October 13, 2019

BBC Presenter shines spotlight on crusader princess in new biography, Sophia

An interview by Vinita Kinra (@VinitaKinra)

Anita Anand

Anita Anand

Anita Anand has been a radio and television journalist for almost twenty years. She is the presenter of Any Answers on BBC Radio 4. During her career, she has also presented DriveDoubletake and the Anita Anand Show on Radio 5 Live, and Saturday LiveThe Westminster HourBeyond WestminsterMidweek and Woman’s Hour on Radio 4. On BBC television she has presented The Daily PoliticsThe Sunday Politics and Newsnight. She lives in west London. This is her first book.

Vinita Kinra: Welcome to Global Asian Times, Anita. How did your tryst with journalism begin?

Anita Anand: I began writing for newspapers and magazines when I was still at university. It was a revelation that people might pay you to talk to interesting people about fascinating things. It’s accurate to say the bug bit early.

Vinita Kinra: You have presented many shows on BBC Radio and TV. Do you have a favourite?

Anita Anand: I have loved every program that I have presented, but I suppose there is something a little magical about late-night radio. It has an intimacy and anarchy about it, which I love. So at a push, I suppose I would have to say The Anita Anand show on BBC Radio 5 live was my favourite.

Vinita Kinra: You have been a columnist with The Guardian and written articles for India Today and The Asian Age newspapers. What difference do you find between print and broadcast media? Do you have a preference?

Anita Anand: I prefer live broadcasts to any other form of journalism. The immediacy and lack of editing make what you present 100% true. Sometimes the artifice of crafting an article or a television programme can get in the way.

Vinita Kinra: What triggered the idea for your debut book, Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary?

Anita Anand: I see the book sitting on my shelf and I still have to pinch myself to believe it is real and that I had anything to do with it… As a political journalist for almost two decades, a feminist and a person of Indian origin, this is a story that covered all my food groups… The fact that nobody had ever written about her before made ‘Sophia’ an even more important piece of work for me. Perhaps the most important thing I have ever done.
Such was Sophia’s pivotal role in the suffragette movement and her connections with royalty, celebrity and Indian independence struggles that if I had presented my book proposal as a work of fiction, I know for a fact that editors would have asked me to rework it — take some of the “names” out. “How could one person have stood so firmly in the crossroads of modern political/colonial change? How could she have bumped along with Queen Victoria, George V, Churchill, Pankhurst, Gandhi et al?” they would have asked.  But Sophi’a’s story is true and she did.
This was a woman who defied convention and lived in a flux of change — her life criss-crossed with some of the most important figures of modern times. She walked the difficult path and she trod it with honour. It has been a privilege to write her back into history…

Vinita Kinra: Had you planned to begin your book writing journey with a powerful biography, or was this a chance happening?

Anita Anand: It was entirely a serendipitous event. I was on maternity leave and leafing through a local magazine when I came across a picture that my brain could not make sense of. It was of the suffragette who seemed to be as Indian as me. The book is the result of four years trying to unravel the mystery of the photograph.

Vinita Kinra: Sophia is the true story of a princess examining the tensions between the East and the West. Why do you think this iconic legend of history remained unknown even after her heroic forays into perilous politics at the time of the British Raj in India?

Anita Anand: A confluence of circumstances. The British State wanted to punish her for her “ingratitude” and took deliberate steps to erase her in her own lifetime. She and her siblings died without issue — so the stories turned to whispers and then died. The Suffragette movement achieved its aim of equal voting rights in 1928 and had the pressing job of recovering from WW1 and preparing for WW2 — the narrative changed to reflect a country united… nobody wanted to dwell on the time that Britannia’s daughters turned against her sons… and in India there was little appetite for the old Maharajahs, let alone their non-Hindi speaking progeny. They had new royalty to put on pedestals in the form of Gandhi and Nehru. Sophia slipped through some very large cracks.

Vinita Kinra: Do you feel you have served history by telling Sophia’s tale to the world and having your book recognized as one of the best biographies of 2015?Sophia Book cover

Anita Anand: If I have played any small part, then I would count that as a very great honour.

Vinita Kinra: Writing is a craft that requires extended periods of alone time to allow creative juices to flow and take shape. How do you find time for this self-imposed isolation from your demanding schedule?

Anita Anand: Really, I’m not sure. If you have a passion for a project, you just seem to make time, but I will not pretend it has not been a struggle. Lots of early mornings and late nights. Lots of leaning on my husband for support with the childcare. We have two young children.

Vinita Kinra: Do you have any future writing projects?

Anita Anand: I am currently working on a book proposal and have a commission in the pipeline. But it is a bit early to talk about either project.

Vinita Kinra: You are travelling widely to talk about your book, Sophia. How has the reaction been, particularly in India where the contributions of this revolutionary princess are largely neglected?

Anita Anand: It has been a wonderful experience to tell people, both in India and Europe about Sophia. Her story has been greeted with such enthusiasm and warmth, both in the East and West.

Vinita Kinra: What is your life philosophy?

Anita Anand: Just carry on carrying on. And try to fight the good fight.

Vinita Kinra, featured among 150 most remarkable Canadians, is a Toronto-based author, editor, speaker and activist, best known for her short story collection, Pavitra in Paris, launched to critical acclaim in 2013. She is also a contributor for India’s largest English daily, The Times of India.

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