She was 28 when her debut book ‘Paro: Dreams of Passion hit the stands. Several decades and 20 books since, author Namita Gokhale, who has won the Sahitya Akademi Award for ‘Things to Leave Behind’, looks at all these years as times of extreme productivity and periods of silence, of lying fallow.
She feels it is important to hibernate, to recoup imagination and creativity, to think afresh.
The prestigious award, she says, has left her overwhelmed. “This award has gone to some of the greatest names in Indian literature. Also, this is an Indian award in which every Indian language is represented. When English is honoured as an Indian language, it feels extremely good.”
In these times of information overload and self-promotion, she says that an award like this gives a certain ‘stamp’.
“And what is wrong with that if it highlights certain books? Sahitya Akademi is always cautious, no wonder the award is considered so prestigious. I know so many major authors who have got the award decades after they started writing. Look at me, I cannot go greyer, she tells IANS.
She adds, “Each of these books has in its way been a journey, a quest, a search for answers. I have worked on novels, short stories, a play, oral histories, and written for young adults in ‘The Puffin Mahabharata’ and also ‘Lost in Time: Ghatotkacha and the Game of Illusions’. There have been four anthologies, two of them co-edited with Malashri Lal. Maybe it’s time to rest and listen to the whispering wind for a while.”
Talking about her latest work, ‘The Blind Matriarch’, which she started writing when the Covid pandemic started, and the enigmatic character of ‘Matangi Ma’, the author recalls, “The character came to me like an emanation or a visiting muse. I had only to shut my eyes and I would find her story unfolding before me. The novel was written in real-time, so the events of those strange days would reflect in the story I was telling. I would send four or five chapters to my editor Manasi Subramaniam, and she would send me her responses.”
At a time when literature in Indian languages is being extensively translated and winning top awards, Gokhale feels that the contemporary literary scene is both rooted and cosmopolitan.
“Although I write in English, I have always been deeply influenced by writings in Hindi and other Indian languages. The concept of ‘many languages one literature’ is very close to me. Some of my novels, such as ‘Shakuntala: The Play Of Memory’, got translated into Hindi as ‘Shakuntala: Smriti Jaal’ and ‘Raag Pahadi’, which is the Hindi rendering of ‘Things to Leave Behind’, and they read even more naturally in the language which is their natural context. I am overjoyed at the flowering of literary translations, both into English and other Indian languages, which we are witnessing at this moment in time.”
The Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), which she founded, will have a hybrid model this time. She says that it would be unfair to impose the old understanding of ‘reality’ on the new and emergent interpretations of juxtaposed realities.
“I love the exhilarating sense of community that is so much a part of JLF. The hybrid model allows vast outreach and accessibility and it is evolving every day… It is a platform I respect and value,” says the co-director of the festival.
Stressing that Teamwork Arts is closely monitoring and enforcing al Covid precautions as it plans the hybrid festival, Gokhale says, “It is a mammoth organisational and logistical task even at the best of times. The challenges of the present moment require necessary caution and great foresight. All protocols will be scrupulously followed.”
While several western countries ensured that funds did not dry up for artistes during the peak of the pandemic, something which was not the case in India, the author says, “Many organisations and individuals in India have also been doing a stellar job. They are all doing whatever they can, together and individually. Sadly, this sector is not a priority for the government or corporates.”
Lauding the many many festivals across India with their different themes and audiences, she feels they are doing a brilliant job of promoting books and bringing readers and writers together.
“So many of the other festivals, big and small, some of which I am associated with, are contributing enormously to nurturing and sustaining creative spaces. We are all in it together,” she says.
She is also hoping to write some short stories in 2022.
“I have been taking notes for two books which I will begin to work on in February. No new novels for a while, though,” she concludes.