Namita Gokhale shares her journey, her connection with the literary world and her position on writing in the current scenario. Excerpts from the interview below:
* You have always had a deep connection with books. How was the journey – from conceptualizing Kitaabnama for Doordarshan to 2021 when you released your latest book?
I had a long, fruitful and joyful journey all the way. It was a real privilege to be surrounded by books, writers and readers, arguments, poetry and literary friendships. Part of me likes to hide in a corner and write my heart out. I also enjoy reaching out, interacting with people, creating connectivity. Kitaabnama – which I curated for Doordarshan for two years – had the biggest footprint and reach and the legacy lives on in the hundred episodes still available on YouTube. My twentieth book is also a landmark, as is the Sahitya Akademi Award for English 2021.
* Can you tell us about your recent book, The Blind Matriarch?
The Blind Matriarch was written in real time during the first and second lockdowns. It is told through the perspective of an old woman who lives on the top floor of the family home, presiding over her two sons, her daughter-in-law and daughter, her grandchildren, and the two ladies who help run the household. It’s a quiet story – nothing happens on the surface, but there are unseen depths, secrets and wounds from the past, and the complex inner life of a common Indian family.
* You have also been behind several other initiatives – the International Festival of Indian Literature, Neemrana and the Africa-Asia Literary Conference, among others. You also advised The Himalayan Echoes Kumaon Festival for Arts and Literature and Abbotsford Literary Weekend. What do you think are the constraining elements of all these institutions? Moreover, what makes them exclusive from each other?
All of these literary endeavors require deep, confident and playful creative collaborations. Working together as a team, supporting each other’s strengths, recognizing weak links in the chain – these things are important in building and sustaining organizations. Bhutan Literature Festival, Kumaon LitFest, Jaipur [JLF] – all of these have been so different in size and scale, yet they share a sense of joyful energy. The International Festival of Indian Literature, Neemrana, and the Africa Asia Literary Conference, as well as the various international editions of the JLF have all been rich in learning and life lessons.
* Of course, the role played by these institutions or initiatives is enormous. But could you elaborate on some salient features that set the right cultural tone in society?
There are no prescriptive rules in my understanding of culture. It is an intrinsic and natural activity of the human species to share stories, to enjoy music, to enhance their individual experiences and understanding through community.
* How do you think authors’ writing styles have changed over the years?
I think literature, like everything else, goes through cycles. Old stories return, even as words and their meanings may change. Books last, and that is their strength.