange middle name which he adopted.

Mr. MAYANK SOOFI (Blogger): Because my companion, my soul mate, my love life, my everything is Jane Austen. I cannot live without her.

REEVES: Mayank has spent all his money amassing a personal library of some 5,000 books. It overflows into the kitchen of his small family home. But you won't find Musharraf's book in it. He's refusing to buy it. And he doesn't want any of his blog site readers to do so either.

Mr. SOOFI: I'm just going to boycott the Musharraf book. I'm asking people not to read the book. I don't want that the money should go into Musharraf's pocket.

REEVES: His objections are twofold. Firstly, he says Musharraf is not a democrat and that Pakistan deserves better. And wearing his critic's hat, he also says the book's badly written. But Musharraf and his publishers needn't worry: the boycott's backfiring.

Mr. SOOFI: I'm very disappointed with the comments of my readers. I really did not want my piece to be read as written by an Indian. It was just my observation as a concerned person.

REEVES: His blog readers have been firing off e-mails saying now they're even more determined to buy the book.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.