13 May, 2007

Terrifying and irrational, it makes no sense

by Bruce King

It was only after Shakti died that I realized how few times I had actually seen her, as she felt like a friend I had known forever. We first met her in Bangalore when we were staying with Jeet's parents. I had known Jeet for many years and Shakti was new to me. I saw a young, very attractive woman with what appeared a large head, large eyes and a tiny body, who managed to dress absolutely differently each day, as if changing her appearance was both an art and a form of self-protection.

Jeet told me that Shakti was a writer, but I had not then seen anything she had written. She did, however, strike me as different from most Indian women I had met in her always changing sense of fashion, which walled in a certain moodiness disguised by a lively enthusiasm.

She was not used to living within a family and was impatient with its expectations. Yet she was not really American, although she had studied and worked in the States. Rather, the separation of her parents and her mother's career had given her a different outlook, an independence and perhaps an accompanying sense of loneliness and selfhood. We often went out to eat together and I felt she would have been happier to always do so.

It was not surprising when Shakti became the editor of a glossy Indian fashion magazine, although the magazine itself and her appointment should have seemed unusual. What was surprising was how good the material was. When a few months later, she was appointed the first editor at Random House India it seemed natural. She was obviously going to the top very quickly, but now that I knew her better I wondered whether she would ever be satisfied, which was a danger of such early success. She no sooner had the job than she seemed bored with it and ready to move on to something grander or more exciting. When she resigned to start her own publishing company, it seemed both dangerous and natural. She expected a lot from life, more perhaps than life could give.

There was Shakti who wanted to go to the best restaurants and the street stalls, who wanted to go to all-night parties and yet edit poorly-written manuscripts in the morning, who seemed to have skipped ahead a few generations of her life with her career and yet was still a girl in her mid‑twenties wanting to experience the craziness of youth. She and Jeet seemed at the centre of a new Indian cultural scene comprising the young, the attractive, those educated abroad; they were clearly different from the designer‑khadi‑clad intelligentsia of the past.

Shakti's early and rapid death was terrifying in its irrationality. Such usual images as meteors and falling stars are inappropriate as they suggest a moral fall from pride. In her case the rocket was still going up and disappeared like that. It made no sense.

Our own daughter was about Shakti's age when she died in a fire. Had the naturalness we felt around Shakti been a substitute?

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