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By Sucharita Dutta-Asane
Pic credit: Srishti Jha
Namita Gokhale is an Indian writer, publisher and festival director. She is the author of sixteen books including nine works of fiction. Her debut novel, Paro: Dreams of Passion was first published in 1984, and has remained a cult classic. The Himalayan trilogy includes the recent Things to Leave Behind, considered her most ambitious novel yet. She has worked extensively on Indian myth and also written two books for young readers.
Gokhale is a co-founder and co-director of the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival, considered the largest free literary festival in the world, as well as of Mountain Echoes, the annual Bhutan Literature Festival. She is also a director of Yatra Books, a publishing house specialised in translation.
Sucharita Dutta-Asane: Welcome to Kitaab, Namita. Congratulations on winning the Asam Sahitya Sabha’s first Centenary National Award for Literature.
This is an important recognition for your literary efforts, both as a writer and for helping create a ‘literary environment in the country’. For many people, your name is synonymous first with the Jaipur Litfest. Have you ever felt that your identity as a writer gets subsumed, in any way, by your identity as the driving force behind Jaipur Litfest?
Namita Gokhale: I was delighted to receive the Asam Sahitya Sabha’s first Centenary National Award for Literature. I’m a backstage, back seat sort of person and it’s an honour to be recognised and awarded by the oldest, and one of the most respected literary organisations in India. It’s true that people tend to see me as one of the founder-directors of the Jaipur Literature Festival, rather than in my independent identity as a writer. This is sometimes frustrating, but at the same time it’s been a privilege and immensely rewarding in creative terms to be working with such a transformational literary platform as the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival. And I haven’t really invested in building a persona or pushing my books as I feel my writing will find its way in the world on its own terms.
Sucharita: What is the meeting ground today, as compared to maybe ten years ago, between Indian language publishing and writing in English in India? Is it still fragile or finding shape at last?
Namita: English too is one of the twenty two Indian languages – and I feel the legacy of our multi-vocal Indian literatures is finding synergy through translations and becoming more accessible through the many festivals and platforms that have become so popular across the country.
Sucharita: How much have literary festivals and writers’ meets helped in creating this meeting ground?
Namita: One of the most wonderful things about all the book festivals and writers meets is that a literary community has been established across India and South Asia – and that Indian and South Asian writers interact with each other and also with writers from across the world at such events. The Jaipur litfest has had an important part to play in this, as have all the other wonderful festivals.
Sucharita: Paro: Dreams of Passion is a book that you seem to have enjoyed writing. Was writing Priya equally enjoyable or did Paro’s ghost sit too heavily on your mind?
Namita: Paro: Dreams of Passion was my debut novel, and yes I had great fun writing it! I also enjoyed working on its sequel Priya, but the craft of a credible sequel is more demanding, and Paro’s larger than life character was just a ghost and a memory, so I missed her in moving the narrative along. I just love the new Double Bill Paro/Priya edition where one can read the two novels in sequence – with evocative flip covers.
Sucharita: What brought you back to Paro and its sequel after two decades?
Namita: It was a ‘what if’ sort of question – I was looking at the India of the seventies and eighties and attempting to transpose some of the characters and situations to a quarter century later.
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The Story of Shazia Mustaq
In the second decade of the twenty-first century, education in Pakistan faces a catastrophe of unparalleled proportions. According to a 2015 UNESCO report, Pakistan has nearly 5.5 million children who are out of school, the second highest number in the world after Nigeria. Pakistan also has the highest number of illiterate adults in the world, after India and China.
According to the Pakistan Education Statistics Report, 2013–2014, the total number of out-of-school children at primary level in the country has dropped from 6.7 million in 2012–2013 to 6.2 million.
An October 2014 report by Alif Alaan, a campaign to end Pakistan’s education emergency pointed that there are 25 million boys and girls out of school—that’s nearly half of all children in the country. In relative terms, most out-of-school children are in Balochistan. More than half of the country’s out-of-school children live in Punjab. Across the country, it was harder for girls to go to school. Girls made up more than half of all out-of-school children. A majority of the parents of girls did not allow them to study, while boys were mostly unwilling to go to school. Older children are more likely to be out of school. Around 70 per cent of out-of-school children have never been to one before. Girls mostly drop out of school to help with household work. Children from poor families are far more likely to be out of school. The education system is unable to retain enrolled students
Said Shazia Mustaq, ‘My siblings didn’t get a chance to study, and that caused me immense pain. I think that is what got me thinking about education. Sometimes, I wish there was some magic wand that all illiterate people, out-of-school children become educated. I wish it for the whole world, and especially for Pakistan. Bas paadh jaiyan sab. Because of lack of education, Pakistan, my homeland, has divided into all these classes.’
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