Award-winning writer Namita Gokhale, also the co-director of Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), which opens today, is shuttling between festivals. She had just returned from Kozhikode after attending the Kerala Literature Festival, and soon left for Jaipur. But for those who can’t make it, she has brought alive that world in her latest book, titled Jaipur Journals (Penguin Random House, Rs 499). “The title tends to mislead. A lot of people seem to think that this is a travel guide, and I have been trying very hard to establish that it is a novel,” says Gokhale, 63. Excerpts from an interview:
How did you think of setting a novel at the JLF, a world that you create for five days?
It was a suggestion from an agent friend of mine in the US, who said that a book like this could be interesting. At first, I resisted the idea but it stayed within me. The stories were so close to home, it was quiet spontaneous to write them.
All the characters are unique and come from different walks of life. Where did you find them?
They say that you never find the characters, the characters find you. The principal character, Rudrani Rana, is really an image of the metaphor for the writer, of a person who is really reliving and rewriting the narrative of her own life through a book that becomes almost a substitute for the lived life. Similarly Raju Srivastava ‘Betab’, the thief, is one of the outsiders and outliers of the society who become writers. Two years ago, there was a cat burglar who came into my room, and somehow that encounter left me with empathy. I thought about his inner life — the poor cat burglar, who has a soul of a poet. However, I had to work on, layer and imagine some of the other characters step by step.
What did you want to explore through Rudrani, a septuagenarian who calls herself a failed writer, but also writes anonymous letters?
Rudrani somehow reached out to me on a much deeper level than other characters. Maybe there is a lot of Rudrani in me or of me in Rudrani. As I grow older, I notice a peculiar exile. It is not about age, but the process of aging, and how much has it battered you. It has been a tough ride for Rudrani, but her spirit is exemplified by her anger against the world, and I love that anger.
You use satire and bring out the entitlement of the writers but also humanise them with their backstories.
There is certainly that entitlement, but there is a huge amount of vulnerability too. Very few people realise how vulnerable writers are because they put their deepest selves out there. I feel very sorry for writers because it is a very thankless profession. It gives inner resources and joy; writers can be mean and jealous, but they put so much more at stake.
If you have to change something about how literature festivals run today, what would that be?
After this year’s festival is over, I want to spend some time to unthink all that has happened, go back to the drawing board, and see what my motivation is. My earlier motivation was that Indian languages get a voice, and the artificial distance that existed 15 years ago has disappeared and a literary community has been formed. But we have to resist becoming formulae and most festivals follow the template of JLF, whereas every festival should create its own template.