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Namita Gokhale: I tend to return to memories of mountains for inspiration

Author Namita Gokhale, who has been announced as the Sahitya Akademi Award winner for her book Things To Leave Behind (2016), opens up about her connect with Uttarakhand’s Kumaon region.

Her early childhood was spent in Nainital, and the popular hill station of Uttarakhand usually acquires quite a character when author Namita Gokhale spins words in her works. And so it did when she penned her novel, Things To Leave Behind (2016). Recently announced as the winner of Sahitya Akademi Award in English language category — among 20 languages — this book is set in Kumaon of mid 1800s, and chronicles the mixed legacy of British Indian past of the region.

Describing how her identity, as a woman from the hilly region of India, influences her storytelling, Gokhale says, “My fundamental identity, how I see myself, is as a Pahari woman from Kumaon. That perception is the key to my sense of self. I tend to return to memories of the mountains for inspiration when I’m searching deep within myself for stories to tell myself and my readers.”

“It’s a book close to my heart. It is also a novel that will endure, as it is framed carefully in time and place,” says Gokhale, who is “overjoyed and overwhelmed” that the book has been chosen for the award. It makes her recall the hard work that went into writing it, and shares that the research for it came to her through several sources: “I had written a book of oral biographies titled Reminiscences of Kumaoni Women, on the lives of my maternal grandmother and three great aunts. That provided me a treasure of material memory. My paternal great grandfather, Kumaon Kesari Badri Dutt Pande had written Kumaon ka Itihas, which is an excellent history of Kumaon. And I had over the years delved deep into Atkinson’s Himalayan Gazetteer. The net, of course, provides the most amazing information and reading.”

The pandemic gave her the chance to write her latest, The Blind Matriarch. “The past two years have been chaotic, but they have also provided an opportunity for deep reflection. I have changed in so many ways; some of which I still don’t fully recognise or comprehend. And I’ve tried to teach myself not to be afraid of change,” says Gokhale, who is also the festival director of Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF); scheduled to take place in January end. She sounds optimistic of being part of the physical event, although Covid-19 situation has created quite some uncertainty. “We will follow all Covid protocols and precautions. Let’s see how the situation evolves. So much depends on the whims of the virus. The spirit of the festival, of books and ideas, dialogue and debate, will continue, in whatever hybrid fashion is most appropriate to the situation,” she concludes.

Author tweets @siddhijainn

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