30 April, 2007

Memories of Shakti

by Anita Roy

I think the first time I met Shakti Bhatt – properly, like to talk to, and not just to kind of gape across the room at, wondering how anyone could be that elegant, vivacious and balance on such kinky heels – when she was an editor at Random House. RH were launching their first book in India – Manju Kapur’s Home, and Shakti (I’m still not sure how or why) decided that I would be a good person to be ‘in conversation’ with the author. She rang up – and I quickly agreed, partly because I loved the book, partly because as an editor in India, I was kind of intrigued to know what was happening at Random House with this bright new spark in charge, partly because – hey, it’s always nice to be asked, and partly because I thought this person on the other end of the phone sounded like a genuinely nice person: intelligent, passionate, sparky, fun. The sort you wouldn’t mind spending time in the company of. The sort who might in fact make that time fly.

The event, at the British Council, went down really well. Manju is a wonderful writer and a lovely woman, but a notoriously skittish performer. In the pre-event chat, as the three of us sat in Manju’s elegant home, sipping chilled nimbu pani and talking about how the discussion should go, Shakti came across as something of a horse-whisperer. With a few gentle, well-placed, confidence-instilling words, you could visibly see Manju’s poise-ometer going up, until she was scoring something like Shakti’s own.

Right then and there, I realised that this industry, this publishing business, was a good place to be. If it could attract young women like Shakti to it, then it was somewhere I wanted to be, and I silently applauded Random House’s far-sightedness in appointing her to their fledgling operation, and not going for the obvious, more established names that swim around in this little goldfish bowl we call Publishing in Delhi.

I was sad, therefore, to hear that she’d left RH – after just six or seven months, I think – but only because it was a loss to Random. As we leant on the balcony wall, sipping drinks one evening, and she talked about her work and her frustrations and her aspirations, I had absolutely no doubt that this was a young woman who would go far. She was a woman simply bursting with ideas, ambitions and energy. And it came as no surprise to hear that she was setting up her own imprint – Bracket Books.

She had been frustrated by how slowly the wheels turned in Random House. I remember sounding like one ancient old auntie, saying “But beta (well, I didn’t actually say ‘beta’ or even ‘dearie’ but you get the gist) you’ve only been there six months… everything takes a loooooong time in publishing.”

Before the name of the imprint had been decided, and long before her first book was even signed up, she was already talking about hiring staff and office space. The Ancient Aunty in me rose to the surface once again, as I counselled patience and perseverance and taking it a step at a time. All the while, thinking – zowee! I wish I had one tenth of her energy and impatience and bit-between-the-teethishness (and hells bells what is that fab shade of lipstick?)

Her unstinting support of other peoples’ publishing projects marked her out immediately one of those people in whom generosity of spirit overrides almost everything else. Not for her the pettiness or backstabbing or gossipy nay-saying that so often passes for chitchat in Delhi circles.

I knew only tangentially of her own writing – she tended to focus the spotlight on others. To my mind, the recipe for making a good editor has to be something like this: an innate love of literature coupled with this genuine zest for promoting the work of others. All of us in the publishing world, were watching and waiting to see what this remarkable young woman would do with her brand new publishing house. And all of us, I’m pretty sure, were certain it would be something good, something to be proud of. Something that we, in turn, could support and cheer about, just as Shakti had periodically supported and cheered our own efforts.

Her loss is not just a personal grief: it feels like we have lost a vital element in the publishing mix. Oh, I know that books will continue to be published, and read, and reviewed, and even sold (and pulped and remaindered); new imprints will start up, and fold down, and people will come and go… life goes on, so they say. And it does, it does. But Shakti was not just another element: she was a catalyst, and not having her here somehow feels like the chemical soup is that bit more inert, that bit less sparky, a bit more ‘stable’, bit less colourful. She was a great one for stirring it up, she was a wonderful mixer, and she would have been a great publisher, maybe a wonderful writer, a stupendous mother, a closer friend, an irreverent grandmother – all those things that would have been part of a long and fulfilled life. We have all been deprived of her future. And it still hurts.

27 April, 2007


by Samit Basu

Meghna just sent me this pic a few minutes ago; this is in my flat, on my birthday, last December. Rehan and Shakti hadn't met before, but they got along like a house on fire. Given who they both were, no one was at all surprised. I remember them running around, him sitting on her head, pulling her hair and looking completely delighted.
My nephew turns one in two days. Shakti isn't here any more. But they met that one evening and I'm so glad they did. Glad there's a chance some of her warmth, her laughter, her grace, her immense coolness rubbed off on him. May there be other people in his life as wonderful as she was.
Miss you, Shakti.

Originally published here.


by Anand Vivek Taneja

Sitting in front of my computer on a Monday afternoon, here in New York, at first I refused to believe it. The timing was just right enough to believe that it was a sick April Fool joke. Unfortunately, it wasn't.

Shakti Bhatt passed away in Delhi last Saturday night after a sudden and brief and completely unexpected illness. A talented writer, a gifted editor, and a well loved friend, the unfairness of her loss is felt by many. This entry on Samit's blog, a few days before her death, just makes it more poignant. She was so full of plans and dreams and hopes and ideas.

Shakti and her husband Jeet Thayil moved to Delhi two years ago, from New York. One of my most wonderful memories from Delhi is the first evening spent at their place, in April 2005; a night which could only have ended in spontaneous ghazal-ification. There were so many other wonderful evenings. They were such an amazing couple. (The Editor-Poets, as they appeared on eM's blog). Shakti was also the first person to call, as an editor, and put the idea of 'the Delhi book' into my head. As an editor she was enthusiastic, pushy, and most importantly believed in a moody and erratic writer. Then the erratic writer moved to New York, and grad school...

Perhaps it was premonition that last week I found myself thinking of Jeet and Shakti. They were the first New Yorkers I had known. This was the city where they met. I found myself imagining conversations with them back in Delhi -
- And did you go to... ?
- Err...no

... And now, in their city, I feel so far away. My thoughts, like everyone else's, are with Jeet.

Originally published here.

My friend Shakti

by eM

My friend Shakti died on Saturday night. It made no sense her death, I thought it was some sort of April Fool's joke or something. She was awesome. She sparkled. She was kind. And even now, applying the past tense to her name seems so odd, so surreal, so like I'm talking about someone else.

Shakti loved this blog. She really did. She asked me many times when she was going to make an appearance, and she did, as Mrs Editor-Poet. We met like close to two years ago, at a party, and then the day after that was our housewarming party and her and her husband came for that, and then the rest was history, because we started to hang regularly, and talk. We were both about the same age as compared to most of the other people we knew in common, and when we did book parties or literary gatherings, usually we gravitated towards each other and gossiped and compared outfits and did many other frivolous things.

And I met her whilst the two of them were in Bombay for the Kitab fest, and thanks to them, partied very poshly, and we talked about relationships and whether she ever regretted being married, because she was quite young and she said, "You know, it's like the difference between a sonnet and blank verse. Marriage gives my life structure, and this way it's always two people on my side." And when I was last in Delhi, we hung out at Cafe Turtle, and drank coffee and talked about various creative projects, and then I met her again later at 4S and showed her my Sarojini Nagar shopping and then we hugged as I was leaving and promised to meet again next time I was in Delhi.

I can't make any sense of it still. This post has been written and backspaced over for the last three days, I just couldn't. It's a world without Shakti in it, and that is so bizarre, because she was so so so alive, you know? I know people say this about everyone who dies, but she really was. When I think of her, I think of sitting in her living room watching her hula hoop, backwards and forwards, smiling, her hips working, her arms outstretched. "You're a lucky man," I told her husband once, with all sorts of hidden innuendos at that hula hooping and he smiled at me and said, "I know."

And, hah, it's so strange, the one person I feel like calling and telling about her death is Shakti, calling and saying, "Hey people are saying you're dead." And she'd say, "What? People are crazy" and I'd say, "I know, hey, I'll be in Delhi on Friday we should hang out." And she'd say, "Absolutely." And this entire thing will have never happened.

Already I miss her so very much.

Originally published here.

In loss

by Monica Mody

Sometimes words are not enough. Someone gone from amongst you, so swiftly you don't know how to react. Someone with such promise and potential and joy for life. S, we'll miss you. Dear dear J, may all the prayers of the world be with you.

Originally published here.

For Shakti

by Nilanjana S Roy

I met Shakti at a boring Delhi party over two years ago; she and Jeet had just moved back to Delhi from New York, and Shakti was doing what she did best—making friends. We chatted for a bit; she told me I needed sexier shoes (I still do, Shakti, you had the jump on me on that one), slipped a friendly hand into mine and asked when she could come over and meet my cats.

Over the next few months, Jeet and Shakti became part of our lives as though they'd always been there. Shakti joined Random House as an editor, and when we discussed books, I was struck by her openness to new ideas, her enthusiasm about authors. Samit Basu did a reading shortly after that; it coincided with his birthday. I was supposed to be in conversation with Samit; Shakti came up to me before the discussion started and told me she would put her hand up right at the end to ask a very special question, so could I make sure she was the last speaker? I said, of course.

Her question was simple. Would we all sing happy birthday to Samit, and cut the birthday cake she had thoughtfully smuggled in? We did; it's the only book launch I can remember that ended with the audience bellowing Happy Birthday to You at the author. It was a typical Shakti moment.

People gravitated to Shakti because she made us believe that anything was possible. She was curious about photography; she started to take her own pictures, and was planning to make a wall of memories, a record of their first years in Delhi. At Jeet's poetry readings, Shakti was the one handling the digital video camera; she had an instinct for when to zoom in on Jeet's face, when to capture the audience's reactions.

She shifted from Random House to start up Bracket Books, and she sparked with ideas for her brand-new imprint. She had also started writing herself, and she had an astonishing voice, a very distinctive style. One of my friends calls it handwriting, this business of a writer's signature, and says that it can't be taught—either you have your own handwriting or you don't. Shakti did.

At a Caferati evening where she, Jeet and I had been invited to discuss writing with Caferati's members, Shakti spoke with honesty about the challenges facing new authors, about the need for publishers to create what she called welcoming spaces for writers who were starting to find their own voices. She wanted to be one of those publishers; she wanted Bracket to reflect her own credo of openness and encouragement.

Jeet and Shakti had one of the most open houses in a city that takes hospitality seriously. Shakti was always at the heart of those evenings, the one who encouraged us to try to use a hula hoop, to do zany writing experiments, to read serious poetry in a seriously unserious manner. She believed in the importance of silliness, and in her company, I found myself letting go, letting my hair down, relaxing into the moment.

It seems so wrong that someone as vibrant as Shakti should be gone. It seems obscene to be writing what amounts to an obituary for someone who was so alive. But maybe it's one way to hold on to all the things that Shakti meant to us. In just two years, she brought so much joy into our lives; I believe she would have been an amazing writer, a kind and wise publisher. My thoughts are with Jeet, with their families.

Originally published here.

Obit: Shakti Bhatt

by Arun Venugopal

We're terribly saddened to announce that Shakti Bhatt, a former reporter for India Abroad/Rediff who returned to India and was on the vanguard of the publishing industry there, died Saturday. According to a friend in New Delhi, she was out to dinner when she suddenly became violently ill. The specifics are vague at this point but we'll post an update once we're clearer.

Shakti was a friend, as is her husband, the poet Jeet Thayil. We all worked together at India Abroad, and I distinctly remember an end-of-year party she organized - she bought goofy eyeglasses for all of us, and party hats, and organized food. She was insistent that we celebrate, and somewhere perhaps there are photos of us all, looking ridiculous in our black plastic hats.

Eventually Jeet and Shakti returned to India, due to visa-related issues. They'd initially been planning to return to the U.S. but they moved to India at the right time. Shakti eventually joined Random House India, doing four books for them, then left last year to start Bracket Books, an imprint for IBD.

We exchanged emails over the last few months. Shakti was excited about her new role at Bracket and was looking for writers who could satisfy India's 'booming' industry. A month ago, she said she wanted to publish 'pulp fiction, thrillers, memoirs....'

Our condolences go out to Jeet and Shakti's family. Her mother, Sheela Bhatt, is also a prominent journalist, serving as Managing Editor of Rediff.

Originally published here.

good bye, sweet friend

by Lesley Esteves

shakti. our excitable, beautiful, always hungry, never-to-be-forgotten friend. this is how i'll remember you — laughing under the himalayan sun. goa sausage will never taste the same again. miss you.

Originally published here.

Goodbye Shakti Bhatt

by Nisha Susan

There is no sane way of saying this. Shakti Bhatt, the closest thing to a golden child that you will ever see, an unflappable, funny, sexy, woman, loyal friend and owner of strange shoes is dead.

I have only known her a few months but I saw years ahead of us, keeping pace, as we both wrote and conquered the world. I would be published and famous. She would be that strange beast no one has seen before, a successful publisher with impeccable standards and a serious novelist. There was no way this could not happen because Shakti was fearless and ready to take up everything and more that the world offered her. In the first few months of my arriving here Shakti made Delhi seem like an eccentric village that could be dealt with, if one was ready to be amused and unafraid.

Goodbye, Shakti, we will all miss you very, very, very much.

Originally published here.

Shakti Bhatt

by Amitava Kumar

This morning I got news from my editor in Delhi that Shakti Bhatt had passed away. Shakti was a young editor, and full of plans. I had met her just the other day, for the first time, in New Delhi. She was also my friend Jeet Thayil’s wife. Read Shakti’s interview with Jabberwock here; Kitabkhana shares a poem in her memory; and SAJAforum provides an obit. What a terrible loss. My thoughts are with dear Jeet.

Originally published here.

For Shakti

by Jai Arjun Singh

I was shocked to hear about Shakti Bhatt's passing away; it really is difficult to believe. We first met around a year and a half ago (she was working with Random House India at the time), though it seems much longer; since then we'd corresponded often on email and met frequently at book events. The last time we met, a few days ago, she jokingly rebuked me for reneging on a promise that I would give her feedback on a manuscript she had sent across – but she was, as ever, very good-natured about it. She was always warm and friendly, very easy to talk to, and this was tragic, completely unexpected news. Deepest condolences to her husband Jeet and to the rest of her family.

Anything I say here would be too little, but here’s something about Shakti’s professional life: she became the editor of IBD’s newly launched Bracket Books a few months ago and was very excited about the role she and the new company could play in what is a dynamic time in Indian writing and publishing. Some time ago I did a quick, informal Q&A with her for the Sunday Business Standard. As a testament to unfulfilled dreams and also as an indication of her informed-yet-inclusive, warm-hearted attitude towards writers and readers, here are excerpts from that interview:

About IBD's new publishing division: do you think the market in Indian Writing in English is large enough to accommodate more publishers?

IBD has been publishing for a long time, but Bracket Books is a more concerted and focused effort to publish books for a new generation of readers, and to try and do this in a way that is innovative and relevant. I think the market for Indian writing in English is large but not large enough for publishers to be complacent about it and take it for granted. It is now more challenging than ever for a book to be noticed, much less picked up.

On what scale will Bracket Books publish? What kind of writing are you looking at to start with?

We are looking at everything. We are starting without pre-conceived notions – for example, that short stories don't sell. What about Jhumpa Lahiri and Lavanya Sankaran? In the end, there's good writing versus bad writing, and good marketing versus bad marketing. We want to start small and slow, and we will take up only those projects that excite us, projects we can commit all our resources to in terms of editing, production, marketing and sales.

How do you decide whether or not to take on a manuscript? If the quality of writing is middling but it contains the seed of an interesting idea, would you be willing to take it on?

The first chapter of the manuscript is probably the biggest test. Is there a hook? Is the writer saying something new or is it trite? Is he talking about a situation, about a character, in a way that is appealing or tedious? I believe that anything good can be marketed, so the big worry about whether it will sell or not usually comes later. We would certainly consider a book with an interesting idea where the writing can be improved.

What according to you are the gaps in Indian publishing today?

Well, for one thing, we need to appreciate the diversity in Indian publishing at the moment. There's Rupa, Roli, Penguin, Harper Collins, Picador, Permanent Black, Zubaan and Women Unlimited, and many, many others, bringing out a range of interesting books. Every time I go into a bookshop I notice innovative titles. The gap seems to be in the field of editing. I think editors and publishing houses should adopt a zero-tolerance policy for errors – typographical and others. It's the least we can do for our readers. Maybe you could start a blog to document these errors (and god knows there are enough) so editors and publishers can be called on it.

What genres of writing need to be encouraged?

I'm not the first to say that we could do with more narrative non-fiction. It's easier said than done, because writers need advances for research and travel, and few Indian publishers are willing to fork out that kind of money. One can argue that it would be money well spent, especially if they have a marketing plan to back it up, and that bigger publishers should be more open to taking a risk, if there is one. It is a genre that deserves to be encouraged also because of the scarcity of creative journalism in India.

Following Chetan Bhagat's example, there's an emerging trend of mass-market writers – young authors who are providing easily identifiable characters, familiar settings and conversational prose. Will you look at that market or will your publishing be more niche?

Of course we will look at that market, why not? I was surprised at the widespread criticism in literary circles about Bhagat's book. Yes, it could have been better, but there is no denying the enormous connection it made with young people across the country. I happened to be travelling at the time and I would hear his name come up in coffee shops across Delhi, Bombay, and Bangalore. That to me is exciting and not something to be taken lightly. You can't be in this business and be snobbish. Anything that makes people read a book is a good thing.

Originally published here.

Shakti Bhatt

by Nilanjana S Roy

This is hard to write, but for all those who knew and loved her: Shakti Bhatt, writer, editor of the newly-established Bracket Books, and friend to more people than can be counted, died of a sudden and brief illness late on Saturday night.

She and her husband, the poet Jeet Thayil, moved back to Delhi from New York two years ago, and made a new life here by throwing open the doors of their home to all of us. Shakti was well-loved, and will be missed more than I can put into words right now. Our thoughts are with Jeet.

One of Shakti's friends sent me this poem, by Vikram Seth; I hope he won't mind if I put it up here today.
All you who sleep tonight
Far from the ones you love,
No hand to left or right
And emptiness above —

Know that you aren't alone
The whole world shares your tears,
Some for two nights, or for one,
And some for all their years.

Originally published here.

04 April, 2007

For Shakti

If you would like to leave a remembrance here, please use the comments space, or mail for.shakti at gmail dot com. If you have written about Shakti elsewhere, do leave a link, and let us know if it's okay if we reproduce your post here. Likewise for photographs, audio or video.

Thank you.

Some links:

The Afternoon Despatch and Courier (A diary item with some inaccuracies. Scroll down to the third entry.)
Vanessa Gebbie.
Round-ups by Global Voices and Blogbharti.
John Mathew, & 2.
Peter Griffin.
Deepika Shetty.