I’m not in any sense a historian: Writer Namita Gokhale

New Delhi, Nov 24 (IANS) Even though noted author Namita Gokhale’s latest book, “Things to Leave Behind”, is a historical fiction and she does full justice to the genre in her work, the author believes that she is not a historian.

“There can be many approaches to historical fiction, and I am not in any sense a historian,” Gokhale told IANS in an interview.

“It interested me to resurrect a moment in time, and examine what conditioning and prejudice do in formulating human responses. Human nature and the restless human heart tend not to change, but the spirit of the times does,” she added.

Gokhale is one of the most eminent authors in the country today. Besides 13 books in print, Gokhale is also founder and co-director of the Jaipur Literature Festival and the Mountain Echoes Bhutan Literary Festival.

“Things to Leave Behind” brings alive the romance of the mixed legacy of our British-Indian past.

Born in Lucknow in 1956, Gokhale has deep Kumaoni roots and spent her early childhood in Nainital. Her deep understanding of the region is eloquently reflected in the book.

“I grew up in Nainital and had a deep bond with the place and the way of life there. Times have changed and I wanted to record my memories of a past that is often difficult for today’s generation to even comprehend,” she explained.

However, it is not the first novel where her love and understanding of the Kumaon region is reflected. Her earlier work, “Mountain Echoes: Reminiscences of Kumaoni women”, described the Kumaoni way of life through the eyes of four highly-talented and individualistic women.

In that book, Gokhale offered a prequel to “Things to Leave Behind”.

“In our mountains, women are rarely afraid. They are strong, direct and loyal, and in most situations they are free to speak their minds,” Gokhale wrote in her previous work.

Moving ahead on the same note, “Things to Leave Behind” is a rich, panoramic historical novel that shows us a different side of the picturesque Kumaon region — six native women clad in black and scarlet pichauras huddle around Nainital Lake, attempting to cleanse it of threatening new influences.

“In 1998, I had worked on ‘Mountain Echoes’, a book of oral biography, recording the remembrances of my grandmother and three great aunts. This provided a treasure house of material and insight. I wanted to explore the inner lives of the strong, feisty women of Kumaon,” Gokhale said.

This time, she travels as back in time to 1856 and recalls the “Ferangee raj”. Did she have to do a great deal of research for this?

“I referred to several out-of-print books and archives available digitally, as well as memories, family histories, conversations, things read and remembered over the years. My great grandfather, Badri Dutt Pande, had written ‘Kumaon ka Itihas’, published around 1930. It was in my heart, and in my blood,” she said.

Full of the fascinating story of the Kumaon region and its unwilling entry into Indian history, throwing a shining light on the elemental confusion of caste, creed and culture, illuminated with painstaking detail, this is a fascinating historical epic and perhaps Gokhale’s most ambitious novel yet.

(Saket Suman be contacted at saket.s@ians.in)

–IANS

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