Sathya Saran is as busy as ever. The former editor of Femina now writes articles as a freelancer, books as an author, and edits and assigns books as Consulting Editor, HarperCollins Publishers India. She also teaches fashion journalism at NIFT, Mumbai and Kangra, and has resumed learning classical music. Sathya chats with Sheila Kumar about herlatest book on ghazal singer Jagjit Singh, Baat Niklegi Toh Phir. Excerpts from the interview.
There's been a book on Guru Dutt as seen by Abrar Alvi, on S.D. Burman, now this one on Jagjit Singh. What brings you to these biographies? Is it the feeling that there is a knowledge gap to be filled or is it an expression of your interest in Hindi films, music?
A bit of both. I love music and films and as a writer, this is one way of connecting with both. Besides, I believe a biography is a chronicle of the times the person lives in, a record of his creative journey. Writing the biographies of such people ensures their work lives on within a context, and they are not allowed to fade into mere names as the decades pass.
How do you go about writing these bios?
I collect the material first, the interviews and published stuff, before I write. It gives me the complete picture and sets the tone of the book. However, inevitably, fresh material does pop up while I am midway through writing the book and, of course, it needs to be threaded in.
How long did this book on Jagjit Singh take? Did the idea germinate or did somethingtrigger it off?
The idea came from HarperCollins and I jumped at it. The research took a while because I was still completing my work on SD Burman, and also because I travel a lot. Then, tracking down everyone I interviewed for the book took time. However, the writing was fast; I think my journalistic experience came in handy, I was writing 3,000 words a day and worked for a month or so at a stretch, with the gap of a few days in between.
Did you know Jagjit and Chitra personally or did you get to know them while the book was being written?
I knew them both, as I had interviewed them a couple of times for Femina. Unfortunately, I was assigned the book after Jagjit had passed away. The quotes by him in the book are from a coffee table book Beyond Time, privately published years ago. Chitra gave me the book and the publisher gave me the permission to quote from it. I got to know Chitra better while interviewing her for the book and realised that she is a strong, brave woman.
What are the specific challenges in writing these bios?
The challenge is often tracking people down, getting them to talk. My biggest challenge is dates and names; in the heat of writing, sometimes they are left out. Luckily, I have been blessed with good editors.
Do you have a target reader in mind?
I write for anyone who admires the subjects of my books.
You started off with short stories. Do you have any decided preference for one kind of genre over another?
I love writing. I still write short stories, and there is a somnolent novel which I hope to finish some day. But I think one can blend styles. If you read the SD Burman book, you will see that I have used a fictional style to tell a story rooted in fact.
What is your take on the fact that anyone who can think in English is now writing in the language?
I believe in live and let live. To each his own (reader)…
Do you believe in the literary fiction/commercial fiction dichotomy? Where would your work fall?
My books are not great commercial successes. But as long as people whose work I admire enjoy reading my books, I feel I am rewarded enough. At the launch of Sun Mere Bandhu Re: The World of SD Burman, Gulzar sahab said it had literary qualities and I was over the moon. Money gets spent. Such words can be hoarded forever.
Do you have a set writing routine?
I try to write a few hours every day. Deadlines, and the need to write, push me. But there are times when I let the day go without writing a line. I think it is important to let things flow, not be too rigid about routine.
Do you write as it flows, and later edit it, or do you leave it to your editor ?
I have realised that my first draft is usually the best structured. When I am asked to rewrite, it never sounds or reads as well. But, of course, a clean-up is needed. One, because I sometimes repeat words, and two, my typing is atrocious!