Shakti, Lake Como, 2006
23 May, 2007
by Curtis Bauer
It was evening when I heard the news, a phone call from my friend, the poet Elaine Sexton in New York, to me in Seville, Spain, about dear Shakti's death in India. I had just returned to my apartment after wandering the streets, weaving between the Holy Week marches and processions of masked and robed men and somber music, incense and candle wax. It was all surreal, none of it seemed to have actually happened; none of it made sense, but it all made me feel numb. The next morning I walked back downtown, feeling a need to retrace my steps for some reason I couldn't explain at the time. There were wax paths winding through the city center; I followed them from Plaza Pilatos to Plaza Alfalfa, past my favorite church, La Basilica Del San Salvador, which is run down, has grass and weeds growing out of its roof tiles, but in that state of disrepair and quiet beauty that stops me every time I pass it. The streets were deserted except for the previous night's drunks and a few early tourists. Then I saw a South Asian couple wandering in the plaza, away from all the major tourist attractions, pulling a suitcase, deep in their coats and scarves and hats, but they were laughing and holding hands. And they gave me the memory of Jeet and his Shakti on a street in an Italian village as it rains, or as rain threatens and cars squeeze through the narrow streets of Bellagio and Shakti is struck by something in a shop window and steps into traffic absentmindedly and Jeet shouts, pulls her back and holds her arm, pulls her close and scolds her, but before we walk much further we're all smiling again, laughing at something she's said. And then my mind was swimming with memories of that place and the days we were together in New York City. In John Berger's book And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief As Photos, he says that history, our past, is never lost, but it spreads around us, and deepens our present experience. And just a moment ago my wife tells me that she's happy she didn't see Shakti in Italy, that there is greater distance in her memory of Shakti's smiling face, her energy and beauty, and that her heart doesn't hurt as much as it would have had she seen her in the fall like I had. I suppose she's right, but I'd not give that up, that last moment looking out the car window as she stood with Jeet at the gate of the palace where they were staying in Bellagio waving to me and Elaine as we drove away, those recent, now distant days we spent together walking to the lake and eating, reading and smoking in their apartment, or our picnic on the roadside or coffee in some mountain cafe where she ordered a whiskey and we all sipped it, four friends reunited in a foreign place, living together briefly, piecing together a friendship that distance had deteriorated. I still have trouble believing that Shakti is gone; I have these memories of her, as well as those of the 7 Carmine readings she filmed in the Pink Pony in New York, dinner with her and Jeet in the East Village, at Elaine's house... I think of Shakti, her energy, her life and laughter, and her absence overwhelms me.
22 May, 2007
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.
19 May, 2007
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.
17 May, 2007
She rubbed her fingers against the petals' rough edges where the miniscule prickly growth aroused her skin. The long, precariously balanced tips on the internal stem, the male seed—mostly red, sometimes an even more perverse pink—looked at her as if in challenge: can you be more lovely than I?
(from the journals of Shakti Bhatt)
by Bani Abidi
This January when I came to Delhi for Sarnath's book launch, Shakti and I met for coffee one day in DefCol. She and I sat in a little park in the market and spoke about the state of English writing in India, about Bracket Books, about the author from the North East whom she was going to publish, and moved on to a long conversation about North East politics and then, just as easily, we switched to art and what I was working on. Conversation is rarely as engaged, as easy, and as interesting as it was with her. I remember shouting out to her while Sarnath was on the phone with her later that evening, that I had loved talking to her. She was one of the main people I would think of, when, in the following months, I would tell my friends in Lahore that Delhi is socially a fabulous place. I was really looking forward to having her be part of my life in Delhi. I remember her running up to me at Sarnath's book launch and stating that she had instantly developed a crush on my husband with his new haircut! She was such a mad and fun person, so charming...and so beautiful.
I think of her in her striped tights, short sexy skirts, and her black coat. In her spiffy winter outfits...this petite, gorgeous woman with the most striking personality...that's what I thought when I first met her last December. Samit posted on his blog a photo from his birthday and I can't stop thinking of that evening. We hung around freezing, huddled, eating fish tikkas, and finally had to drag Sarnath away from his obsessive socializing to get to Samit's in time. It was really heartening to be able to connect so quickly with a close friend of Sarnath's, who had no problem in joining me in taking the mickey out of him. She and he were such party buddies...he would say, "Let me call Shaktiben and find out what's happening tonight".
Her death has been an awful loss for everyone.
May her memory and her spirit live long and continue to touch the lives of even those who were not fortunate enough to have known her.
16 May, 2007
by Monica Narula
I remember Shakti, and I remember Shakti and Jeet together. I
remember the times we sat and ate together and I remember the
fact that we didn't manage to get drunk together. I remember the
terrace and her study table and the book shelves and the beautiful
bed and the sound of a live saxophone. I remember a pink drink I only
tasted and tomato sandwiches I put away in quantity. I remember
birthday tea and delicious pastries when passing by on another day. I
remember avocados and beef fry. I remember interview sessions and
real conversations. I remember laughter and photographs. I remember
wit and 'a lack of irony'.
I am so glad that all of this was a part of my life.
by Sajay Samuel & Samar Farage
After some months of their meeting, Shakti and Jeet dropped by for a weekend. This would be the first time we would meet her. Jeet was still courting her and evidently needed to move matters forward. And so, one crisp fall weekend, in a little flat in a little town in Central Pennsylvania, we supped on a dinner prepared by Jeet for Shakti. If food is the music of love, on that clear night we partook of a glorious song.
To us she seemed an improbable gift: beautiful, charming, and wise beyond her years, a sharp intelligence wrapped in a warm wit, a shard of light around which many could gather. She was forgiving—when we could not attend their wedding in New York; she was hospitable to a fault—when we risked a journey to the big city to see them; she sternly prodded and poked as only a motherly editor would—when she heard we might have something to write about. We met her about once a year and each time we parted we left heartened, lifted.
And now we miss her. And now we weep for him she has left behind. And now we take joy in the memory of her.
15 May, 2007
by Sonia Nazareth
Shakti, I met in February this year.
24 hours later we are in a bar. As we sip Cosmopolitans, I think how joyful I am to have met this vital girl, with vividly lashed eyes and lips beautifully swollen into doing her bidding. Two waiters hover by, attentive, but we forget to order for we discover that besides being in college at the same time and being the same age, we are happy together. Space opens up around us. And we fly in. Sharing about our lives is as easy as it was buying the identical black dresses that lie beside us. We talk about what makes our summer's winter and our winter's summer. And the honesty in her makes everything a hopeful shade of spring.
As we bypass the squid in favour of conversation, I see how easy it is to love this girl. For the empathy in her eyes is the space in which we are human. And vulnerability in our interaction has become as easy as strength.
But that's not the only reason I love her. I love her for the way she injects me with warmth. And the world with life. And her gender with androgyny.
I love her for the eloquence in her face that has even the pastry sitting between us with its jammy red heart responding.
It is time to go now. As we leave she presses an Indian sweet into my hand. "You must eat it, it is homemade," she says. I nibble. She encourages me to go further. A hunk of sweetness dislocates in my mouth. Crumbs fly everywhere. We laugh. We hold each other. We promise to write. "Tell me why you love the sea," she cries as her black and yellow cab flies past mine. We know we will always be friends.
by Keki Daruwalla
I came to know Shakti obviously through Jeet and I knew Jeet Thayil only through his poems. I reviewed a double-decker he had figured in with Vijay Nambisan and liked his poetry (though he thought, I came to know later, that I had not been laudatory enough—a common enough complaint with most of us poets—mea culpa). When he started editing an anthology of Indian poetry in English for Fulcrum magazine, we corresponded. Then he moved to Delhi and came over with his wife, Shakti. The couple was obviously in love. It was the first time I had met her and I couldn't help being impressed. She was warm, outgoing, and thoroughly immersed in books. She was more aware of what was going on in the literary world than I was. In fact, she was with Random House who had just opened a branch in Delhi.
Shakti told me at our first meeting that one of the projects she was toying with was to ask me to write an autobiography—but an unusual one. Link it up with your writing, she said, concentrate on the external event that triggered off a poem or a story. I wouldn't look at a proposal for an autobiography (it would be pretty boring), but the way she put it, it seemed quite an idea and I kept mulling it over.
When Bruce King and Adele came to Delhi and stayed at Nizamuddin with Jeet and Shakti, who were then with Shakti's mother, Sheela Bhatt, I went across. We had a long evening over pepper vodka.
After that we kept meeting at literary events—and in Delhi they are events. I went to a performance poetry function organized by the British Council at the Habitat Centre, where Jeet was reading. It was quite an evening, with a rap session thrown in. There was a big crowd and I was told it was Shakti who had sent as many as 300 emails to people about the event. In a country which puts a premium on mediocrity, if not downright incompetence, such efficiency was almost baffling.
I thought Shakti was a fine judge of poetry, and when she didn't like a poem or a poet, she didn't mince words. (Frankness was one of her endearing qualities.) She had a feel for language and the texture of the narrative that goes to make good literature. I was told later that she had started work on a novel. I would have loved to read it.
Nothing prepared me, or anyone else for that matter, for the tragedy that overtook her. I went to IIT Kharagpur for a talk and when I returned on April 1st, I saw a disturbing email from critic and friend Bruce King, from Paris, talking about the "horrible news about Shakti". I phoned up fellow poets but no one seemed to know anything. The next day the terrible news was confirmed
I carry Shakti's image in my mind—very slim, confident, beautiful in her own way, always warm, and looking forward to what life had to offer. May her soul rest in peace.
14 May, 2007
by Michael Creighton
Years from now,
we may smile and sigh at the sight
of a horribly misplaced comma
or a ball badly thrown
by a woman in shoes
the color of sky,
but right now, all we can see
is this paper kite crashing,
smoke rising from a corn-seller's coals,
and beyond, that thing with feathers
hanging high in a mulberry tree,
spread wings brushing
leaves and blood-red fruit.
13 May, 2007
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?
12 May, 2007
by Kathleen McCaul
I met Shakti on my second day in Delhi, unsure why the hell I had moved to the city. In a blur of unfamiliar faces she immediately stood out, stalking into the room in a bright red tight top, black trousers and killer heels. A take-no-prisoners woman who filled the room despite sitting in a corner. She immediately started smoking, unapologetically. I was a bit scared of her actually, but I still asked for a cigarette and we got talking.
She'd been a journalist, she'd been to Kashmir, like me. We drank wine together and she told me about her husband and New York and asked me how old I was. We were practically the same age but she'd been married for four years. How did she do that? How did she manage to be young and grown-up at the same time? So attached and so free? Shakti seemed very romantic to me.
It was December. I filled my days with trying to work out what the hell I was doing in Delhi and wondering how India could be so cold. I visited Khan market to look at heaters and radios to stop our new flat seeming so empty and lonely. There were Shakti and Jeet filling up a car with two extravagantly huge heaters. Shakti had on her black boots and huge purple sunglasses which went with her lilac lipstick and made her look like a movie star. She was unashamedly glamorous.
"Come," she ordered.
We went to have coffee - well, I had a tea and Shakti had, as always, her thick black coffee. We talked about writing and Delhi and Bombay and we talked about her novel.
"God. Everyone in Delhi is writing a novel!" I said.
"I know," she said, with a half-confident half-smile.
I got busy with commissions and Shakti helped me with a story. She helped me with everything -- where to get a haircut, where to buy T-shirts, where to get good food, where to have fun. We met again and talked about everything and we gossiped about everyone. Our coffees spread into lunches, spread into shopping expeditions, spread into lost afternoons laughing in rickshaws; whole days and nights of hanging out with Shakti. Delhi is a big city with big distances between people and places. Shakti strolled around making it seem smaller.
I think my favourite day with Shakti was when I woke up one morning morose and uninspired. I sat on my sofa glum with the idea of a day spent in front of my solitary laptop; tapping, tapping. I thought Shakti would be busy, but I phoned her and asked if she would come to Old Delhi and review a tea shop with me. She agreed straight away; no "ums" or "ahs" or "maybes". I went round to her light and breezy flat. She gave me a midday breakfast of upma and squirted herself with perfume before we went out. Always a little bit of glamour.
Old Delhi was hot and busy and fumy. We found this miracle teashop, a small quiet wooden pilgrimage site for tea connoisseurs, a few yards away from severed goat heads and piles of deep-fried birds. We sat in the shade of the slatted blinds and tasted tea and talked and talked again. She had this great way of opening her eyes really big and arching her eyebrows and saying "No!" She talked about when she was in Florida and she was a hippy who didn't wear bras. She confessed her biggest crime to me which she made me swear not to tell a soul. I'd like to write it here, the crime was hilarious and pretty bad, but I've promised. We talked about children and our futures and food and what we liked to cook and what we were going to cook for each other. I'd just learnt broccoli and tofu stir-fry. Shakti had lived on it for a year.
We could have just gone back home after we'd both bought our earl grey and green tea, but Shakti was easy and free with her time. Being with her was like being back at university, stealing away from lectures or libraries. You knew you should maybe be working but deeper down you knew having fun with a friend was not only far more pleasant, but far more important and beneficial.
We examined oversized steel juicers and coffee-making machines shining on the roadside. One said Shakti. I got overexcited.
"You have to buy it!"
"Maybe," she said. I think she was probably used to her name, one of India's favourite words, written all over the place. I wasn't and I looked it up on the Internet later. It means power, energy, life-force.
We wandered through the market to the Jama Masjid, examining the oil-filled black woks and the fish heads and the chickens in wooden baskets and the Urdu books. Shakti was as entranced as I was, perhaps more so. She had her phone and was taking pictures and making tiny films and crouching down to talk to children. She bantered charmingly with old bearded shopkeepers and narrated overheard snatches of conversation to me.
"Those two men are arguing about who is going to die first," she told me.
We wandered through the mosque, pigeons flew around us and we talked about Islam and India and political correctness. We held onto each other, climbing up the minaret's narrow, black spiral staircase. We emerged high on the Delhi skyline and squashed in with all the dark boys in their flapping pyjamas and white caps, clinging onto the rail in the tiny tower top. Shakti took more photos and played some tunes; inappropriate hip-hop I think. She'd never been to the Jama Masjid before. We were tourists in the city we lived in. We got a cycle rickshaw back. The sun was just glowing and the shadows were long and we smoked.
"It's days like these that make me think I can still live in this city," she said. And I was so happy.
For me, Shakti was unconventional, creative and clever. She was giving up smoking by reading Anna Karenina. Underneath this immediate brightness, I found a thoughtful softness which made her more special.
She has taught me to be friendlier, more open and more spontaneous. She's taught me to phone friends on a whim, invite people I don't know so well over to mine, and be kind to strangers I meet at parties. I feel I'm a better person for knowing Shakti.
10 May, 2007
by Anand Thakore
The last thing I said to Shakti was: 'Don't worry, I'll brush my teeth.' I was seeing her and Jeet to a cab outside my house where they had been staying for a couple of days. Shakti had spent an hour in the morning dictating to me a list of items that 'needed doing': Cut your hair, use cockroach repellant, brush your teeth (of course...), get rid at once of old old flowers ('dead flowers are a favourable breeding ground for mosquitoes...'), decide which clothes you want to keep, etc. I took her instructions down in a large black notebook. Few people have been able to make me do this sort of thing. Shakti could.
She had a way of disarming people that made even things like instruction-lists and advice sound like fun; though I bet she was dead serious about every one of her numerous commandments, her 'suggestions' towards more evolved forms of domestic well-being. She insisted on tipping the servants, though I had warned her not to spoil them.
Shakti was vibrant, caring and serious about having fun. When she learned that I like flowers and tea she brought me tea and flowers. I sang verses for her from old Gujarati folk-songs, which she seemed to remember better than I did. We danced garba in my living room, spinning with the abandon of dervishes on every fifth beat. We talked about plays and books and, of course, people: primarily how they looked, walked and dressed, but also how they seemed to think, and, if they were writers, how they wrote.
She was my friend. I will miss her.
by Tishani Doshi
I'll tell you what I thought when I first met Shakti. I thought — this is a woman with balls. She was beautiful, strong, opinionated, serious, talented, funny. A rare thing, in other words. I wanted to befriend her immediately. Not just because she was all of these things, and she was married to Jeet — but because I felt that we were all on the brink of something extremely beautiful, a beginning. I thought we were settling in for a long something. And so to get this news now, to confront this other reality, which contradicts everything from those first impressions — this is hard, unimaginably hard. The last time I saw her was in February in Mumbai. We were sharing an autorickshaw. It was after midnight. It does not feel like a proper goodbye.
Is it true that you too
Must pass in a hurry.
09 May, 2007
06 May, 2007
by Mridula Koshy
My friend, Shakti Bhatt, went too soon. Our friendship was too brief. I remember her daily. When I can pull away from this grief it is because I am pulled by the memory of how huge her brief life was, and how much she gave me. I remember her as a woman who glittered and shared that glitter generously, almost squanderously, with her friends. This is what I wish to honour about her.
When I met Shakti I had not begun to see myself as a writer. It was exhilarating to have her read my writing and pronounce it good. And she did more than that. She sat me down and told me where to submit, how not to be discouraged, how to use a semi-colon correctly. She told me to lie to anyone who got in the way of my writing by telling them I was sitting on a fat contract deliverable in two years. That, she said, would give me enough time to write and make the lie a truth. She was bold that way. She pronounced me a writer, and made me believe her. She asked for that first meeting with me, she pursued it into happening, and she asked to read my writing. She read promptly and emailed immediately to express approval. Then she emailed later in the day, telling me of images that lingered from her reading. Our relationship in the beginning was all about my writing and that was a first for me.
That she saw something in me and knew to build confidence in me was of course part of her generosity. I have since found out that she was similarly generous with many, many others in whom she saw talent and whom she pushed to acknowledge these talents. I have to conclude that this was more than a character trait with her; it was a skill. She was skilled in seeing possibilities in people and in working to bring them out. At the memorial held for Shakti, her friends (many of them unknown to one another) repeated the same stories – of being selected for friendship, of being organized into it (the 'Shakti coffee date'), of being told what best use one could make of one's life. I was not the only one left exhilarated and abashed by her attentions. I was not the only one caught up in her whirlwind productivity. She had projects in the air, and she slotted us as she saw fit into these projects. I had the sense she was building something big, bigger than herself and bigger than me, and that that something was to be free of pettiness.
So I come back to her generosity. The door was always open. It takes a certain intelligence to know that open doors are how one builds community, whether literary or any other. And again, at the memorial, we talked about that open door – both the literal one at D-377 through which I walked to eat up hours of her time listening to her out-loud editorial mind at work on my manuscript, and the figurative one that had her carrying on introductions among one and all, opening up space where there was an absence. Again I have to wonder: was it her kindness or her smarts? And I conclude she was possessed of both.
Shakti Bhatt was beautiful, incredibly so. I wondered how it was that her lips were always so perfectly hued and asked her why she looked like New York in New Delhi. She knew how to take a compliment. She laughed. She was that easy with receiving one. When our friendship moved on to include clothes and shopping I understood her confidence. Why shouldn't she have been confident? Her beauty, no mere accident of biology (although it was that too), was a fundamental expression of her wit and creativity. I remember her trying on a petrol blue vinyl jacket at Sarojini Nagar. So terrible, so fake, but she slouched in it to charming effect and I was all over her to buy it. She didn't. Perhaps slouching all day would not have been fun. Her style - witty, sexy and fun - was singular. Original. And perhaps it is the shallow in me speaking when I say that I number among the many graces I miss, the grace of her stylish ways. I used to describe the clothes I planned to wear in minute detail to her and she would be as absorbed in the meaning of costuming as I. She endorsed self-creation.
Recently I saw pictures of her from her New York days. It hurt to see this evidence of the person in evolution that she was. I had not thought of her that way while she was alive. It makes me miss not only the Shakti I knew but also the one she was becoming.
I cannot leave out of this the place she carved in my children's heart. At least in the case of my then six-year-old son, it went beyond the belief held common to all three of my kids that she was a kid like them, someone to play with. For him, it was a case of enchantment. He fell hard for her and in complete sincerity and innocent in his besottment said of her, "Shakti has so many…." Here he described her with his hands, curving fistfuls of air. Then he added rather judiciously, "I think Jeet must have fun with her." I know my sons have both, each in their time, fallen for me and wished their father out of the picture. The elder one has yet to fall for anyone else. The younger one, apparently his own person in this regard, gave his heart to Shakti, maybe on one of those days playing frisbee, last December in Manali. And once back in Delhi , she responded, taking the time to write him. We set him up with an email account and he wrote at a steady pace in sixteen point emails geared to offer her his kid world where he naturally saw a place for her to romp. And she came and played. I know I loved her then. What else can a mother ask for but for others to love her children? When Shakti died we helped Akshay save the thirty or so emails that traveled back and forth between them into a folder. He named it himself: "Lost." The name speaks to the loss of Shakti and a little bit to the loss of himself. I told Jeet recently, years from now when Akshay moves in the bigger world outside our home, bringing back with him the young women he will love, I will be scanning their faces for Shakti's.
I dreamt of her last night, after going to sleep thinking I would wake and write this. In my dream I had trouble meeting her eyes and felt awkward and sad for her. She looked directly and—it seemed—tiredly at me. She looked as beautiful as she did in life and was wearing a beautiful coat – three-quarter length, rich brown, with a sort of illusory ostrich feather effect to it. She took the coat off and went to my kitchen and returned with a katori of oil which she rubbed on my back. I sat on a stool like a child being prepared for a bath and, instead of bathing, wrote on a tablet of paper.
The cave-dweller (or is it the Shaman in me) wants to believe I saw her and that she was telling me to write. But the me who lives in this century knows this was a visit from the imprint she left in my mind of the enduring kindness and hopefulness she embodied. And yes, in that sense, it was her.
by Kavita Puri Arora
We first spoke on the phone sometime in October 2005. Shakti always had an immediacy and an urgency in her voice. She'd call, ask a question, push for a response, and politely hang up.
At the time she was editing Lifestyle Trends magazine and I was with HarperCollins. She'd call me off and on, mostly when she received a book she liked and wanted information on an author or an event. Like many of the other reviewers I had never met, 'Shakti Bhatt' was a myth. We got re-acquainted while I was working at the British Council, Delhi.
Vivek Narayanan recommended Jeet Thayil as one of the poets for a spoken word season BC was hosting. He gave me two numbers – Shakti's and Jeet's. He said, try Jeet but if you can't get through call his wife Shakti because she'll definitely respond. I couldn't get through to Jeet, so I called Shakti's mobile, and it wasn't a surprise when she picked up and promptly handed him the phone.
Shakti's name would always be on the guest-list for BC events. I finally met her at one such event, and I distinctly remember our first face-to-face being a long one.
We spoke about her wanting to apply for a BC scholarship, about Random House, about Bracket Books, about HarperCollins. And we spoke about Delhi, a city she loved and hated.
My most recent unforgettable memory of Shakti is from a party at my house. My husband Shankar lit a bonfire and she kept gravitating towards it. Everyone else was standing, but she insisted on crouching. "I love fire," she said.
She was drinking red wine. I went to fill her glass and noticed the rim was chipped. When I offered to change it, she said, "No, and stop being so formal." She mingled, but spent most of the evening with my friend Neeru's adorable three-year-old, Kavin. Kavin was building blocks, Shakti built with him.
That night I gave Shakti a short leather skirt. She said she would wear it to Jeet's event. "I love short skirts," she said.
A few days later, I received the following text from her:
The skirt was a big hit. The event unlike any other. J acknowledged you on stage. Thank you for everything.That was the last text Shakti sent me.
Alice spoke about Shakti appearing in her dreams. She's been in many of my dreams too.
And strangely enough, she was in my thoughts. This last month, without knowing what had happened, I thought about Shakti and I spoke about her. The Midsummer Night's Dream Company I've been travelling with knew of her... and now know of her absence.
The vacuum is big and irreversible.
Sometimes I wish the myth were still a myth. I wish I didn't miss her as much as I do. I wish she were still a text away.
by Jitender Shambi
The smile of a goddess
The face of an urchin
Dancing with arms open to the sky
Laughing from lips to fingertips
Eyes open widely
Hands smothered in pink leather gloves
Warmth from the glitter of a silver jumper
Height from the heel of a well loved shoe
Navigator without direction
Hula girl without shame
Hands that moved like a Delhiwallah
Feet that walked like a New Yorker
Insanely in love
Alive for life
She called me 'pretty girl'
And I called her 'lovely lady'…..
Shakti, my friend, I miss you.
by Bobby Duggal
What can I say to you my friend!
My trembling words are without light for your shadow.
Grief is selfish and cannot be shared,
it multiplies. What crazy fraction can divide the loss?
In the city's blank teeming space,
we are dead at night and ghosts by day.
Thoughts pile up on our plates
and each day our appetite shrinks.
Listening with ears that have become
nostrils, deafened by the echo
of a forgotten scent.
What can I say with my frozen tongue!
by Siddhartha Deb
Email is how I have been in touch with Shakti over the past couple of years. The more I look back at that time, I find myself marvelling that Shakti managed to transform even email into something throbbing with her personality. I miss her emails, her packets from Delhi, her incredible energy, her hopes for herself, her friends, and art, and missing all that makes me think that it's impossible that all that hope and life could have just disappeared with her. It hasn't, of course, not when our memories are so caught up with her.
04 May, 2007
by Senti Toy
I met Shakti way down on the Lower East Side of New York City, on Chrystie Street, where she moved to be with her love, Jeet. There were no pretensions with her — she was always at ease and open-hearted, open arms and open smile. I did a few poetry performances with Jeet and at rehearsal she listened with her heart, and gently inspired us on. When I think of Shakti I think 'light' and long beautiful walks in the sun. She would tell me about the walks she took with Jeet – Central Park, shoe shopping, just walking... on beautiful days drenched in sweet love, light and contentment. It was joyful knowing her and having conversations with her. I still feel her warmth, her light, her person, and that vital energy she and Jeet shared. None of this is gone, none of it has changed. I still sense her tender presence.
by Chiki Sarkar
Shakti and I worked in the same publishing house, although she left just as I arrived. But we'd been in touch before her departure and we'd gossiped and traded books and I had thought, this girl has ambition, energy and flair.
So I spent my first week in India trying to seduce her back to Random House. We met for dinner at Swagat — and I will always be grateful to Shakti for introducing me to it — and she made me have Bombay Duck and Fish Gassi, the two dishes I always order when I go back. I remember very little about that evening except we seemed to love the same books and that conversation never seemed to stop. We met again a few days later, this time with Jeet, and my memory of that evening was the same: hazy but full of chatter and buzz.
Shakti went on to take a much more interesting job, starting her own imprint at IBD, and I saw much less of her. I remember a few dinners in the new year, a books party, a discussion we organised that she chaired, a rather unexpected and fun evening after, exchanges of emails, and talk of meeting up. I always left our encounters with the same impression I had of her when we first met, what a sharp, cool young woman she was, what good company, how it would be fun to see her more often. But of course there was Real Life in between, the everyday busyness of little things, and it had been some time since I saw her last.
So many people will no doubt tell their story of Shakti in a similar fashion: we had arranged to meet but didn't in the end; we were about to see each other next week; we had drinks just the other day. It is the only way we can talk about a death so unexpected, as if it were an interruption, as if Real Life were to start up any minute: the chats over the phone, the dates for dinner, the jokey email exchange, the promise to meet soon.
02 May, 2007
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.
by Alice Cicolini
I wanted to add something on behalf of everyone who came into contact with Shakti at the British Council during the process of running the Young Publisher of the Year project.
My colleague Debanjan in Kolkata wrote, “I am so shocked to hear the news. Shakti was brilliant at the Indian IYPY awards final and the very soul of the party that followed. I dropped her off at her relation’s place at the end of that evening and we spoke about her enormously talented husband Jeet, whom I knew from my college years. We discussed Jeet’s first book of poems, Apocalypso, which I had reviewed very warmly for The Telegraph. She was very interested in Graham Greene – not exactly the most popular author – and we even discussed the possibility of having a Greene festival in India (the kind of inspirational discussions one tends to have after a few drinks). I just can’t believe the news...”
Debanjan’s sentiments were echoed by the judges who said of her that “Shakti looks at the author as the primary creative source while emphasising young India. We were very impressed with her passionate commitment to the quality of editorial input.” It sounds a bit dry looking at it on the page, but I suppose what they were trying to capture was her total commitment to quality and innovation both in the work and in how it was communicated.
I’ve attached some shots of her at the final; looking at them now it seems so impossible to believe that this poised and beautiful woman isn’t here anymore.
Strangely, on a more personal note, I have seen her so many times in my dreams in the last week, and in those fleeting moments when the mind just begins to drift from the task in hand. And not I alone; one of my colleagues said that the night before she heard the news, Shakti had appeared in her dreams. It’s quite extraordinary how it feels when it happens too; it’s so light, almost like the brush of a feather as her image flickers in and out, like she’s trying to let us know something, but gently . . .
Finalists, after a hard day's work
by Himanshu Verma
Why do I feel I have a special bond with Shakti Bhatt? I could be vain enough to think I was closer to her than many friends of ours, all of whom were part of a certain sub-scene of Delhi society. But I did know her before most everyone else by virtue of being her classmate at Sardar Patel Vidyalaya. The nerdy Himanshu of those days was taught the then very popular Macarena by Shakti at his first ever grown up party! She was a livewire even then and all of us thought she was the sparkiest one around.
There are so many memories, so many things she said to me, so many things we said we would do and didn't end up doing - books, photo-shoots, and more.
The last time I met her was at Baci. I sat on her lap very precariously, making sure I did not put too much weight on her and rustle her gorgeous self. She said it was fine, that I could relax, she could take the weight.
This is my last memory of her.
We love you Shakti!