Of books and travels

He writes whenever he gets time. The next India's High Commissioner to the UK Navtej Sarna makes notes amid his diplomatic trips. He tells Riya Sharma that writers like him cannot be choosy about time and hence they steal time to write.


For a man who has been the longest serving spokesperson of the ministry of External Affairs and who has not only served two prime ministers but has been a diplomat in Moscow, Warsaw, Geneva et al. to say that writers like him have to steal time is enough to make us understand his dedication and passion for writing. “It takes me time to write but then I will say, if you have a passion for writing, then you have to find time. Twenty four hours is a lot of time and so you steal time. There are two types of writers. One with ‘W’, who can write whenever they want and feel like because they have the sole purpose to write in life. Then, there are others like me with a ‘w’ who cannot be choosy about time and actually steal time. All who work at day, write at night,” he rightly pointed out.


Sarna who launched his next book, Second Thoughts: On books, authors and the writerly life at Taj Mahal Hotel shared that the book is the compilation of his essays which appeared in The Hindu and the column itself was called Second Thoughts. “It is about writers and books and travel. It is more like when you re-read a book and find new things in it. It is like in depth approach to a book. In a way, you can say it was a deliberate effort where three- four books are by the same author,” he said.


He further added, “Whenever I go to a place, I try to find the literary connections of that place because that intrigues me. It is about travel as well as literature. It also talks about literary graves— it is nice to know where your literary heroes are resting,” shares Sarna in conversation with William Dalrymple.


But, being a diplomat when does he get the time to write, we askedIJ “It takes me less time as it would someone else to write. Some of the stuff was written on a flight, some was written in train journeys and most of it was written in my head. So, when you start writing, you don’t spend too much time, thinking. I had to find all these ways to give time to my writing,” he replied.


During his conversation with Dalrymple, he also shared that some of the pieces of the book were triggered by the places he has been to. “Sometimes, the place triggered the piece. It happened in the case of St. Petersburg in Russia where the beauty of the place triggered me to write a magnificent piece describing the surroundings around us,” he elaborated.

Sharing more about how his tryst with writing began, Sarna shared with us, “My parents were writers. We always had books in our house. So, there was in inherent desire to write. I inherited it but I was not like those who are born with the talent. I went through stages of writing. I started with student journalism, literary journalism, I did book reviews, feature writing. These were my stages of learning how to write and then I tried my hand at short stories. And eventually, l tried my hand at a novel.


He added, “As far as Indian Foreign Services is concerned, writing wasn’t a career in 1980s. And of course, being a diplomat was also an ambition. I was fortunate that I cleared it but it never got conflicted in my way of writing. It, in fact helped me a lot because I travel a lot and that generates a lot of creativity.


Sarna who is inspired by the writings of Graham Greene, F. Scott Key Fitzgerald et al. shared that he has read The Great Gatsby at least ten times. “I have read it ten times and I get to learn something new every time,” he said.