Interview with Javier Moro, author of The Red Sari

By By Swetha Amit | 07 Mar 2015

Javier Moro is a Spanish author known for his bestselling books like Pasion India, which was translated into 17 languages. He has also co-produced and written screenplays for several films and has been awarded the Premio Planeta Award for his novel El imperio eres tu (The Empire, It's you). In this interview with Swetha Amit, Moro  talks about why he called his book The Red Sari, his meeting with the enigmatic Sonia Gandhi and the controversy that was created around his book.

Javier Moro, author of The Red SariWriting a book on a powerful political personality like Sonia Gandhi requires a lot of courage and determination. How did you come up with the idea of this book?
The character of Sonia was mysterious and an enigma as not much was known about her. In fact I found it really bizarre that there was not even a single book about her and that fuelled my curiosity even further.  I was also very much interested in India and the story of the Gandhi family and narrating it through the point of a westerner as I mainly write for the western audience.

The problem that I saw was that the ending for her story had been received by the nation as a rather dreary one. However when she won the elections in 2004, I decided that this was the ending I was looking for that's how the idea came about.

It was initially difficult and discouraging as she would not give me access to either her or her friends.  But that didn't deter my spirit and I was more than determined to write the book. This is not a political book but a human story of a political character. In fact I don't even think she is a political character as she was dragged into politics against her will by destiny and the weight of the family name.

The Red Sari is a rather catchy title. Does it have any specific significance?
It should have ideally been named 'The Pink Sari' because the sari that Nehru wove in prison for Indira's wedding was pink in colour.  The same sari was passed on to generations as Indira presented it to Sonia for her wedding and Sonia went on to gift it to Priyanka for her wedding. So it was a matter of continuity for the family. But then I thought The Pink Sari sounded more like the cover of a fashion magazine rather than a dramatic title. So I changed the colour to red to give it a dramatic effect.

It was said that the Congress Party supporters banned its release and burnt your effigies back in 2010. So did that ever deter your hopes about releasing your book in India? And what do you think had irked them about your book?
They didn't ban it but they had threatened to ban it. I think they knew very well that they couldn't have possibly banned it as there was nothing derogatory mentioned in the book. It was just that they didn't want to publish it in India.  I could have released the book back then but they made the atmosphere very unpleasant and hostile by burning my effigies. 

However that never deterred my hopes. If I had to be discouraged it would have been much earlier; from the time I was trying to meet Sonia for an interview which she refused to give.

My guess as to what I think might have bothered them was the fact that I have talked about her Italian origin which is considered to be her weakest point from a political stance. They also probably didn't like me mentioning about her humble beginnings and the fact as to how she wanted to go back to Italy during the declaration of emergency.

Did you ever get to meet Mrs Sonia Gandhi in person and how was the experience of meeting a living character from your book?
I met her once in an official function at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. So I went up to her and said ''Madam I was sleeping with you for the past four years''.

She looked baffled and probably thought that I was some kind of a loony. And then I explained to her that ''I have been obsessed with you and your family and was always thinking about you before going to sleep and while waking up.'' You see when you are writing a book, you are obsessed with your character. Then she understood what I meant and she laughed. After that I told her ''I want your blessing since I just finished the book. I would like you to read it and tell me anything that you might want to change which I will be pleased to do so.''

She then looked at me and said ''We never read what is written about us.''

That was the only line I got in four years of researching Sonia Gandhi's story. But on hindsight it was good that she didn't befriend me otherwise she would have convinced me not to write the book, like she did with many other people. So it had to be done without permission. Anyways a book with permission or an authorised biography sounds like a very boring concept.

Controversy tends to evoke a lot more interest and curiosity especially in a country like India. Do you see this as a blessing in disguise especially when the book seems to have topped the sales charts?
Oh yes. Absolutely. In fact I told my publisher to hire these congress guys as they are very good for publicity for books. (laughs). The book has definitely profited from all this controversy.  So yes, I definitely see it as a blessing in disguise.

How have the reactions to your book been so far?
The reaction has been very good so far. I have received lots of tweets and messages. In fact there is this particular person who has thanked me by saying'' Thank you for having revealed to us who Sonia Gandhi is.'' After reading my book, the readers have gotten to understand and know the human side of an enigmatic personality like her.

Lastly would you classify your book as a work of fiction or non-fiction?
My book is all based on research and in America they call this factual. I wouldn't call it fiction since there are no invented characters as such which you would normally find in the works of fiction. So while it's termed as a dramatized biography, it has a wider scope than a biography.  It's a story of a family from the point of view of Sonia Gandhi.

See: The Red Sari tells us just who Sonia Gandhi is


Book excerpt: The Red Sari

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