Q: Who always gets his man? & A: Avron Kaplan

Avron Kaplan with ‘Q and A’ author Vikas Swarup and his
wife Aparna.

Since establishing his ‘Living Newspaper’ in June 1987 Avron Kaplan has single-mindedly, passionately and doggedly ‘rounded up’ strings of press-worthy personalities to present their views, arguments and achievement histories for Cape Town audiences.

His latest coup just a month ago was Vikas Swarup, the Indian Deputy High Commissioner to South Africa and author of the award-winning book ‘Q and A’, upon which the Oscar grabbing movie ‘Slum Dog Millionaire’ was based.

While he has had some tough experiences in procuring his ‘targets’ over the years, Avron’s battle to get Vikas Swarup to the Albow Centre on a Sunday afternoon in May was possibly the most nerve-wracking of all, he says.

The ‘Modus Operandi’

The number of phone calls to Vikas and thereafter to his PA was exhaustive and exhausting, resulting finally in an offer of Friday evening of the weekend he was to attend the Franschhoek Book Fair. In his desperation Avron began investigating a shabbos dinner at one of the shuls, but, as he explained to the PA, that would mean no book sales or signings. So that was no go.

Still, typically, Avron didn’t give up. Following what he describes as “a sleepless night” he was back on the phone.

“What about the Sunday after the Book Fair ends?”

No, explained the PA, Vikas had to get back to Pretoria asap for an early Monday morning meeting and was booked on the 3pm flight.

More calls and a fair amount of pleadings later and our indefatigable Avron managed to negotiate for a change of the air booking to a later flight.

On the Sunday morning he took himself and his wife Judy to Franschhoek, collected Vikas and his artist wife Aparna, took them to a fancy preordered (from the car) lunch booked for 2pm sharp at a packed Café Riteve and got him to the microphone at 3pm for a fascinating hour plus with an eager and receptive audience — rewarded by a generous number of book sales and signings!

What’s more, after the gathering Vikas insisted on seeing the Jewish Museum and happened upon a tour, from which Avron says, “ I had to pull him out! He told me, ‘Avron, I’m most moved’.”

Then he and Judy raced Vikas and Aparna back to Cape Town International in time to make the 6pm flight. Phew!

And that, friends, is the shortened version of events!

“Well,” says Avron, “all the worry and anxiety was worth it. It was going to be our last chance to see him.”

And indeed Vikas Swarup’s diplomatic career has already rerouted him to Japan.

The Names of the Game

Challenge, excitement, worries and anxieties are part of what Avron Kaplan experiences to ensure memorable appearances on the Living Newspaper, and for that we can be truly thankful. He is performing a unique service for this community across the board, so to speak. He has given the stage to major players and achievers in every possible field, including politicians, sports personalities, writers, historians, artists, explorers, scientists, religious leaders and, of course medical specialists, as in his very popular health symposia.

During our discussion, as people and anecdotal background stories poured forth, every now and then, to my great amusement, Avron would have to consult Judy to provide the name of one or other of the people under discussion. And she was spot on every time!

A list of all these men and women would be superfluous and very space extravagant — like the first person he brought out, authoress Bernice Rubens; the Jewish astronaut, (“What was his name Judy?”) … Jeffrey Hoffman; Rabbi author Shmuley Boteach: the now infamous Australian Judge Marcus Einfeld, who was recently sentenced to two years in jail, and the head of the Frankfurt Jewish community Michael er …. Friedman (“thanks Judy”) — so we’ll focus on those currently in the pipeline.

Future Prospects

Future prospects About a year ago, Avron says, he started ‘working on’ the author historian and Holocaust authority Martin Gilbert, who was here some time back. The latest communication from Gilbert was, “Book me for 2011.”

Another prospect with whom he is negotiating is James Harding, the current editor of ‘The Times of London’, who happens to be Jewish and related to John Rabb, who is assisting in facilitating the booking.

Avron is not averse to using contacts to ‘nail his man’. In fact, as at the time of our chat today, he has given Cyril Saxe, who is currently in London, strict instructions to make personal contact to confirm an arrangement with former South African, playwright Ronald Harwood (brother of Eve Borland). Harwood has already indicated a keenness to come out here.

And there are more.

A Priceless Exercise

Bringing out these people is anexpensive business, quite often involving the covering of airfares and accommodation, but Avron manages to get sponsors or shares the persons and expenses involved with another organisation … In short, he makes a plan.

I hardly imagine that the small charge he levies for attendees to his events can cover much more than his telephone bill!

So I suppose to expect him to get Woody Allen or Barbra Streisand would be too much of a challenge. But not entirely out of the question.

The fact is that this is a man driven. It’s in his blood. It began way back in 1955 in his Varsity days, when he ran a monthly lunchtime club for part-time Hiddingh Hall students at Burleigh House. Then too there was his film society, for which, through a contact in London, he was enabled during the years of the cultural boycott to bring in films that otherwise would not have been seen.

To illustrate Avron’s ‘drivenness’, on the evening following the Swarup event he presented yet another edition of the Living Newspaper.

This time it featured orthopaedic surgeon Dr Jonathan Driver-Jowitt, who spoke on ‘Caring for one’s feet’ — pretty useful for Avron himself who seems to think … and run around a lot … on his!


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