Anita Anand is looking forward to the Emirates Lit Fest because of the way in which ‘disparate authors from around the world are put together, making for good alchemy’ Image Credit: BBC

Perhaps the future of media lies in a retreat to the past. Many might not agree that radio is an integral part of our daily lives and how it affects us, but BBC political journalist and broadcaster Anita Anand vouches for the medium as it provides the intimacy to suit listeners’ need at any given moment.

“I have been lucky enough to work in television and radio, and both have their strengths. But I’m fond of radio as you are with listeners when they wake up in the morning, when they are driving their children to school, when they are preparing a meal. Also, radio affords you more time to do journalism — slots are longer and interviews don’t have to be conducted in soundbyte,” says Anand, who took over the BBC Radio 4 show “Any Answers?” after long-standing host Jonathan Dimbleby stepped down in 2012.

Anand first caught the attention of the BBC, she reckons, because as a rare Asian face on the small screen she would be asked on programmes to comment on any Asian issue — “from reincarnation to nuclear proliferation in the subcontinent to arranged marriages”.

One of the stars of Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, 42-year-old Anand, who also presented “The Daily Politics” on BBC 2 and BBC Radio 5 live programme “Double Take”, likens coming to Dubai to a homecoming — looking forward to stay with a friend with whom she shared a house in West London, over a decade ago.

One of the youngest TV news editors in the UK, taking over the reins as the European head of news and current affairs for Zee TV at the age of 25, now after two decades in broadcasting, Anand is an author in her own right.

All set to release her first book Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary, a biography of the suffragette Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, the daughter of the last Maharaja of the Sikh Empire, Anand, who calls herself a feminist, says it is about one of her own heroines.

“I applaud bravery and nobility in all its forms and Sophia had it by the sackful.” She scaled her presenting duties down to the weekly Radio 4 show to have more time for research — which was just as well, given the scope of the story she was unearthing.

Her book takes in a broad and turbulent sweep of history: the Anglo-Sikh wars, the British Raj and the early years of the fight for Indian independence, the rise of the Labour Party and trade unions, and the campaign for women’s suffrage.

Excerpts from the interview:

My parents are ...

My father was a family doctor, who passed away in 1995, and my mother still teaches at an infants’ school in East London. 

The household I grew up in ...

Was noisy and busy. Both my parents worked and my two younger brothers and I had a very close and loving relationship, (despite what the volume of the sibling squabbles might have suggested at the time). They remain my best friends to this day. 

When I was a child I wanted to be ...

At first I wanted to be a dragon tamer — I was convinced there was a dragon living in the disused bomb shelter at the bottom of our garden. I also wanted to be a doctor like my father and a teacher like my mother. I remember being obsessed with a book about the planets and for a time wanted to be the first astronaut to reach a horse-head nebula, just because I thought it must be even more beautiful up close. But when I was older and less prone to fantasy, I wanted to be a journalist — travelling the world, meeting interesting people and telling their stories. 

Coming to Dubai means ...

Visiting my best friend who has lived here for almost a decade. We used to share a house together in West London when we both started our careers — so coming to Dubai and staying with her is a little like coming home. 

I am looking forward to Emirates lit fest ...

Because there seems to be a dazzling array of talented writers coming. I like the way in which disparate authors from around the world are put together. It makes for good alchemy. 

I was compelled to write about Princess Sophia Duleep Singh...

Because I am drawn to stories about people beating the odds, overcoming expectations and defying convention. Sophia was never born to be a militant campaigner. As a part of the royal court, and god daughter of Queen Victoria, she was set for the most comfortable life. She need not have bothered herself with the plight of common working class women — most of her peers never did. But not only did she care enough to join the suffragettes, she threw herself into riots, goading the police to arrest her — launched herself at the prime minister’s car, daring the prisons to take her in. She was fighting for women’s rights — a cause I have always believed in. 

Radio is better than TV because...

Of its immediacy and honesty (there is no editing in live radio). Listeners don’t have to stop what they are doing to sit before you as you transmit, and they are less likely to flick between channels while you are on. If you are lucky enough to do a daily show, as I have, you become a member of the household. 

If I could change one thing about myself ...

I would be much more disciplined and organised. Even when writing this book, I found myself behaving as I did at school — distracted by everything for much of the day; I did my best writing when everybody else had gone to sleep. 

You wouldn’t know it but I am very good at ...

Tongue twisters. I can Peter Piper/She sells sea shells — you under the table. 

You may not know it but I’m no good at ...

Directions. Dreadful, in fact. If you spin me around three times in my bathroom I am likely to get lost. 

The thing I like most about my work ...

Is uncovering secrets, exposing lies, speaking truth to power and bringing heroes to public attention. 

My inspiration is...

Princess Sophia, a brave and honourable woman. I would like to be a bit more like her. 

At night I dream of ...

My son mostly. Also, impossible houses on cliff tops, or trains going to faraway places, which we have to run to catch. I wake up and tell him the adventures we have been on in the night. He is four. 

I wish I had never worn ...

Horrible ill-fitting jackets I bought when I first started reporting on TV in the 1990s. I thought they made me look grown up. Actually, they made me look like my head was poking out of a box. 

When I look in the mirror I see ...

A happy woman, a very lucky woman. 

My house is ...

Open to everyone I love. All the time. 

My favourite work of art ...

Is the latest drawing done by my son. 

My favourite building ...

Is St Paul’s Cathedral in London. It’s where my husband and I first kissed, and where he proposed to me years later. 

My favourite TV show is...

Don’t have a favourite. I just watched the whole series of the West Wing again… 

A book that changed me ...

Is Gita Sereny’s Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth. It is a probing and patient writing uncovering the most important truth — what makes good men do unspeakable evil. It made me aspire to write. 

My career highlight...

Too many to mention. I have been very lucky. 

Movie heaven ...

An absurd screwball comedy if I am watching with my husband, and sci-fi if it’s just me (I am a bit of a nerd). 

The last album I bought ...

I don’t buy albums these days. I buy singles mostly. Just listening to my latest acquisition Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” ft. Bruno Mars. 

The last book I read...

“Plain Tales from the Raj” by Charles Allen about the experience of British sahibs during the Raj. He writes brilliantly. 

My greatest regret ...

My father died before he could see that journalism was going to work out for me. He would have got a kick out of what I do. 

My secret crush ...

Commander Adama as played by Edward James Olmos in “Battlestar Galactica”. 

My real-life villains ...

People who form lazy opinions and don’t have any appetite to test them against rigorous argument — all the worlds ills are down to them. 

My five-year plan ...

I don’t even have a plan for the next five days. 

When I write book, I have in mind...

Only the story. If I thought about readers and what they might enjoy/hate I wouldn’t write a word. 

My life in six words…

Ha Ha Ha. How? Really? Yay! 

One thing I love most about husband (author Simon Singh)...

He is the funniest man I know, and the only one who can crowbar me out of a bad mood. 

Gaffes don’t faze me ...

I revel in them. Let me share one with you right now. I was once doing a live radio programme, interviewing a man in America who had miraculously survived falling from a fourth floor, and having his head impaled on a spike. Neurosurgeons and incredible good fortune meant that he was not seriously impaired, which was why we were doing the interview. My first question to him was: “So what was going through your mind that the time?” There was a tsunami for response from listeners... “A spike you idiot!” 

What’s next ...

No idea. But it will be fabulous.

 

Suparna Dutt-D’Cunha is a writer based in Pune, India.

Anita Anand will take part in the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature to be held at InterContinental Hotel, Dubai Festival City, from March 3-7.