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Writing Matters: In conversation with Namita Gokhale

By Sucharita Dutta-Asane

Namita Gokhale

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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Looking forward — 2018: When it comes to literature, mythology rules the roster, says Namita Gokhale

Publishing is an unpredictable business. Even so, one of the trends in the world of books that I discern in 2018 and coming years, is mythology. The space for books based on Indian mythology has grown immensely since the time I wrote the children’s Mahabharata and In Search of Sita (2009), and I foresee that it will grow even further in the years to come.

This is because in India, people relate a lot to myth; myths form a reference point for our contemporary lives.The success of books in this genre have led to so obscure figures from Indian mythology being brought into the limelight such as Urmila, Menaka, etc. My latest book is on Ghatotkach, and the response to it has been amazing. Reader or publisher fatigue with mythology space hasn’t started.

I truly think that the dumbing down of the publishing industry is finally being reversed, and this is a trend that will become more evident in the coming year. Until a few years ago, it was believed that the stupider the book was, the more readers you would get. Now, even the aspirational readers want to be challenged now by what they read. They are no longer satisfied with reading material simply because it is easy to assimilate; they want books that will stimulate their minds.

I also predict that speculative fiction, especially quality speculative fiction—a genre that not many Indians wrote in—will take off in a big way. Short, nano stories will also find their place, but provided the writers find the right format. Another trend that will slowly unfold over the years to come is that of enhanced fiction—audio books and the like, which bring into play the other sensory facilities such as voice, even smell, some say and are interactive. These serve to make reading a complete experience.

Many people in the publishing industry say that literary fiction has had its day—I agree with this assessment, but with some reservations. It is true that in many ways, literary fiction had become narcissistic and self-obsessed in recent years. Publishers also liked to play it safe; they need to be a little a less cute and a bit more adventurous.In contrast, genre fiction, especially crime fiction, has taken off in a big way in recent years. But even here, we need more of quality and perhaps, less of quantity.

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ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival to transform The British Library for the first time as headline speakers and sessions are announced

On May 20th and 21st the British Library will be transformed like never before as the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival animates its iconic spaces for the first time in celebration of a significant cultural partnership. ZEE JLF@The British Library will present a sumptuous showcase of South Asia’s literary heritage, oral and performing arts, music, cinema and illusion, books and ideas, dialogue and debate, Bollywood and politics in the context of this broader view of India and its relationship to the UK.

2017 marks the fourth London edition of the Festival, which is rooted in the Pink City of Jaipur, India. Held every January, this year commemorated the 10th anniversary of the flagship event.

Festival co-directors Namita Gokhale and William Dalrymple have programmed JLF@The British Library to provide UK audiences with a taste of what is frequently referred to as ‘the greatest literary show on Earth’ in celebration of 70 years of UK-India relations. Read more

Source: India Education Diary


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Book Review: Things to leave behind by Namita Gokhale

By Dr. Pallavi Narayan

leave-behindI purposely read as little as I could about this novel before picking it up, so as not to colour my perceptions. The Prologue seemed to hint towards Hindu gods in a somewhat contrived fashion, so I was surprised that when I hunkered down to read the novel on my iPad at a coffee shop, the story was so enjoyably written that, to my surprise, I had read over 80 pages in an hour. I polished off the rest within that night and the next day.

The broad arc of the novel encompasses generations of women in the Kumaon region during the British Raj, from families based in Naineetal (that’s how it is spelt in the book) and Almora, the seemingly slow time around the placid waters of the Naina Devi Lake. However, the protagonists interestingly appear to be men, the women following them to wherever they choose to go next. Here, the author seems to be pointing to the patriarchal functioning of much of society—documenting the histories of men while conveniently absenting the women, or portraying them as shadow figures. But what the novel is primarily about is the tussle of women with their dependence on men, and how this frames a woman’s identity within that of the man “taking care” of her at the moment. Whether it is Tillotama Uprety’s mother who threw herself into the lake in perhaps a last bid for agency; herself, in a hurry to get married and move away to Almora to free herself of her (fond) uncle’s influence; her daughter Deoki, whom she neglects in favour of reading novels and imagining herself as a sahib; Deoki, who is married off to Jayesh, who falls in love with the missionary’s daughter Rosemary, and then Deoki determinedly sets about to win him back, but also in the meantime discovers how seductive she can be when she falls in love with a visiting artist who paints her in the nude; Rosemary, who single-handedly sets up her own mission and displays fortitude at not falling into sin with Jayesh, the married man who shares her feelings — the novel displays women’s agency, their emergence into their own self, even as they are bound by societal mores.

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3 Indian writers to attend Lahore fest

By Simran Sodhi

While the India-Pakistan deadlock continues over hardcore political issues, visible signs of detente have begun to emerge in areas of cultural and soft diplomacy.

Diplomatic sources confirmed to The Tribune that three Indian authors will be attending the Lahore literary festival starting February 24. The three-day event will see the participation of a number of celebrated writers and thinkers from all over South Asia.

British journalist Anita Anand and historian William Dalrymple will also be in attendance to discuss their new book Kohinoor. Interestingly, the International Advisory Committee for the Lahore Fest 2017 comprises Maina Bhagat of the Apeejay Kolkata Literature Fest and Namita Gokhale of the Jaipur Literature Festival, among others. This comes close on the heels of the previous ice breaker in the relationship with the Indian Council of Cultural Relations sponsoring four Indian authors to the Karachi literary festival held from February 10-12; known Indian author Urvashi Butalia was among those present. Read more

Source: Tribune India

 


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Heading to JLF 2017? Writers and poets pick sessions you must attend

By Aruveetil Mariyam Alavi and Supriya Sharma

Five days of literature. The most read authors and poets. The most fascinating discussions. Indian literature’s mammoth mela, the Jaipur Literature Festival, is never short of excitement. The festival, which will run from January 19 to January 23 this year, creates a problem of plenty for its eager visitors: there is too much to do, too many authors to hear, too many discussions to attend.

So before you make your must-attend-at-JLF lists, take a look at what authors, poets and other participants are looking forward to the most this year.

Namita Gokhale is one of the forces that has kept the Jaipur Literature Festival running smoothly over the years. As a writer and publisher, who is also one of the founder directors of JLF, she has some fond memories of the festival over the years.

“So many memories, layered and imprinted in my mind and heart. The keynote addresses from some of the greatest Indian writers, including Mahasweta Devi, UR Ananthamurthy, Girish Karnad, Nayantara Sahgal and so many others. The years when it rained and poured and the festival just continued calmly despite the mud and sludge. Gloria Steinem drinking chai in a kulhad, listening in to the front lawn sessions. Margaret Atwood and her sparkling mind,” she remembers. Read more

Source: Hindustan Times


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Publishers say 2017 World Book Fair a profitable affair

As the New Delhi World Book Fair comes to a close today, the nine-day long event was an “excellent” experience with leading publishing houses making significant profit on sales compared to previous years. Vimal Kumar, General Manager at Speaking Tiger said they had “unexpected sales”, despite facing several technical glitches in the aftermath of demonetisation.

“Due to demonetisation we faced several problems since many a times card machines didn’t work due to lack of signals. But, it has been an excellent experience, rather unexpected sales for Speaking Tiger. Our sales have almost doubled this year,” he said.

Some of the top sellers at the stall included ‘Himalaya: Adventures, Meditations, Life’ edited by Ruskin Bond and Namita Gokhale, and ‘Murderer in Mahim’ by Jerry Pinto among others.

For Penguin India, which saw a hike of nearly 20 per cent in business from last year’s fair, the event being moved ahead by a month from the usual February, has worked favourably. Read more

Source: The Financial Express


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Who’s who to attend 10th edition of Jaipur Literature Festival from Jan 19

The stage is set for the annual show for booklovers. The Jaipur Literature Festival, to be held between January 19 and 23, is expected to be a veritable feast this year with over 250 acclaimed authors, including Anne Waldman, Swanand Kirkire, Vikram Chandra and Tahmima Anam, to attend the event at the Jaipur’s Diggi Palace Hotel.

Having hosted 1,300 speakers and nearly 1.2 million book lovers over the last decade, the event has grown into the country’s biggest literature festival.

Organisers of the festival, in a press communiqué, said over 250 authors, thinkers, politicians, journalists and popular culture icons were expected to attend the event this year.

American poet, Anne Waldman, who has penned over 40 poetry books, will make her maiden visit to the literature festival this year. Read more

Source: Hindustan Times


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Artistic License Or Blood Money: Writers Call For Boycott of Jaipur Literary Fest Supported By Vedanta, Zee

By Gurpreet Kaur

Protests have cast a shadow of controversy over the Jaipur Literary Festival that has become an annual event attracting the literary elite from Delhi and other parts of the country. A 100 writers, academics and others have called upon all writers to pull out of the event that is being sponsored by Vedanta, infamous for ruthlessly expanding its mining projects by displacing local people and destroying their ecological environment.
The Jaipur Literary Festival, directed by writers Namita Gokhale and William Dalrymple is billed as the largest free literary festival in the world in the world.

Vedanta’s activities have according to rights groups have ruined the livelihood of thousands of people in Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Karnataka, and Rajasthan for Bauxite and iron ore mining. Anti Vedanta activists disrupted a JLF event at Southbank, London with placards and speeches as they felt that the event would give credibility to a company reportedly guilty for what they said was the death of thousands.

Activists and writers questioned Vedanta’s claim of promoting Indian literature and culture when it doesn’t even respect the environment, and the basic human rights of Adivasis. They are of the view that there is no way any self respecting writer, intellectual or critic should participate in a festival infected by Vedanta’s amoral actions. Read more

Source: The Citizen 


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Excerpts: Things to Leave Behind by Namita Gokhale

leave-behind

A howling rage took possession of the physician. ‘I’ll cure you, you glutton, for once and forever,’ he muttered to himself, and repaired to the pharmacy in the palace grounds. There, he took off his clothes and rubbed the scurf from his unwashed skin (he was not a man who favoured cleanliness) and rolled this body scurf into four miniscule pellets. These he further wrapped in silver foil, with a little cumin and asafoetida pressed in for good measure. While at it he added some anardana, the dried pomegranate seeds being his favourite ingredient and cure-all. Returning to the palace, he confronted his king. The four doses were placed on the royal tongue at quick intervals, while the fierce physician muttered curses and imprecations under his breath. These were, of course, taken as being addressed to the demon of ill health, for no one could possibly presume to be so rude to His Majesty.

By the time the third pellet was pressed into his mouth, the king was already feeling better. He beheld his loyal physician Jeewan Chandra Pant with gratitude and ordered that a bag of gold coins be given to him. The courtier who was summoned to bring the coins from the royal treasury appropriated five, but a bagful was still a bagful. The Vaidya was immediately moved to better humour and contemplated buying his beloved Pokhara mistress a gold hansuli, to frame her plump, pretty neck. Later, he was to wonder interminably about the possible conjunction of astral influences, the conspiracy of constellations, that had effected his radical cure. For the king’s digestion now flourished, the royal robes layered in purple velvet and satin rested gently on his reposeful abdomen; the queens, the prime minister, the ladies of the harem, all enjoyed the reprieve from his colic- induced cruelties.

The unexpected success of his unorthodox medicine prompted Jeewan to research further. He dreamt of formulating the perfect aphrodisiac. A Tibetan herbalist in Pokhara had told the Vaidya about the highly efficacious horny goat weed he had learnt of in China. The plant   grew in profusion around the Pokhara lake, and the royal physician had concocted a rasayan using the distilled weed and small quantities of the pink bell-shaped valerian flowers of Jatamansi. The king was offered the experimental potion, and it worked wonders. A certain royal lady-in-waiting whose husband was a confirmed catamite found herself   the subject of the monarch’s unexpected favour. He visited her bedchamber three nights consecutively and found his veerya, his royal libido, functioning as capably as that of a young man. The lady had a mole upon the inside of her left thigh, and this mole became the subject of his immediate and compulsive attention. The mole, he decided, in some leap of intuition or madness, held the key to his destiny as a monarch.

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