02 May, 2007

For Shakti, my editor and friend

by Seema Goswami

Shakti entered my life through my e-mail inbox. We had never met (though I was to discover much later that she was the daughter of Sheila Bhatt, a fellow journalist), but she wrote to say that she had been reading my column in Brunch for a while and wondered if I would be interested in doing a book for Random House. Could we meet and discuss some topics?

So, we met at the conference room at Random House. But rather than discuss potential non-fiction titles we got sidetracked into talking about everything from shoes to sushi, from fashion to feminism. Even though we had never met before, it was like talking to an old friend.

I knew then that if I ever did write a book, I would want Shakti to be my editor.

We finally did have the book discussion — over lunch at Le Cafe, where I teased her mercilessly about swabbing the butter off her fish, even though she was enviously skinny — and decided on doing a self-help book for working women. Given that I am something of a control freak, I insisted that I would send her a sample chapter to see if we were on the same wavelength. Like all journalists, I hate having a single word of my prose changed. And like all editors, I tend to believe that I know best.

So I wrote out a synopsis, a sample chapter and mailed it to her. She called me within minutes to say how much she loved it. And that's how it all began.

When I missed a deadline for family reasons, she called to reassure me that it was okay. When I failed to deliver on time because of sheer laziness, she sent gentle reminders that shamed me into getting back on my computer. When I wasn't sure where the book was going, she talked me through my problems. When I had the odd crisis of confidence — I mean, where did I get off giving advice to people? — she hand-held me until I reverted to type (frustrated agony aunt, if you must know). And when I felt that it was all getting too boring for words, she took me out to lunch to regale me with anecdotes about the publishing world.

Shakti left Random House while my book was only three-quarters through, but we kept in touch. We discussed her future plans at the Oberoi pastry shop, we bumped into each other at the Frankfurt book fair and spent a nice afternoon together talking about her new imprint (she was still looking for a name for it and wanted suggestions — I thought Shakti sounded good, but she thought it was a bit immodest to name it after herself).

My book finally came out. We decided against a launch party but had a panel discussion instead, which Shakti promised to attend. She never did make it. And I never got to see her again. But every time I think of her, I still see that luminous smile that lit up every room she ever entered, and every life she ever touched — including mine.