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There is a lot more to the lives of writers than just writing, and at times their keen involvement in these other aspects is what catches the eye of both readers and critics. The popularity of Namita Gokhale, not as one of India's foremost writers, but as the force behind some of the most successful literary events in the subcontinent, is a case in point.
On Saturday (October 14), the high-profile writer will be awarded the first Centenary National Award for Literature by the Asam Sahitya Sabha for her "outstanding literary contributions as well as her service to the nation in supporting and showcasing literary talent and creating a literary environment in the country". This recognition from the prestigious literary body provides enough reason to look back at a highly successful career.
Born in Lucknow, in 1956, Gokhale spent a larger part of her childhood in New Delhi and in Nainital and areas around it. It is perhaps because of this that the hills and natural beauty have had an overwhelming influence on her works. On most occasions, Gokhale's writings are not responsive to the environment around her, they are rather contemplative in their structure. She allows the readers to meditate in the trance of her words, takes them a step closer to the picture in her mind and thereby allows them to find their response in a calculated measure of words.
She was thrust into the limelight after the publication of "Paro: Dreams of Passion" in 1984. In this significant novel, the protagonist Paro is on a quest for pleasure and she achieves this by entangling affluent persons around her. Gokhale's portrayal of a woman leading a lustful life, exploiting her lovers and doing all that was not "ordinary" was perhaps a first of sorts.
Her second work of fiction, "Gods, Graves and Grandmother", came after a hiatus of 10 long years. The simple story of Guidya and her almost aged grandmother (Ammi), who, along with Guidya's mother, settle in the suburbs of Delhi, this novel beautifully underlined the writer's understanding of society and its changing facets.
In her fictional worlds, Gokhale walks with kings but does not lose the common touch; each of her characters are individual entities but none too much. At the heart of her novels are experiences of love and passion, illness and death.
"A Himalayan Love Story" (1996) is about the lives of Parvati and Mukul, both of whom grew up in the Himalayan town of Nainital. Then came "The Book of Shadows" in 1999, an ambitious work that explores the nature of reality, love and faith. This was followed by "Mountain Echoes" (1998). A book of biographies, it narrated the reminiscences of a generation of older women living in the Kumaon hills. Her next, "The Book of Shiva" (2001), is an erudite and impassioned narration of the Hindu deity Lord Shiva who is found presiding among all other deities of Hindu mythology. Her latest book, "Things To Leave Behind", the 16th in a line of many more to come, released towards the end of 2016.
Loneliness is another significant theme that Gokhale has explored frequently in her novels. Many of her characters, including the popular Priya from "Paro: Dream of Passion", are influenced by separation, dissatisfaction, hostility and despair. In other words, they are lonely and their loneliness finds expression in the words of Gokhale.
Every work of Gokhale is a reminder of the opening of "A Tale of Two Cities": "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness..." There is an immense sense of reverence for human emotions in her works. Like a keen observer, she has long been analysing the various shades of human emotions and her characters -- all of whom are simple, everyday people we meet.
There can be no denying that Gokhale has spearheaded some of the biggest literary events in the subcontinent -- Jaipur Literature Festival and Bhutan's Mountain Echoes Literary Festival -- that her contribution to the cause of literature is immense, and that she is behind the country's literary boom.
But Namita Gokhale is much more than the sum total of all these. She is primarily a gifted writer, who has enriched our shelves with what are classics in their own right. Everything else is secondary.
(Saket Suman can be contacted at email@example.com <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>)
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