It’s time for an end-of-year break, but December for Chiki Sarkar, founder and publisher of Juggernaut Books, is still filled with excitement for titles she’s working on and manuscripts she’s reading. Currently, it’s all about journalist Sagarika Ghose’s biography of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, releasing end of the month. Books of poetry, history, and fiction slated to release early next year also come up in conversation, as she chats from her work-from-home setup in a Delhi barsaati. Sarkar takes us on a quick tour of the art and artefacts that make working from home a pleasure.
The conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
Describe your current workspace to us.
I still work from home. We have a barsaati above our flat that we use for guests, as my husband Alex’s office, and for storage. When the lockdown started and we closed Juggernaut’s office, I moved our books and myself to the living room in this flat. So I now have the largest, most stylish office I have ever had: I work at a lovely round marble table, sitting on a slightly rickety, modernist chair. Behind me is an older Burmese teak trunk I bought from a Calcutta auction house. That’s where I keep my stationery and printer. To my left is a dusty linen sofa and arm chair — I have been lying on that sofa, drinking tea, and reading manuscripts under a blanket this last month— a large flat screen TV, some beautiful central Asian carpets (my husband is a carpet enthusiast). On the walls are lots of old maps of India (another love of my husband’s). Some of the walls are deep blue, and there is a kitchenette behind. If I miss my husband, I poke my head through the door into his terracotta red-coloured office — that room has wall-to-wall shelves, where I store all the Juggernaut books. Outside the office is our terrace, and I walk out for some sunshine, and often have my best phone calls with authors while pacing around it.
Has it always been this way? Or has it evolved over the years?
The room has always mostly looked that way, and I’ve just modified it to use as my workspace through these last two years.
How would you define your daily relationship with this space?
I really take pleasure in it. I like working at the round marble table, wandering into the kitchenette to make my tea, lying on the sofa reading a manuscript. It’s a great place for meetings but it’s also a great place to be alone. Though I must say climate-wise, barsaatis aren’t the best and it’s rather chilly at the moment.
Tell us about some of the eureka moments you have had and major works that you have done from here.
Gosh, so many. I am always having ideas, not that all of them practicable. A week or two ago in our edit meeting, we came up with six or seven book ideas. That was a high energy meeting. I manage the publicity at present and have had some great PR ideas for our books up there. For example, it is here that I thought of getting [Nobel-winning economist] Abhijit Bannerjee to cook for chefs to celebrate his cookbook Cooking to Save Your Life (published in November by Juggernaut). Today, I had an effervescent WhatsApp messaging chat with Sagarika Ghose about the pieces she could write about her biography of Vajpayee.
If you were to trade in this place for another, what would it be?
Juggernaut’s offices will always be very different from this living room/office of mine. We have open plan offices, work out of communal tables, and there is no hierarchy, so I don’t have my own spot — it’s one of the reasons we have so many good ideas. I love the way our offices have looked in the past. We are now creating a not-quite-office — a kind of hangout space which will look like that too. It will be open and flat, with lots of books, and an open kitchen for everyone to use. So this covid workspace of mine feels like a little haven and quite the exception from my normal working life! Luckily, we are all going to be doing work-from-home for large parts of the week, so I think I can get the best of both worlds!
Creative Corner is a series about writers, artists, musicians, founders and other creative individuals and their relationships with their workspaces.
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