I met Shakti at a boring Delhi party over two years ago; she and Jeet had just moved back to Delhi from New York, and Shakti was doing what she did best–making friends. We chatted for a bit; she told me I needed sexier shoes (I still do, Shakti, you had the jump on me on that one), slipped a friendly hand into mine and asked when she could come over and meet my cats.
Over the next few months, Jeet and Shakti became part of our lives as though they’d always been there. Shakti joined Random House as an editor, and when we discussed books, I was struck by her openness to new ideas, her enthusiasm about authors. Samit Basu did a reading shortly after that; it coincided with his birthday. I was supposed to be in conversation with Samit; Shakti came up to me before the discussion started and told me she would put her hand up right at the end to ask a very special question, so could I make sure she was the last speaker? I said, of course.
Her question was simple. Would we all sing happy birthday to Samit, and cut the birthday cake she had thoughtfully smuggled in? We did; it’s the only book launch I can remember that ended with the audience bellowing “Happy Birthday to You” at the author. It was a typical Shakti moment.
People gravitated to Shakti because she made us believe that anything was possible. She was curious about photography; she started to take her own pictures, and was planning to make a “wall of memories”, a record of their first years in Delhi. At Jeet’s poetry readings, Shakti was the one handling the digital video camera; she had an instinct for when to zoom in on Jeet’s face, when to capture the audience’s reactions.
She shifted from Random House to start up Bracket Books, and she sparked with ideas for her brand-new imprint. She had also started writing herself, and she had an astonishing voice, a very distinctive style. One of my friends calls it “handwriting”, this business of a writer’s signature, and says that it can’t be taught–either you have your own “handwriting” or you don’t. Shakti did.
At a Caferati evening where she, Jeet and I had been invited to discuss writing with Caferati’s members, Shakti spoke with honesty about the challenges facing new authors, about the need for publishers to create what she called “welcoming spaces” for writers who were starting to find their own voices. She wanted to be one of those publishers; she wanted Bracket to reflect her own credo of openness and encouragement.
Jeet and Shakti had one of the most open houses in a city that takes hospitality seriously. Shakti was always at the heart of those evenings, the one who encouraged us to try to use a hula hoop, to do zany writing experiments, to read serious poetry in a seriously unserious manner. She believed in the importance of silliness, and in her company, I found myself letting go, letting my hair down, relaxing into the moment.
It seems so wrong that someone as vibrant as Shakti should be gone. It seems obscene to be writing what amounts to an obituary for someone who was so alive. But maybe it’s one way to hold on to all the things that Shakti meant to us. In just two years, she brought so much joy into our lives; I believe she would have been an amazing writer, a kind and wise publisher. My thoughts are with Jeet, with their families.
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