19 May, 2007

In Praise of Shakti Bhatt

by Elaine Sexton

My earliest impression of Shakti is that of the young beauty who dazzled my friend Jeet Thayil when they met, changing him, and charging their lives, and our lives in New York, with a rare and infectious delight. She stepped into our community of poets and writers in Manhattan with a grace and presence few failed to notice. Shakti was a steady mate to Jeet at readings, parties, events, all the while establishing herself, with an uncommon zeal, as a journalist, art maker, and curator. She filmed and edited a documentary of our poetry collective, 7 Carmine, with the precision of a seasoned professional, though (to my knowledge) this was her first venture in this genre. She impressed me and many among us with her keen knowledge of contemporary American poetry and fiction. When they returned to India, Jeet and Shakti left a void, and in the intervening years it seemed we might lose the thread of what bound us so tightly together. When we learned Jeet, accompanied by Shakti, was granted a fellowship at the Bellagio Center in Italy last fall, the poet Curtis Bauer, living in Spain, and I agreed to meet in Milan and drive north to spend a few days with them. The four of us shared an intense few days sharing and critiquing new work, smoking cigars and drinking Chianti in their comfortable quarters overlooking the lake. Exploring the grounds and the narrow roads from town to town skirting Lake Como, we were enchanted by the place and what drew us there. To say we savored every moment understates how charged and lucky we all felt to be together. We had just discovered Shakti as a writer of fiction. Still a bit shy about putting her own work forward she put our poems ahead of her stories, always enthusiastic, generous and insightful in her remarks. One could see, clearly, she was a fine editor. In a few weeks, upon returning to Delhi, she would begin work on her own imprint after this month-long hiatus with Jeet. When I last saw her she was brimming with talk of several new authors and the prospect of finding new work to usher into print. Her enthusiasm for the heady art and literary world of Delhi was so fierce that she had both Curtis and me convinced we were crazy to not quit our jobs and move there immediately! My last correspondence with Shakti was an email exchange on a beautiful and complex story she drafted at Bellagio. Those of us who knew her in New York are still reeling from the news of her untimely death. The loss of someone so vital and young, just beginning to exercise all that imagination and energy on so many worthy projects is unspeakable. Shakti leaves an indelible mark on me as a fledgling friend, and on so many others as an author, editor, confidant, and devoted partner to Jeet — roles she filled with a magical grace.

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