Calm, confident, extremely accomplished, incredibly imaginative, IFS officer Sangeeta Bahadur is latest in the brigade of India’s best-selling authors
Recently in the city at Landmark to promote her book Jaal (Book One of the Kaal trilogy), Joint Secretary at the Ministry of External Affairs, Sangeeta Bahadur talks to Postnoon about her career in IFS, writing and life in London via an email interview. Here are some edited excerpts
Tell us, what is keeping you busy at the moment?
At the moment, I am in India to attend a rigorous two-week mid-career training programme organised by the Government for senior Indian diplomats, and that’s keeping us in the classroom nine hours a day! Once I return to London next week, it will be back to the extremely busy and demanding schedule of the Director of The Nehru Centre, which is the Cultural Wing of the Indian High Commission in London. And then, of course, there’s the family and the writing of Vikraal, the second book of the Kaal Trilogy.
How did you get interested in the Civil Services?
I come from a family of Civil Servants. My parents were, hence, keen for me to join the ranks, but since I did most of my senior schooling and college education from Ahmedabad and Mumbai, I had developed a healthy contempt for the Babu’s vocation and was quite determined to defy the family tradition Fortunately for all concerned, my father’s oldest friend – a Civil Servant himself – turned the tide when he pointed out that the IFS was a truly glamorous option minus the triviality, and my joining it would make it a win-win situation for everybody. So that’s how it happened.
What would you say has been your biggest achievement and your biggest challenge in your job so far?
The job of an IFS officer is a constant challenge. In a 25-year career, I’ve been through all of that and have survived to tell the tale. I would say that is an achievement in itself! However, I rate my three years as the Deputy Director General of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) as the most challenging, engaging and rewarding period of my working life so far. The work pressure was tremendous, with split-second decisions required all the time, but it was gratifying to see the results of my decisions almost instantly.
Women in the civil services — how much has the scene changed over the years?
As far as the Foreign Service is concerned, after a mercifully short phase of 5-6 years when it seemed to have completely fallen out of favour with women, I can see a respectable number of intelligent, ambitious young women gravitating towards the unusual but wide-lens lifestyle and the global work-profile it offers. Exactly one-third of the latest IFS batch (2011) is of the female persuasion! By any standards, this can be defined as the achievement of a critical mass of sorts!
How did the Kaal Trilogy come to be?
The story germinated within me perhaps eight years ago, and before I knew it I was completely enmeshed in the web of the world coming alive in my mind. The tale, the characters, the geography, history, strategic equations, religious configurations and cultural ethos were all so vivid that when I sat down to write the first book, Jaal, it was almost like watching a movie unfold.It finally took me around six years of weaving the multi-layered tapestry of the story.
Were you always interested in writing?
I wrote my first short story at the age of nine, my first novel at the age of thirteen – following it up with a dozen more over the next 10 years, all of which were extremely popular with my school- and college-mates! So, yes – I guess you can say that I was always interested in writing!
Do you read a lot? Who are your favourite authors and genres?
I read a great deal of well-written speculative fiction along with legal drama, crime fiction, romance, fictionalised history and adventure. Some writers who I like are Alexander Dumas, J.R.R Tolkien, David Eddings, Raymond E. Feist, Nora Roberts, Mary Higgins Clark, Dan Brown, Gerald Durrell and Shashi Tharoor.
How is it to live in London? What do you miss about India?
Since I live in the heart of London, in Mayfair, I am close to virtually everything that people go to London for. It is, I must admit, a great experience. This is not to say that I don’t miss my country. I miss the street food, the delicious Delhi winters, my friends and their warmth. I desperately miss my daughter, Shardooli, who’s in Delhi to complete her graduation, and my husband who only visits me now for limited periods due to the compulsions of his work in India.
First Job: Indian Foreign Service
Motto: Value yourself; if you don’t, nobody else will
Inspiration: My father for teaching me to love stories and enjoy words. My husband Yuresh, who taught me to live again and to accept myself just the way I am.
Last book read: Warlord Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell
Last movie watched: Teri Meri Kahani
Hobbies/interest: Reading, singing, theatre