In her latest book, noted writer Namita Gokhale has explored the way the caste system in India "imprisons" the humanity of those within it, with the backdrop of her "picturesque" hometown Kumaon.
Titled 'Things to Leave Behind', the book tells the story of Brahmin women in Kumaon, and is a manifestion of the author's reaction to the "whole Brahaminical and patriarchal set up".
"These are the stories that nobody else in the world knew. I felt I would be betraying the stories if I didn't give them a voice.
"The story is part of the family lore. It is my reaction to the whole Brahaminical and patriarchal set up. It is the story of Brahmin women in Kumaon," Gokhale, who is the co-founder of Jaipur Literature Festival, said.
Published by Penguin India, the 302-page book was launched by writer and politician Shashi Tharoor at the Taj Mahal hotel here yesterday.
Set in the years spanning from 1840 to 1912, the book chronicles the mixed legacy of the British Indian past and the emergence of a "fragile modernity".
"I have tried to bring to life a time, a moment in Kumaon that I saw the very end of...That I saw through the open history of Kumaon women. I wanted to pass on the story," Gokhale said.
"It is about our own time when everything is changing. The human heart, love and freedom, these things are constant and the human nature does not change. Be it in the Mahabharata or in a recent novel like this. So it is about people coping with change," she said.
Describing 'Things to Leave Behind' as her "most ambitious work", Gokhale, who has penned more than a dozen books including both fiction and non-fiction, said the book was very difficult to write as it was an "absolute mess of stories".
The book, which is the culmination of her "Himalayan Trilogy", comes after 'A Himalayan Love Story' and 'The Book of Shadows'.
Agreeing with Tharoor that the British Raj was responsible for "concretising" and "solidifying" caste sysytem in India, Gokhale said the interlocuters and local informants the British had were "mostly Brahmins" who put the "case hugely towards the cause of their own glory".
She said that while the Brahmins did contribute for transmission of knowledge, they were not "very liberal in sharing that transmission".
Gokhale's book, which is written from memories, family
histories, conversations and the things the author has read and remembered over the years, is replete with interesting takes on human nature and is lyrical in its description.
For instance, about the Himalayan skies and their ever-changing moods, Gokhale paints a vivid picture in her book.
"They were consistent in their inconsistencies. In season they were sometimes sullen, grey and turgid; then turned, in moments, into a tableau of fickle, fluid shades, charged with unfathomable meaning.
"The high cirrus formation of Tibet were quite different from the playful, dragon-shaped clouds of Bhootan or the battling skyscapes of the Ladakh Valley," she writes in her book.