"I have always written about places I know deeply and intimately. Three of my novels are set in my hometown of Nainital and the Kumaon region. The Jaipur Literature festival, which I co-founded with William Dalrymple, has been a transformative force in my life. A passing suggestion that I write a novel about it took deep root in my imagination. I had dismissed the idea at first, but characters and situations kept playing in my mind. And the festival, the grounds of Diggi Palace, are themselves a living breathing character," Gokhale told in an interview about the just-published "Jaipur Journals" (Penguin-Viking/pp 200/Rs 599).
From a septuagenarian who has completed her semi-fictional novel but does not want to publish it, to an author who receives a threat in the form of an anonymous letter, from a historian who reunites with a past lover, to a burglar who is passionate about poetry, from a young woman who has no idea what this world has in store for her, to an American woman looking for the India of her hippie youth, this metafictional, wryly funny, pacy novel is a magnificent tour de force.
Writing "Jaipur Journals" was an "effortless process" explained Gokhale of the crafting of her 18th book in 36 years.
"I worked on it at a relaxed pace, and let the stories enact themselves it was as though I was watching a film. The principal character, Rudrani Rana, assumed a life of her own from the very start. Sometimes a character takes over the narrative, which is exactly what happened as I observed this obstinate, cussed, eccentric and entirely charming older woman take centre stage and tell me her story," the author added.
Told from multiple perspectives, diverse stories of lost love and regret, self-doubt, and new beginnings come together in a narrative that is as varied as India itself.
Expanding this, Gokhale said: "The JLF is in so many ways a place where India argues with itself, listens in to itself. My novel tells the fascinating stories behind the stories of why and how writers write, what drives and compels them to step back from life and put their energies into understanding and recording it".
"Rudrani Rana carries her unsubmitted magnum opus with her in a canvas bag, even as she pens malevolent anonymous letters to the speakers. The paradoxes of her personality would be familiar to many of my fellow writers. Raju Shrivastav 'Betaab' is a cat burglar with the soul of a poet, and he finds his voice at the Jaipur Literature Festival. Towards the end of the novel, Gayatri Smyth Gandhy decides to throw away her incomplete manuscript into the Man Sagar Lake. 'Life, not words' she declares, and that too is an aspect of the struggle writers face, of their loyalty to words and ideas even as they struggle with the lived life," Gokhale said.
What of the future?
"I'm living in the present at the moment, one day at a time. I have been thinking about my new novel, taking notes, charting a structure. I hope to begin writing it sometime in March, and that will be another journey, one I am very excited about," Gokhale concluded.
(Vishnu Makhijani can be reached at vishnu.makhijani@.in)
( With inputs from IANS )