Here’s a picture I shot of Shakti Bhat when she was a panelist at the Kitab Festival (she is seated second from left to the right of PM Sukumar of Harper Collins. Others in the picture are Peter Gordon, Antara Dev Sen of Little Magazine and poet Arvind Mehrotra.). To our great grief she is no more. I had interacted her when I had gone to Delhi to see if my novel The Love Song of Luke Varkey could be published. She was very warm and welcoming and didn’t have any airs.
At a Caferati workshop she spoke of creating “Welcoming Spaces” for writers in publishing houses. What a nice thought, what a nice idea, I think now in retrospect, if publishing houses had warmth and charmth and welcoming faces such as she had. (I am not saying there are no welcoming spaces. There are. But they need to publish me first, to make me reveal their names, wink!) The first person I contacted, or, rather, I found approachable when I arrived in Delhi was Shakti and she invited me right over. Ah! I thought, what about those horror stories I had heard, about, “Leave your manuscript at the reception, and scoot, we don’t want your ugly face adorning our offices, least of all our book jackets,” that I had heard from fellow writers.
I guess she had that rare quality of compassion, which may be because she was a writer herself. I heard she was working on a novel, which I would dearly want to read, whatever the stage it was in. I guess she was one of us and I feel the loss all the more. Her successor (at the publisher where she was then working) wasn’t, well, as kind. I received the manuscript back with some internal stationery attached, and when I enquired if the editor would like to discuss the manuscript, the curt reply was, “There’s nothing to discuss.” Ahem, but that’s another story.
She put me completely at ease on all the occasions I met her in her office at International Trade Center at Barakhamba Road. At the Kitab Festival also I had a brief conversation with her and she remembered me and asked about the fate of my novel. I didn’t know she was married to Jeet Thayil, which I only came to know through Kitabkhana. My condolences to Jeet and Shakti’s immediate family in their hour of need.
Here’s the poem (To Shakti Bhat) I wrote for her based on our meeting at the Kitab Festival. As I was entering the little door of “Little Theatre” and she was exiting I said “Bye Shakti” and I didn’t know that was to be our last spoken words. So this poem. Shakti Bhat, RIP.