When she was 26, she wrote a very adult book. And, at 62, she succeeded in writing in the voice of a 14-year-old. That’s Namita Gokhale for you, who is not willing to put pen to paper until a story scratches at her heart absolutely, the protagonist speaks to her and a few lines get written.
Thus she wrote about Chintamani Dev Gupta, a 14-year-old, Gurgaon resident, who goes camping near Sat Tal Lake, and then manages to swim into the past, and then back into the present. In the past, Chintu Pintu (as he is called) makes friends with Ghatto (Ghatotkacha) and Ma Hidimbi, and goes on a roller-coaster adventure, helping out Ghatto’s father and his brothers (the Pandavas), rescuing princess and what not.
Thus Gokhale’s Lost in Time: Ghatotkacha and the Game of Illusions makes you chuckle and impresses you with Ghatto’s generosity and nobility, lots of sci-fi tricks and a profound connection with forest and nature.
Talking about the latter aspect of the book, Gokhale says, “A lot of people told me that they loved the chapter ‘The Secrets of the Forest’. I was staying at Corbett National Park when I wrote this chapter. I had such fun writing it because I wanted to think of our planet as it must have been. And that’s the sense I tried to convey to the reader — the silent language of the nature. I feel very strongly that our younger generation — whether urban or rural — have been denied wisdom of nature. They don’t know about seasons or how things die and grow again. They only know that when the cellphone’s battery dies, you have to charge it.”
Chintamani is a regular teenager tackling regular issues of ‘growing taller’, ‘playing and winning a game of football’ and ‘tackling bullies’. His encounter with Ghatto (as he calls the gentle rakshasa) changes him.
When asked what made her write about Ghatotkacha, the writer of Shakuntala — The Play of Memory, says, “In India, you know bits and pieces about Ramayana and Mahabharata, without knowing the whole story. So I knew that Hidimba was an ugly rakshasi. But when I was writing The Puffin Mahabharata for young readers — I read the entire epic in detail — and I was moved by the stories of both Hidimba (also called Hidimbi) and Ghatotkacha. I admired Hidimbi’s spirit, courage and loyalty for marrying outside her species. She married a human (Lord Bheem) and gave up her past life. Bheem had told her that he can’t be in the forest forever. Ramayana is supposed to be about karuna or compassion. But this karuna I felt for both Hidimbi and Ghatotkacha — the oldest child of the Pandavas and certainly the noblest of them all, but he was never given any recognition and instead used as a cannon fodder in the war. And then the characters came to life.”
Any other character from Mahabharata that has appealed to her similarly? Would she consider writing a book about him/her? “In the past, I have written short stories about Kunti and Gandhari. I also wrote a collection of short stories, The Habit of Love, which includes a tale about Nal and Damayanti, because I was fascinated by their love story. One very interesting thing is that my books’ landscape-geography is quite similar. The Nal Damayanti Lake is right next to Sat Tal Lake. This is the same geographical area where Chintamani goes swimming. And, there is also a temple dedicated to Hidimbi. In fact every part of India has a connection with events from Mahabharata or Ramayana. So let’s see what happens next,” she explains.
Gokhale, who is one of the co-founders of the very popular and prestigious Jaipur Literature Festival, adds, “Whenever anyone reminds me, ‘Oh, you write for women... I say, no I don’t only want to write for women’. I have written The Himalayan Love Story in the voice of a middle-aged man. And, then the Book of Shadows is written in the voice of a male ghost. And, here I was quite surprised that more or less I was able to get the voice of Chintamani. I have a 16-year-old nephew who I am very close to. I have watched him grow up. He read the manuscript of Ghatotkacha and gave me suggestions where he felt that my vocabulary was outdated.”
As much as she enjoys writing for teenagers and young readers, Gokhale has never preached to them. Says she, “I think talking down to young readers is one of the best ways to turn them off. At the moment, I believe that the younger generation is brighter and more knowledgeable than my generation at least. I have more to learn from them, than to teach them. But yes, some of my learnings, I have tried to pass on to the readers. Even if you didn’t get any wiser, you at least have seen a lot more.”