Daman Singh is 45 but her smile is much younger. In fact, she giggles as if she carries few human complexities. She talks freely and warmly, but one gets the feeling that there's a reclusive side to her as well. She comes across as simple and transparent, but there's a touch of mystique about her.
But then if you are Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's daughter and do not even keep a cell-phone while living in one of the elite areas in New Delhi, then you know there has got to be something different about Daman Singh.
Especially because for the rest of us, it is so hard to imagine life without mobile phones, e-mail, social networking, multiplexes, and such visible signs of urban life.
Daman Singh is the debutante author of Nine by Nine, a simply-worded novel which takes us down memory lane of pre-mobile phone era urban India. It is a simple, yet finely nuanced, trip.
Nine by Nine's plot is woven around Anjali, Paro and Tara. Daman finds "writing on men quite difficult" and so has played it safe by writing on women. The lives of the three characters are full of disturbing events, crumbling partnerships and losses that eventually transform their lives.
A couple of weeks before her father was admitted to hospital for by-pass surgery, Daman Singh took time off to talk about her novel, herself and her father with rediff.com's Sheela Bhatt.
When she was writing the book, she told rediff.com, she tried to think of herself as one of her characters.
"But now that the book is out, I feel like a mother to them. I can't say who my favourite is."
Of the three, Anjali is a very serious and studious young maths student. She is a neat and organised person. She has no patience with frivolous chatter and fancy clothes. She is constantly upbraiding Tara for being disorganised. Her only weakness is that she is not able to challenge her mother. Otherwise, Anjali is the toughest of the three girls.
Paro is almost in complete contrast to Anjali. She is not particularly interested in studies. She is quite frivolous and interested in many things and enjoys the fine things in life. She is materialistic and stylish, and very keen to marry. She sees marriage as a way to becoming independent. She dreams of having a life and a house of her own. In marriage she thinks of having freedom and enjoying many different things.
Then, of course, there is Tara, a link between Anjali and Paro. Tara has her own rules. She doesn't believe in doing the right things, but does what she wants to do at any point in time. She is not bound by conventions, even ones like bathing everyday or wearing clean clothes. She is careless and happy-go-lucky. Tara is a messy woman with attention to studies. Her world is larger than her studies.
Ranjan is Anjali's boyfriend. They know each other from childhood as their fathers teach in the same school. Both stay in different hostels in the same city.
Daman herself had a protected, traditional and well-settled middle-class childhood. After graduating in mathematics from St Stephen's college, New Delhi, she was not keen to join the civil services and so went to the Institute of Rural Management at Anand, Gujarat. Thanks to this she has extensive field experience of Gujarat's villages, having worked a lot with various non-governmental organisations. Some years back she wrote a non-fiction work backed by heavy research titled The Last Frontier: People and Forests in Mizoram.
It seems with her father she has a quiet, "non-verbal" and deep relationship while with her mother it is more colourful and expansive. Her parents have completed 50 years of marriage, and their stability shows in the daughter's family values.
She is married to Ashok Patnaik, an Indian Police Service officer currently with the Intelligence Bureau. They have one teenage son, and a dog completes the picture.
Marriage seems to be a stabilising factor in her life which is reflected in her own motherhood. She told rediff.com, "I am so lucky to have a husband who has a permanent job. I told him some years back, now you earn and feed us. I am going to follow my dreams. I have opted out of a busy career. I don't have a mobile phone. I think it keeps me sane."
"When I see other people with mobile phones I wonder, my God, how do they live!" she says. "I just could not do it. I live in my own world, I see what I want to see. If I had been in a different life, of course, my child will have to contact me. But right now, I am able to function happily without it. My life is so simple I can manage quite well without a mobile phone."
"I find other people's life complex, and have simplified my own life greatly, " she adds. "In many ways, I opted out of a complex life."
But how does her husband contact her?
Daman says with a smile, "He doesn't need to (giggles). He calls at home or sends a message. We manage very well. I have an e-mail id, e-mail is a big blessing."
Image: Daman Singh, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's second daughter. Inset, the cover of her debut novel, Nine by Nine
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