Bhakti Mathur was destined to be a story-teller, a steward.
To Bhakti, Bhagwan, the mild-mannered housekeeper from Bihar, who helped raise her, may as well have been God. It was because of his generosity of knowledge that she returned to her love of Hindu mythology after she had her own children, and decided to spend her life doing for the next generation, what Bhagwan had done for her decades ago – filling little hearts with wonder.
But it has taken Bhakti years to realize this vision.
In 2010, Bhakti, then a private banker, was looking for a picture book on Holi, the Indian festival of colours, to educate her young sons about the festival. Unable to find anything appropriate, she decided to write one herself. Bhakti set out to research the history of Holi, its evolution and celebration over the centuries. She began writing the text in a way that would appeal to young children, using her own sons and their friends as an informal focus group, a practice she continued as the series grew.
Relying on her trademark perseverance, she set up Anjana Publishing (named after the mother of her favourite Hindu God, Hanuman) and self-published the book, even taking on the painstaking process of distributing it in the early days. Realizing she was on to something, Bhakti began writing a second book, envisioning a series she named “Amma Tell Me.”
In a few short years, she had expanded the channels of distribution beyond Amazon, eventually landing on bookshelves in Hong Kong and throughout major Indian cities, while holding down her day job in private banking and raising two young boys. A decade later, Bhakti launched the 13th title of ‘Amma Tell Me’ and is currently planning the next one.
Like many of her banking peers from Delhi, Bhakti originally studied ‘safe’ subjects, but after a successful 22-year career and 10 published titles, she decided to leave finance behind to pursue her dream of becoming an author. While Bhakti was working on her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Hong Kong, she received an offer from Puffin Books, a subsidiary of Penguin Random House India, which gave rise to a spin-off series called “Amma Take Me” about historic places of worship. This series now has four titles, and continues to grow.
Bhakti hosts storytelling sessions, reading and writing workshops at schools, and has been a speaker at Literary Festivals in Hong Kong, Singapore and India. She also freelances as a culture and health & fitness feature writer for the South China Morning Post and is a life coach.
She was selected as a candidate for The Zubin Foundation Diversity List 2020 to serve on the government’s advisory committees (https://www.zubinfoundation.org/diversity-list2020) and was shortlisted as one of three finalists for the American Chamber of Commerce Women of Influence Award in the category of Masters of Arts 2021 (https://www.amcham.org.hk/news/exceptional-female-leaders-and-their-allies-celebrated-amchams-18th-annual-women-influence).
An avid hiker and runner, Bhakti has called Hong Kong home since 2000. She ran the New York Marathon in 2017, and is currently enrolled in an Iyengar yoga teacher training program. When she’s not writing or running after her two teenage sons, Bhakti is researching the weave and the history of the pattern of one of the many sarees in her extensive collection. On weekends, she can be found curled up with a book and a cup of chai with her dogs, Rafa (as in Nadal) and Sam (as in Samwise Gamgee), lazing by her side.
What do sarees have in common with the works of a writer?
A saree is a story unto itself. It is a story of communities and their craft. A story of love and livelihood. The aesthetics of an artist, a villager’s voice. A story that speaks volumes without words.
And Bhakti Mathur owns an anthology of such stories.
When she was ten years old, Bhakti saw her mother wearing a beautiful pink banarasi saree woven with silver threads. And she fell in love.
Soon after, Bhakti began accompanying her grandmother while she shopped, fascinated by the endless shelves of neatly folded sarees, entertained by the chai-chugging salesmen who draped them on their own shoulders hoping to make a sale. Bhakti was amused by their chatter and haggling, but mostly she stared lovingly at the patterns and colours as they leapt off the fabrics and settled into her soul.
As Bhakti grew up, she traded in the saree for a business suit, until one day, an opportunity presented itself from the halls of history when Bhakti was asked to write a story about the iconic garment. She busied herself with research, speaking with textile scholars and experts, not realizing a flame was being rekindled.
After the publication of the story, Bhakti was inspired to open an old trunk that been in storage for the better part of a couple of decades, and rediscovered the wedding trousseau her mother had lovingly curated for her. Hand woven sarees from different parts of India – the brocaded ‘Banarasis’ from Varanasi, the pure silk Kanjeevarams from Tamil Nadu, the Baluchari from West Bengal, among others – all still wrapped in their original cellophane.
Bhakti unpacked the treasure and teared up as she thought of the effort her mother put into creating this collection –every saree with its own identity, traditional designs, motifs, and colours, each more beautiful than the other, and for a moment Bhakti was transported back to the dusty Old Delhi saree shop in the 1970s.
Now when Bhakti Mathur drapes herself in the 6 yards of a saree for a business meeting or a lunch, she hears whispers of its story escaping from in between the threads, echoing in her ears. And she feels the caress of fabric, a fabric of community, culture, and country.