Source : The Hindu
India’s literary landscape is exciting says Namita Gokhale, who has just launched her first Young Adult book, Lost in Time
Let’s start at the very beginning, sang Julie Andrews. But, asks Chintamani Dev Gupta (the protagonist of Namita Gokhale’s first YA novel Lost in Time, published by Puffin), where is the beginning when time does not follow a straight line or a predictable geometric pattern in its unfolding? Lost in Time is a lovely tale of time travel, friendship, loss and love.
The story is simple enough. Chintamani has been sent to a camp while his parents try to fix their failing marriage. While swimming in a lake, he enters a time portal and is whisked back into the time of the Mahabharat. He makes friends with Bhima’s rakshas son Ghatotkacha and watches the latter help his cousin Abhimanyu win Vatsala’s hand and transport his father’s family to safety in the Himalayas. Without being overt or preachy, Gokhale gets in little messages about treatment of ‘others’, of inclusivity and more.
But, I wonder, why Ghatotkacha? “Something about his essential nobility, generosity and strength, and the fact that, even though he was the eldest born of the next generation of Pandavas, he never got his due moved me,” she says. “I come from the Kumaon hills and rakshasas and ganas, dakinis and yakinis and fierce demons all have their place in our extended pantheon. It was this combination of strength and vulnerability, wisdom and innocence that drew me.”
Her mention of Kumaon reminds me of the evocative descriptions of the forest. Not surprising, she says, since she grew up in the hills. “So I have a feel for the natural beauty of the place. Much of it is drawn from real landscapes.” But imagination also had a role to play, “the long walk through the forest came to me in a dream.”
With dreams and mythology helping her, the bit that gave her most trouble was writing about current times. “…everyday life in Gurgaon was a bit of a letdown,” she says. “I had to work hard on the structure to keep it upbeat.”
In her three decades of writing, this is her first YA novel. She’d wanted to write this story for a long time, she says, and always as something for young readers; “perhaps because of the element of fantasy,” she muses. And she warns, “there will be more for this segment. Something is brewing.”
Apart from her writing, Gokhale is also a publisher and curator of literary events, most notable being the Jaipur Literature Festival.
Sometimes these roles “do segue together,” she admits, “but they are also in conflict. I find I never get enough time to push and promote my books. And increasingly, I feel the need to carve out more time for writing, for day dreaming, for floating around doing nothing so ideas can ferment inside.”
Among her many successful programmes was Kitaabnama, the multilingual show on books that Gokhale conceptualised for Doordarshan. While it ran, Kitaabnama was very popular with book lovers as it showcased the India’s multilingual literature. Gokhale acknowledges the efforts of Jawahar Sircar of Prasar Bharti, Tripurari Sharan of Doordarshan and “the very talented insiders at Doordarshan” in creating the show.
“We recorded a hundred shows, covering most of the Indian languages, and many major international writers at the Jaipur festival. Doordarshan’s tremendous footprint and reach made this accessible across India and South Asia to booklovers who can’t easily get to view such programming. It’s tragic that it was shut down but I’m glad I got to do it, and that there is a legacy.”
Gokhale, who was recently awarded the first Centenary National Award for Literature from the Asam Sahitya Sabha, is delighted that it acknowledged “my work as an Indian-English writer within the framework of Indian languages.”
In her three decades of being on India’s literary landscape, Gokhale has seen many changes; “transformed beyond recognition,” is how she describes it.
“The distances between Indian language writing and Indian English writing have, to a large extent, been bridged. A vibrant Indian market for books has emerged, which is not just a subset of the international market. There is a lot of genuinely good writing, and an engagement. We are the second largest English market in the world, and it is growing,” she concludes.
I read a lot and influences are very insidious things. Books and ideas can trigger responses that take a long time to come to fruition. I consider The Tale of Genji a major influence on my writing. Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Muriel Spark, Kalidasa. Genre fiction, popular fiction, romance, crime writing. The great output of Bhasha writing from the Indian languages.
Way of words
Where: I write anywhere. I love to write in bed, under a quilt
When: Any time, though late night works well
How: First draft on lined paper, sometimes with a pencil and eraser, sometimes with a gel pen, depending on how confident I am of my material. Double spacing, illegible handwriting, then first edit on the keyboard
What: Like most writers I know, I’m obsessive about stationery, sharpened pencils, favourite pens, notebooks… the works