Meet 88-Year-Old Sita Nanda: Ardent Sailor, Poet & Now, an Author

Meet 88-Year-Old Sita Nanda: Ardent Sailor, Poet & Now, an Author


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Cameraperson: Shiv Kumar Maurya


Octogenarian Sita Nanda has just had her first book published, at the age of 88. Nanda, who lives in Delhi with her two sons and their families, had written the book titled Whispering Waves, over 55 years ago, but circumstances did not allow it to be published then.

In early 2017, Nanda, while going through some of her old belongings, came across her original manuscript. Upon reading her work so many years later, she found that she still liked it and decided to leave it behind for her children to read. But her daughter-in-law and a family friend ensured that the book finally found a publisher.

And so, the novel, after some minor changes that Nanda felt were required, was released on 14 February, 2019.

The Quint spoke to her about her journey as an author, her life and her love for sailing in bygone days.

Early Life and the Urge to Write

Nanda was born in 1929 in Abbottabad, in the North-West Frontier Province. Despite not living there much, she remembers her birthplace, having visited in many times in her youth, till Partition. She lived mostly in eastern Uttar Pradesh, and did her schooling from Loreto Convent School, Tara Hall, in Shimla. She went to college in Delhi and was married by the time she was 19 years old.

Nanda says that she had always liked reading, but was bitten by the writing bug in around 1957, when she was roughly 18 years old.

She started writing a book then, but finding it lacking in direction, she gave it up. The urge to write again came in the early 1960s and she finally started writing ‘Whispering Waves’.

Nanda would write when she was visiting Nainital in the summer months, away from the noise and the hustle-bustle of life in Delhi. The peace, she says, helped her to write, and so she wrote during her getaways to the mountains, where her family had a summer house.

The Will to Get Somewhere

Nanda says that the essence of her novel, which deals with the journey of a young artist, is the urge and the will to get somewhere. The protagonist, Gopi, is a young girl from Nainital who comes to Bombay in the early 1960s as a companion to a lady.

But she has great talent as an artist, which she pursues ardently and eventually reaches where she wanted to be, an established artist with a strong mentor who urges her on. Nanda says that Gopi had the will to get to a place, which is very important.

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The novel, however, does not have any autobiographical elements. Nanda says that the girls in the hills made her think of her protagonist, but that she did not imbue Gopi with any personal characteristics, except perhaps for a love for art and paintings that she herself possessed.

“There’s not me in any character, but then there must be something of me in every character. But there’s no sort of personal thing in it”, Nanda says.

The name of her protagonist however, is inspired from Nanda’s life, her grandmother’s name being Gopi.

The Struggle to Find a Publisher

Nanda finished her book and sent the manuscript off to overseas publishers, hoping for a positive response, but she met with disappointment as publishers either rejected the manuscript or said that they were not looking to publish novels about India.

A lack of Indian publishers made it more difficult for her work to be published, but she still tried.

The only publisher she had heard of was in Old Delhi, and so Nanda made a trip there, “looking lost”. A poet whom she had heard of greeted her and told her that the editor was a great friend and that he would give him the book, an offer which Nanda gladly accepted. However, on subsequent attempts to contact him, she received no response.

So she stopped trying. “And so, I put it away”, she says.

However, Nanda continued to write articles for sailing magazines and short stories from time to time. She would also write notes to friends when they were down or ill, which she says were always adored. She also wrote poems, a habit which she still has, but only on special occasions, “on a birthday or when a friend is down.”

“I was always scribbling”, she says.

Will she be publishing a collection of poetry next? She replies modestly, in the negative, saying that she only had eight or ten of them left and that nobody would like to read them.

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One of the Only Women to Sail

Nanda fondly remembers her younger days, when she was a passionate sailor.

Her desire to start sailing began in the 1950s, when she had gone boating with her mother and noticed bigger, more beautiful boats. At her mother’s nudging, she went and inquired at a club, became a member and began sailing. By the 1960s, she had become good, she says.

Her husband was very supportive and broad-minded and she was able to go yachting in various cities - Madras, Cochin and Bombay, participating in various competitions.

Fiercely competitive and dedicated, Nanda once even refused to take help despite bad weather conditions during a race, just so that she could stay in the running for the championship that she was participating in at the time.

“That was an exciting life... Everyone was happy that I was doing well in sailing”, she says.

Is she planning to write another novel? “No, but now that a fire has been re-lit, maybe a short story or two...If these two three short stories have any future..but I don’t know how many pages they’d cover”, she says.

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