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Sunday
, September 15, 2002
Interview

Meet the author
"Every book has its life, its kundali"
Humra Quraishi

 Namita Gokhale
Namita Gokhale

YOUR critics have pointed out that none of your subsequent works could match your debut novel Paro. Comment.

Well, every novel has a life of its own, a sort of autonomous existence. Paro reached out to a lot of people, and Iím grateful that people still remember it so many years later. Yet I do feel that Iíve grown as a writer.

You were very young when you wrote Paro yet it was described as not just blatant but extremely bold. Over the years did you and your style develop a certain sense of self-consciousness?

The shocked and scandalised reaction which Paro received in India took me completely by surprise. I was very young then, and did, of course, react to that, in the sense that I set out to write a very stark and depressing book, to show the critics that I was a serious writer. But I donít think I have ever been inhibited in my writing, whatever the subject.

How much has your personal life affected your writings?

 


Itís strange, but often I write about things before they happen to me or to those around me. I used to get terrified by these coincidences until a very intelligent woman explained to me that writers are intuitive and often carry a field of prescient energy. Otherwise every writer I know cannibalises experience, itís inevitable.

You seem to be obsessed with the hills yet you married a man who was not from the hills. Comment.

I would not say that I am obsessed by the hills, I just happen to write about them a lot. I love mountains, but my husband did too.

You manage your husbandís consultancy work and along with that you are also into publishing and writing and travelling. How do you manage all this?

I know I am attempting to do far too many things, but the more you do the more you manage to fit into a day. I do try to prioritise, to remember whatís really important, rather than fall into a pressure routine. I am a late riser but I often work until late at night.

You come across as a carefree, fun-loving person. Describe the real Namita Gokhale?

I would love to be a carefree, fun-loving person but I suspect Iím more of an anxious, irritable sort of person in private. The really Namita Gokhale tries very hard to be sincere and is probably a bit silly.

New Delhi is a ruthless city yet writers survive here. Living in this city, has your sensitivity as a writer been affected?

Itís a very desensitising city if you are rich and complacent, but otherwise the social and cultural contrasts, the very intelligent literate circles, which include media persons and a few politicians, the international community, the overdose of cultural activities which is available, even without paid tickets, all this makes Delhi a very stimulating city.

You are currently completing a novel. Tell us about it.

This is a book about a core of past-life memories which I have fictionalised. I donít want to talk about it, as I have not really let go of the book yet, Iím still working on it, or perhaps itís still working on me.

You were one of the persons responsible for organising the rather grand get together, so as to say, of Indian writers living abroad. Are such exercises needed and do they benefit writers or readers?

I was the project co-ordinator for the International Festival of Indian Literature. It wasnít only about diaspora Indian writers, for we were trying to bring about a creative interaction between the Indian English writers and the vernacular writers in major Indian languages. I think it worked in that there was a lot of dialogue and interaction. Nishit Saran and I were working on a documentary on the festival for the PSBT (the Public Service Broadcast Trust). Nishit died tragically in April. The film shows the level of inspired content the festival generated. I put in everything I had into the festival, for I think there was an artificial divide between the different categories of Indian writers which is now slowly being bridged. If the writers benefit, then the readers naturally do too.

Writing is a very private business, with most writers leading extremely lonely lives. Comment?

I think thatís true. Yeats wrote about "the days vanity, the nights remorse." Writers lead very internalised lives, and even if they are fairly gregarious, as I am, they have to be alone somewhere inside them.

Has the present political chaos in the country affected you as a person and as a writer?

Political chaos is cyclical, but the devaluation of Hinduism from spirituality to mob mentality has hurt me more than I can ever put into words.

So many writers (especially those writing in Hindi, Urdu) die unsung because they live in small towns and cannot reach out. In this context, what is your opinion about the importance of how a writer goes about marketing his books. Is media hype needed for books to sell?

Yes, media hype is needed to sell books, although a good book can sometimes make it by word of mouth. As I said before, every book has a life, a kundali, of its own, which has very little to do with purely literary merit.

Has the publishing line matured to such an extent that a writer can survive on his or her writings?

Not in India, no. Even elsewhere, they say you can make a fortune by writing, but not a living. Itís a very insecure and uncertain way to survive but it has glorious compensations.

Since you are into publishing, too, tell me what sort of writings get the nod from you.

I look for books that have an idea or concept behind them, that are deeply felt and realised, but may suffer a handicap in terms of language or marketing opportunity. I try to promote books I believe in, and that I can give something to.