Javier Moro and the sari saga!

He wrote The Red Sari in good faith but the insults and the trashing orchestrated by Sonia Gandhi’s sycophants made him want never to come back to India. “But my relationship with India is like an old lover. I was missing it,” says the Spanish author in this freewheeling interview

By Ritesh Dubey

Published: Sat 14 Feb 2015, 8:50 PM

Last updated: Thu 25 Jun 2015, 7:57 PM

For 60-year-old Spanish writer Javier Moro, the change in Indian political scenario has come as a boon. Seven months after the Congress Party was ousted from power, his book The Red Sari, quietly hit the bookstores in India last month and is topping the charts.

The ‘dramatised’ biographical account of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, the book, in the author’s opinion, is “more on the lines of a love story.” It was to be released in 2010, but Congress Party leaders had opposed its publication and threatened legal action against the author. Incensed by the book’s contents, which they said was “defamatory, inaccurate, unsubstantiated and riddled with lies,” Sonia loyalists burned Moro’s effigies in Delhi’s streets.

It had forced Moro to say, “For Indians, the burning of effigies may seem like a joke since they are so used to the image, but for someone with a Western sensibility, it’s very violent and disturbing.”

Moro claimed that while writing the book, he tried meeting Sonia several times through her close associates, but she never consented. The book was then written without her consent, but after an extensive research on her life during which the writer spoke to her friends and relatives to get an authentic picture of her personal life.

Moro, however, failed to understand the resentment the Congress leaders had for the book and maintained that her life is an inspiration for people all over the world. He painted quite a flattering picture of her, depicting her as a simple woman from a humble background who fell in love and married an Indian pilot Rajiv Gandhi, who happened to be the son of then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Years after her husband’s violent death, Sonia herself became the leader of the Congress Party and one of the world’s most powerful women.

The author got a taste of that power just when the book was due for release. For over six months, he was embroiled in email interaction with Sonia’s lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who pressurised the author with new demands every now and then. “It all got on my nerves and I finally decided to let the book lie in peace!” Moro said.


Excerpts from the interview


KT: Has Sonia Gandhi’s attorney Abhishek Manu Sanghvi, who put both political and legal pressure on you in 2010 against publishing ‘The Red Sari’, tried intimidating you after its release?

JAVIER MORO: No, we have not heard anything from him or the Congressmen this time. Maybe they like the book now!


Did his threats in 2010 affect the book’s publication in the West?

It rather gave publicity to the book and stimulated curiosity. Images of burning books and effigies went around the world. It even got written about in Paris Match, a French language weekly news magazine, amongst other magazines in Europe. I am very thankful to the Congress leaders for that.


You were known to visit India at least twice every year. So, what made you stay back after 2010?

I felt I have had it with India. I had written ‘The Red Sari’ in good faith, having put a lot of work and energy into it and the way it was received, the insults and the trashing orchestrated by Sonia Gandhi’s cohort of sycophants made me want never to come back. But my relationship with India is like an old lover. I was missing it.


Did you readily agree or were skeptical when publisher of Roli Books Pramod Kapoor decided to release the book recently?

I agreed reluctantly. I was wondering why should I bother. After all, India was not a big market, compared to major European and American markets. But I also felt the story of this book would not have finished until it got published in India. It was like closing the circle. So I decided to close it. It is funny, because I had taken the decision to write this book on Sonia after the 2004 General Elections (when the Congress Party won, which meant I had a good ending for the story). But ironically, it got published when it lost in 2014. Another circle. Karma!


Have there been any amendments in the book?

No. I only wrote a new and updated epilogue, and the publisher’s crew of fabulous editors did a wonderful job at adapting it to an Indian audience. But no major changes.


During the three years research for the book, did you try to meet or were able to meet Sonia’s parents or siblings?

Yes, and in fact I met Sonia when the book was already finished. I had met her sister and niece in Orbassano, and had a chance encounter with Priyanka in New Delhi’s Khan Market. But I got nothing out of them. They are oysters.


Any ‘nightmarish’ struggles you faced during the time of research?

I was riding against the current. Since day one, this book was a challenge. I had to succeed where so many others had failed. Sonia had turned down requests from renowned Italian, French and American authors who wanted to write her story, and she managed to discourage them all. Had she been nice with me at the beginning and had she roped me in, she would have also succeeded in discouraging me. So at the end it was good that she whipped me with her indifference.


Were people close to her quite open or reluctant to talk about her? Could you name some of them?

I do not remember many names because now it is an old story for me. But I remember meeting Sunita and Ramesh Kohli, Sterre and Satish Sharma, Usha Albuquerque, Von Stieglitz and also once talking to Manjulika and Suman Dubey. And I must say, Sonia has a nugget of very good and loyal friends.


Since the book has a lot on Indira Gandhi, how was your equation with R. K. Dhawan, her private secretary for years?

I got all the information on Indira Gandhi from Pupul Jayakar’s book and also from newspapers and magazine articles from that time.


Would you think of writing another book on an Indian leader? Whose life do you find as interesting as Sonia’s?

I think I have had it with Indian leaders for this lifetime. But yes, I would write a history novel; mainly because the characters are dead and so are their lawyers! No more about living people, they have too much of an ego.

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