22 May, 2007

The city of suffering & ambition

by Anjum Hasan

The last time I saw Shakti was on the night of February 20th, on the pavement outside the Delhi pub, DV8. A group of writers had just spent a few animated hours in the pub after two overlapping readings — one at the British Council and another at the Open Mic organised by Nigah. I was on a rare post-reading high (as against the usual post-reading slump). The feeling of being among a fraternity was a precious, cosy feeling. On that cold, pre-dawn street, as I hugged Jeet and Shakti goodbye, I said to Shakti — "We actually live in the same city." When I got back home to Bangalore the following day there was a mail from her waiting for me. After her usual high-spirited salutations, she said, "You left me with a mysterious note. We live in the same city... of writing? suffering? ambition?"

Early the previous evening I'd handed over to Shakti, swaddled in cloth, the gleaming Toto Funds the Arts Award trophy that she had won for two excellent short stories in early 2005. Somehow the trophy had stayed behind in Bangalore and TFA had asked me to carry it for her. Seeing it made her day, she said.

One of Shakti's award-winning stories formed part of a special issue on young writing that I'd put together for the literary journal New Quest in mid-2006. I wrote in my introduction about her "marvellous short stories that bring bourgeois Indians to life — their obsessions with servants, food, religion and relatives." The judges for the TFA award had similarly applauded Shakti's "developed and mature voice" and described her stories as "extremely well-plotted and contextualised." She would, without doubt, have blossomed into an important Indian writer.

Shakti, you are missed in that one city we all live in — of writing, suffering and ambition.

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