Book Reviews

Of tender remembrances through emails

Updated on: Dec 29, 2021
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Nayantara Sahgal’s book Encounter with Kiran which is full of magical exchanges between two writers busts the myth of electronic correspondence being clinical

Can emails have the same tenderness as letters? We often hear how charming letters can be. No one talks the same way of emails—the much-abused electronic cousin. Perhaps, the association of the word ‘electronic’ robs us of the beauty of emotions that can also be attached to emails.

Encounter with Kiran: Fragments from a Relationship by Nayantara Sahgal busts the myth of clinical emails. As Sahgal says early on in the book, ‘Emails don’t have the prestige of letters, but they have an immediacy that letters can’t have.’ United by their love of books and their politics, but separated by distance—Nagarkar in Mumbai, Sahgal in Dehradun—this immediacy is ever-present like a shadow in the emails. And this becomes the ever-important key to their beautiful friendship, that otherwise would have remained an enigma.

As for a certain emotional connect, the emails manage that too, as evidenced by the correspondence. Sample this:

‘I don’t have to wake up to have your name on my tongue or echoing in my head. In Marathi we say “ devache nav ghya ” and “ diwas suru kara ”—take God’s name and start the day. There’s also one other name I’ve discovered that helps to get a good start for the day. Love, sleepless Kiran.’

If this isn’t lyrical bursting forth with undiluted tenderness, what is?

The book is a testimony to the times we live in. It is a touchstone of sorts for our conscience. In a world torn by conflict and chaos, these very personal emails between veteran writer Nayantara Sahgal and a decidedly angry author Kiran Nagarkar throb with life. When the duo first met in 2002 at a literary festival, Sahgal and Nagarkar—the former with more than 20 books under her belt; and the latter with his first work out in English—made an unlikely pair. There was almost no common ground here. It was only over a decade later when Nagarkar wrote to Sahgal about one of her books and she invited him home in Dehradun did this magical correspondence begin that lasted until Nagarkar’s death in 2019. A lifetime of emotions captured in five years alone.

Rich with writing, politics, relationships, history and above all, an abiding affection, this slim book is all you would need on a cold winter evening. Sahgal’s narrative is almost crisp and economical, beautifully juxtaposing the raw emotions that one comes across in the mails. From Bush and Blair to Trump and Obama, the personal cuts across genres to effortlessly encompass the political, the historical… and nudges our social conscience too.

“Would Kabir have managed to shake us awake and arise?” Nagarkar asks. Even as you ponder that question, “What can writers do in these times,” Sahgal asks in one of the speeches in the second half of the book. “They can write,” she answers.

It is a world brimming over with militant nationalism and post-truth that both writers manoeuvre in their words. Needless to say, it is a relatable world for many of us. In the face of fear and sectarianism, this bold little book stands tall—undeterred and confident in its thoughts and emotions. The exchanges are full of pulsating emotions, but they are restrained too. And dignified.

Sahgal, a veteran writer and an exceptionally tall figure, steadfastly keeps the focus on Nagarkar. The book is all the richer for this abiding grace. What I enjoyed most about the book, of course, apart from the heartwarming exchanges, is how two writers read each other and each other’s works. And they do it with warmth and kindness. Woven into all this is pain, gratitude, rage, anxiety, despair and above all, humour in dark times. What could have been a very heavy or even a soppy read becomes a beautiful amalgamation of just the right words with a perfect touch of sensitivity.

When a person decides to let a stranger into the intimacy shared with another, it is a bold move. And the book effortlessly lives up to the courage. Full of engaging exchanges, it would make you want to read it through at one go. But, trust this reader, when she says that you would be so engulfed with emotions that you would need to take a break every now and then simply to savour the beautiful taste of the words on your tongue. This book is a deep look into the life and times of two extraordinary writers, whose open admiration for each other, only makes it a more enjoyable read, for us the strangers.

If you are looking for that perfect read to accompany a steaming cuppa or a glass of mulled wine by the fireplace, look no further.

( Medha Dutta Yadav is a Delhi-based journalist, and literary and art critic. She is on twitter @primidutt )

Check this book out on Amazon

About the Book

Encounter with Kiran: Fragments from a Relationship

Nayantara Sahgal

Speaking Tiger

Pages: 152; Price: ₹450

Published on December 29, 2021

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