Sathya Saran: A Woman Of Substance

Sathya Saran

When I sent the text for an interview request to journalist, editor, writer and activist Sathya Saran – it was with cold and clammy hands. Then began the waiting for the blue tick to appear on the phone’s screen. With my fingers and toes crossed in the hope that she would agree, they un-crossed just as quickly, out of anxiety that she just might! The struggle was real. I mean here I was, possibly about to get a chance to talk to an icon in the field of journalism, a woman I had read extensively and long admired, and my brains were breaking into a sweat wondering how/what to say to someone who had been on both sides of the interviewer table over the years.

I have been an ardent follower of Sathya Saran’s work from the time she was the editor of Femina (for 12 years) and the founding editor of the magazine, ME (for five years). A recipient of several prestigious awards for her contribution to journalism for over four decades, her accomplishments include critical acclaim as an author.

Sathya has written incisive biographies on legends like Guru Dutt, S.D. Burman, Jagjit Singh, and the most recent one, Hariprasad Chaurasia: Breath Of Gold. There are short stories collections – The Dark Side and From Me to You; non fiction books – Angoor: Insights into the Film; How to look like Miss India; and even a TV series on marital problems called Kashmakash among others.

An activist with a purpose, Sathya Saran has been at the forefront of issues relating to women’s empowerment and protecting the environment, be it taking a stand against fairness skin ads or fighting for the ban on the use of plastic. Also known are her skills in folk dance and theatre, her love of old Hindi film songs and her passion for mountains and nature.

Truly a woman of substance, I thought, while I mulled over how/what to ask if she were to say yes. Just then her text came saying, “Yes”. And out went all thoughts of clammy hands and mulled thoughts as a flurry of calls, emails and texts ensued. Through the exchange that followed, I learnt what makes Sathya Saran the person she is. Much like her name, there is integrity and honesty in her writings; a display of an indefatigable spirit in the causes she champions; and a kindness and generosity of heart in the way she deals with people.

With the interview done, and quite smoothly too, the task at hand now was to transcribe it. That it took copious amounts of coffee and many long hours to write a draft decent enough to send for her approval is an understatement. Fully prepared for several more rounds, I mailed Sathya requesting her to go through Draft 1 to let me know the changes she wanted. In what seemed like an eternity but were only a couple of hours, her reply came, “It’s perfect.” And those two words are the reason why I’ve been over the moon ever since.

To know more about the lesser known facts about the immensely inspiring woman of substance, here’s a candid conversation with Sathya Saran:

  1. What is your current state of mind?  
    Quite peaceful. I’m always peaceful when I am working. And having finished with one book and waiting to start on another is a great mental state to be in. 
  2. When and where were you happiest? 
    So many times, so many places. But a real sense of peace descends when I’m in the mountains or amidst Nature’s beauty. 
  3. What is your greatest fear? 
    That ill health or accident could hurt loved ones. 
  4. What is your most treasured possession? 
    Keeps changing. Which means I have plenty I treasure. 
  5. What is your greatest regret? 
    That I never learnt classical singing and dancing in my younger years.
  6. On what occasion do you lie? 
    When the truth may hurt me or someone else. 
  7. What do you consider your greatest achievement? 
    I think it is yet to come.
  8. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? 
    I would like to be a better person.
  9. Which word or phrase do you most overuse? 
    Great. Sure.
  10. What talent would you most like to have? 
    Being able to charm people. 
  11. What do you most value in your partner? 
    His positive attitude to life, and unquestioning support of everything I do.
  12. Who are the women that inspire you? 
    Any woman who rises above the odds, from any walk of life. I have met so many. I salute them all.
  13. What is your definition of women’s empowerment? 
    The choice and the ability to realise one’s potential in any given circumstance
  14. What is your stance on Beauty Pageants?  
    They are confidence builders. Beauty and brains are not mutually exclusive. 
  15. What do you consider the most overrated virtue? 
    Chastity. A man’s invention for women. 
  16. Where would you like to live? 
    Where the sea or river meets the mountains.
  17. Which song always picks you up? 
    Again, it keeps changing. But when I need a pick me up, I sing those that speak of hope beyond despair from old Hindi films.
  18. Which is the one book you wish you had written? 
    Wuthering Heights.
  19. Which is the last book you enjoyed reading? 
    Shaharyar Khan’s,  Memoirs of a Rebel Princess, a biography on the Princess of Bhopal. 
  20. What’s on your bucket list? 
    Nothing, right now. I am writing a book that will be released this year. 
  21. Where do you get your inspiration to write?
    It feels like someone does the writing. I’m surprised sometimes that I have written it.   
  22. Which food is a reminder of your childhood? 
    Dahi and rice.
  23. How would you like to be remembered? 
    As someone who made a positive difference in many ways.
  24. What is your idea of a good magazine? 
    A magazine should be a friend, philosopher, and guide. It should talk to you and not just be something to look at. 
  25. What makes a marriage work?
    Understanding. Listening. Compromise. Give a little, take a little. 
  26. Which of your books would you like to see made into a film? 
    Ten Years with Guru Dutt: Abrar Alvi’s Journey.  
  27. Which of your books was the easiest to write?  
    The easiest one was, Baat Niklegi Toh Phir: The Life and Music of Jagjit Singh. I wrote it in 3 weeks.
  28. Which of your books was the hardest to write? 
    The hardest one was Sun Mere Bandhu Re: The Musical World of SD Burman. I was experimenting with a new format. I had to feel it and talk in his voice.
  29. If you could have a conversation with anyone in the world, who would it be with? 
    Rabindranath Tagore. Though I might end up being tongue-tied.
  30. How do you like your coffee? 
    Sweet, and full of flavour, with milk of course.

Sathya Saran with Lara Dutta
Sathya Saran with Lara Dutta
Sathya Saran with Prince Charles
Sathya Saran with Prince Charles

Interviewed By Rashmi B. Nayar

Read more by Rashmi B. Nayar


Picture Credit : Sathya Saran

29 thoughts on “Sathya Saran: A Woman Of Substance”

  1. Well written article, Rashmi B. Nayar. Your admiration for the Woman of Substance, Sathya Saran comes across aptly – and justifiably so.
    Am glad to have had Sathya as a friend for over 40 years – and seen her choose winners always. Be it the beauteous Miss Worlds while she helmed Femina. Or the plethora of biographical books on a generation of musical or film related legends.

    1. Thank you ever so much for your appreciation Ma’am. Your words really means a lot. It’s been an honour to have the opportunity to interact with Ms Sathya Saran, and a great learning experience. She’s truly inspiring and and a great role model for aspiring writers. Thank you so much again for the encouragement.

  2. Lovely article, Rashmi. Sathya Saran comes to life so easily through it. Loving the entire edition of coffeeandconversations. Such wide ranging topics and so well put together. Kudos and looking forward to many more editions!

    1. Thank you for such encouraging words Sangeeta. Coming from someone who writes and reads like you do, it means a lot. Will wait for your write up 🙂

    1. Thank you so much for your encouraging words. Hope you continue to enjoy browsing through. Thank you again 🙂

  3. An excellent read Maam.. Loved the interview and the insight it provided on a true woman of substance.. And you write beautifully Maam.. The opening paragraph is draws you into the interview.. Looking forward to your next article..

    1. Thank you so much for your encouraging words. Especially the feedback on the opening paragraph for it was the most challenging part of all 🙂 Hope you will continue to browse through 🙂

  4. The essence of the woman of substance aptly and deftly brought out…the write-up on Sathya Saran gave was also insightful… perhaps next time she can share her challenges and obstacles that she faced and how she coped with them and her nuggets of wisdom given her vast and variegated experience.
    Rashmi… already looking forward to your next one..C&C is becoming addictive

    1. Thank you for your encouragement Bela. As you so rightly said, there’s so much more to know and learn from Sathya Saran and a part 2 of the interview is on the cards. Thanks again for your feedback 😊

  5. Rashmi, you have the enviable knack of bringing a person to life with your words. It was as if I was sitting and listening to your conversation instead of reading it. A perfect frame for a most inspiring lady… Ms Sathya Saran. Loved both, your interaction with her and your witty paragraph leading up to it!
    Can’t wait for your next article.

    1. Your words are so encouraging Preeti, thank you so much. It means a lot coming from a voracious reader like you. I love that you enjoyed the paragraph leading up to the interview :))

  6. Rashmi so well interviewed. The questions were so apt, it gave us such an insight to her thoughts and inner feelings. Enjoyed the read and look forward to more of your articles and interviews.

    1. Thank you so much Mrs Sidhu, for the encouragement and for the generosity always in sharing your beautifuli poems <3

  7. Very well written, loved reading it. The interplay of words made it even more interesting. Rashmi looking forward to the next edition.

    1. Thanka so much Mona, I hope you the new summer issue will be an interesting and fun read…will wait for your feedback.

  8. Congratulations Rashmi on your second edition ..
    And it is so beautiful to read about the great woman with the culmination of words about her from the great woman herself ..Though I was wanting to know more and more about her and wished your interview never ended but full credit to you and your hard work.. believe you will give us many more such wonderful people on your platform about whom we will read and enjoy with our cup of coffee ..
    Bless you .

    1. Thank you so much Charu for your lovely words. It’s so encouraging and gratifying to know the interview touched a chord.

  9. Congratulations Rashmi for a truly enjoyable article on your woman of substance the celebrated Ms Sathya Saran. I commend the thoroughness of your research on the avant garde writer and how you were able to draw out the essence of her beautiful personality. From the humanistic preamble through the entire interview it was on mark.
    Considering you have just begun I’m sure that you shall soon have a much larger audience.
    I look forward to a lot more of your interesting work in the future.

    1. Thank you so much Tinky for the fabulously detailed feedback. It’s going to be of immense help in writing my features in the future too. And I really appreciated and enjoyed our discussion on the same over the phone, thanks you much.

  10. This ‘coffee’ was surely flavourful….. perfect blend of grit, charm, enthusiasm and delight….
    the taste lingering on till long afterwards, what stuck me most were the carefully chosen questions and the equally candid, positive and heart- warming answers… so much to absorb and take back home from one of the most quintessential woman of substance in the world’s literary firmament……Ms Sathya Saran. A big round of applause to you, Rashmi for successfully launching — COFFEE AND CONVERSATIONS.
    Looking forward to more such interesting reads!!

    1. Your words are beautiful prose Mrs Sachar, thank you so much for your encouraging words. I hope to get you to share some of your beautifuli writings with us <3

  11. Rashmi Awweesome , you have done it again . A great insight into a women of substance or more appropriately substance that makes a women stand tall & proud.

    True to her name , ‘Satya’ , it’s such a honest conversation.

    Keep the ink flowing & look forward to more from you soon. Well done mate . Love it 👍

    1. Thank you so much Maj Datta for your encouragement always. It’s really motivating to have one’s work appraised so thoughtfully. Really appreciate it, and to borrow your word, Tanks a ton :))

  12. Rashmi, very interesting interview with Sathya. Like the ” Conversations” …it has various articles on interesting topics. Great going !

    1. Thank you so much for your encouragement always Baby bua. I’m so glad you are enjoying the conversations, it’s my favourite page of the magazine too 🙂

  13. Femina..recall Sathya from those days. Very insightful and interesting conversation with Sathya. Truly a woman of substance.

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