Published: 29th January 2018
Namita Gokhale launched her new book with her granddaughter at JLF and we went awww!
The co-curator of Jaipur Literature Festival Namita Gokhale has whipped up another treat for children in the form of a book, Lost In Time: Ghatotkacha and the Game of Illusions
A double whammy was in store for the lovers of the printed word here in the City of Nizams this weekend in the form of Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) and the Hyderabad Literary Festival (HLF).
Wheather it was the JLF's resplendent line-up of authors including Helen Fielding who gave us the very relatable Bridget Jones and the Instagram poet Rupi Kaur, whose sessions we tuned into thanks to live streaming or back home, in the capital of Telangana, the HLF held at the iconic Hyderabad Public School which provided a platform for intense discussions about supernatural earthlings and being a secular Muslim in India and more, both went a long was is satiating the souls of bibliophiles.
In the midst of whatever else I may be doing, writing keeps my heart and imagination engaged. It is the secret space I inhabit in the hustle and bustle of daily life
Namita Gokhale, author
So taking a leap of faith, we reached out to Namita Gokhale, the co-curator of JLF who was also launching her book Lost In Time: Ghatotkacha and the Game of Illusions with her granddaughter during one of the sessions on the very first day of this festival (January 25) and the artist who illustrated the book, Ujan Dutta.
And just like the keynote the 62-year-old, who recently celebrated her birthday, delivered at the JLF where she said, "India's tradition is such that both the modern and historic tales go hand in hand," her book is also one such tale of Chintamani a young boy who goes back in time and bumps into the rakshas (demon) Ghatotkacha, son of the mighty and righteous Bheem, and after a true bond of friendship forms between them, learns that not all demons are bad. Excerpts from a conversation with the Centenary National Award winner Gokhale where she talks about her book, the timelessness of Mahabharata and her characters. Excerpts:
First glimpse: The book cover of Gokhale's latest
Mahabharata is a story of multiple plot points which many writers and directors repeated draw from? What according to you makes the story so universal? Also, what particularly attracted you to the lesser-known story of Ghatotkacha?
Mahabharata, which has been described as the ‘greatest story ever told’, with its multiple narratives and stories within stories, is the source of many strands of Indian literature, ancient, medieval and contemporary. The epic is universal, and remains relevant, because of its pragmatic understanding of human nature, as well as its empathy and compassion.
I have written about several characters from the Mahabharata, including Kunti, Gandhari, and Nala Damayanti. Ghatotkacha and his mother Hidimbi had always drawn me, I was interested in them from the very beginning, and I’ve been planning this book for almost ten years now.
On the podium: Namita Gokhale speaking at one of the editions of JLF
Chintamani was quite familiar with the premise, and even the details, of the Mahabharata. Do you think the children of today are as familiar with the story?
In ‘Lost in Time’, Chintamani had the same hazy knowledge of the Mahabharata that most Indians, young and old, carry in their consciousness. It was only after he had been transported back in time, to the days of the Mahabharata, that he got a sense of those extraordinary characters and stories. When he returned to the present, he began reading the epic, especially the parts relating to the devastating Battle of Kurukshetra, and researching the internet about the lost city of Dwarka. In my experience, young people are very familiar with the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. In the course of my school visits, I often find them better informed than me on ancient mythology.
In the kind of political climate that exists today, did you hesitate while taking up a story from Mahabharata though you have to your credit the Puffin Mahabharata as well?
There was certainly no self-censorship involved in writing ‘Lost in Time’. The Indian epics are capable of multiple interpretations and have been retold for millennia across India. I believe that the great epics do have a core of historical truth, but over the process of being retold and reinterpreted across the centuries the focus and nuance of the narrative inevitably shifts and changes.
Gokhale has been rereading the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius and loves to get away to Kumaon Hills whenever she can, even if it's for a day or two
What is your opinion of live streaming festivals like these? Do you think it effects the attendance of the festival?
JLF already attracts enormous audiences, and live streaming provides even greater outreach, helping to share the wonderful sessions with those book lovers who are unable to be at Jaipur.
The best part of curating a literary festival is reading and researching for the sessions, encountering new voices and new ideas. The challenges and goalposts keep shifting, but the effort is to keep the festivals I help curate spontaneous, rooted and relevant.
Coming to you being a panel member for Hindi Word of the Year, English is a living breathing language that inducts several words within it. But as we keep reprimanding today's children for their lose language, does something like "polluting a language" exists?
Language is an organic, living and breathing system of communication. Hindi is one of the most spoken languages in the world, absorbing influences, creating new words and phrases to describe evolving experiences, and that is the reason for its resilience and popularity.