David Davidar, the former magazine journalist who rose to become publisher of such stellar Indian literary names as Arundhati Roy, Vikram Seth, Salman Rushdie, Khushwant Singh and Shobha De, has been sacked from Penguin Canada following charges of sexual harassment.
Davidar, 52, part of the team at the now defunct monthly, Gentleman launched by Minhaz Merchant, has been “asked to leave” the firm after a former rights and contracts director at the company, Lisa Rundle, “brought an action” against him, Penguin Canada said in Toronto on Friday.
The new statement was in marked contrast to an earlier release on June 8 that suggested Davidar had left the company on his own to return to India to pursue his writing projects and other endeavours. Davidar is the author of two novels, The House of Blue Mangoes and The Emperor of Solitudes.
“I just felt I wanted to see if I could do something other than managing a company,” Davidar, had said in a boiler-plate exit interview. He said he and his wife were planning to return to India to live.
In a new interview, Davidar confirms he had a “friendship with my colleague” that went on for three years but says he is “dismayed Penguin Canada chose to respond to the charges by directing me to leave Penguin”:
“Earlier this week it was announced that I would be leaving Penguin Canada. At Penguin’s request, I agreed to publicly state that my departure was voluntary. The truth is that a former colleague accused me of sexual harassment and Penguin terminated my employment.”
Saturday’s Globe and Mail has further details of the scale of the alleged harassment as detailed by Lisa Rundle in her complaint before the Ontario superior court of justice on June 9. It suggests that Rundle was sexually harassed repeatedly over three years culminating in “outright assault” at the Frankfurt book fair last fall.
The accusations are accompanied by quotations from several e-mail messages Davidar allegedly sent to Rundle, whom he described as “utterly gorgeous,” “a vision in pink sipping a champagne cocktail.”
The court statement says:
“At the Frankfurt book fair last October Davidar appeared at 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. He told her to relax and just let him come in. She refused and said she wanted to go to sleep.
“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’.”
David Davidar, who launched the Indian imprint of Penguin for the Anand Bazaar Patrika (ABP) group, moved to Canada in 2003 as head of Penguin Canada. August 15 is to be his last day at work.
Photograph: courtesy The Globe and Mail, Toronto