When I first met Vinita Sharma Bakshi at a New Delhi luxury hotel in October 2015, I spent the first few minutes absorbing her breathtaking beauty. She seemed to have walked straight out of the pages of one of those magazines that are forever praising the sturdy build, large expressive eyes and chiseled visages of many Punjabi women. Vinita wore exquisitely flowing North Indian attire of salwar-khameez, and her entirely unassuming mannerisms were highlighted by soft and steady laughter.
She had come as the guest of my dear friend, the television anchor and women's activist, Rakhee Bakshee, herself a celebrated beauty from the eastern Indian state of Bihar, who'd been scheduled to dine with me. The two women are not related, although they have similar sounding surnames.
Rakhee had brought Vinita along because she'd thought I would enjoy meeting her. It wasn't a romantic introduction, not the least because Vinita was married to one of the government's most powerful officials, Vijay Bakshi, the Chief Income Tax Commissioner. Vijay joined us when we were well into our savory vegetarian dinner, and he turned out to be immensely likable, with an understated sense of humor.
He and Vinita are currently the toast of the town in New Delhi. That's because, barely a few weeks after the wedding of their daughter Jugnu on October 4 to a New Yorker named Rajat Jain, Vinita launched her first book.
To rave reviews and promising sales, the novel, "31 Miles: Can We Ever Win Against Ourselves?" has been characterized as an astonishing work of literature by someone who had never published a book before. Vinita asks: "What prompts people to begin online relationships? Can there be commitment and bonding in such relationships?"
She further explains: "Mansa has the perfect family life--a husband, two daughters and a big house. But she feels that something is missing. She decides to step out and seek a career. While enjoying the new-found freedom and confidence, she completely immerses herself in her work and her new life. Till one fateful day when she finds herself embroiled in a passionate affair--with an online lover. And then everything falls apart! Will she give it all up for the elusive mirage created by the stranger? What turn will her life take next?"
Vinita's publisher, Kapish Mehra of Rupa, says that "31 Miles" explores how the onslaught of technology into our most personal and intimate spaces will impact human relationships and the dynamics in established intuitions like marriage.
The book has received advance praise from international journalists, senior media personalities, filmmakers and people from different spectra of life. The book is available worldwide on Amazon and Flipkart and all the leading bookstores across India, and will be at bookstores abroad shortly - especially since Rupa is Asia's largest publisher.
Not withstanding the splendid reception to her novel, Vinita remains unaffected by the praise. Besides the fact that she was raised not to be boastful, there's the fact that writing must remain, at least for now, a vocation.
That's because Vinita holds down a day job, albeit an influential one: she's Director of the prestigious National Institute of Jewellery. Indian jewelry generated $40 billion in exports in 2015, making it an increasingly expanding contributor to the $2 trillion GDP of the country of 1.3 billion. Only petroleum products generated more income, but jewelry exports are slated to soon be Number One.
According to the Gems and Jewellery Export Promotion Council, "The gems and jewelry sector plays a significant role in the Indian economy, contributing around 6-7 percent of the country's GDP. One of the fastest growing sectors, it is extremely export oriented and labour intensive.
"Based on its potential for growth and value addition, the Government of India has declared the Gems and Jewellery sector as a focus area for export promotion. The Government has recently undertaken various measures to promote investments and to upgrade technology and skills to promote 'Brand India' in the international market.
"India is deemed to be the hub of the global jewellery market because of its low costs and availability of high-skilled labour. India is the world's largest cutting and polishing centre for diamonds, with the cutting and polishing industry being well supported by government policies.
"Moreover, India exports 95 per cent of the world's diamonds, as per statistics from the Gems and Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC). The industry has generated US$ 38.6 billion of revenue from exports in 2015-16, making it the second largest exporter after petrochemicals.
"India's Gems and Jewellery sector has been contributing in a big way to the country's foreign exchange earnings (FEEs). The Government of India has viewed the sector as a thrust area for export promotion. The Indian government presently allows 100 percent Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the sector through the automatic route.
"The gems and jewellery market in India is home to more than 500,000 players, with the majority being small players. India is one of the largest exporters of gems and jewellery and the industry is considered to play a vital role in the Indian economy as it contributes a major chunk to the total foreign reserves of the country. UAE, US, Russia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Latin America and China are the biggest importers of Indian jewellery."
So the question of spurring India's economic growth constitutes a significant part of Vinita's daily professional life.
But what about writing? She quietly says that she's already crafting a sequel to "31 Miles."
I, for one, believes that any book Vinita Sharma Bakshi writes is destined for bestseller charts.
Why does she write? It's not for the money. It's because Vinita loves being able to stitch words together. And such embroidery yields literature of the most enjoyable kind.
And now back to that dinner at which I first met Vinita. I was freshly reminded how much acuity Indian women possess, and how much grace and beauty of the soul. They have evolved spiritually well beyond India's men, who are about 69 years behind, back in the year 1947 when India gained independence from the British Raj, back when Vinita Sharma Bakshi wasn't even anywhere near to being born.