New Delhi: Love and grief, motherhood, redemption and her hometown Nainital...Writer and novelist Namita Gokhale runs her readers through a roller-coaster of emotions in her first ever collection of short stories, ‘The Habit of Love’, peeling the skin off feminine dramas across centuries in a contemporary voice.
"The stories speak of a woman`s need to love, rather than the objects of love. Women love passionately, deeply, often angrily. Real love is not about sexual conquest, it is not a triumphant place, but a space of surrender," Gokhale, co-director of the upcoming Jaipur Literature Festival, told reporters in an interview.
"These stories have been written over a period of time. The first of them, `Omens Sacred and Profane`, was penned over 20 years ago. Poet and novelist Jeet Thayil asked me to submit something for an anthology he was editing. I wrote it very quickly in a hotel room in Kathmandu, where I was holidaying with my husband, sometime between lunch and dinner!"
"I don`t give myself too much time to think about it - that`s how I write a short story. Novels need structuring, planning, graphing. But short fiction requires a relentless flow and a sense of inevitability about the ending. I find it easier to write sad stories than funny ones, although a slightly macabre humour does creep into all that I write. The form lends itself to introspection, to piecing together the puzzles, mysteries and enigmas of half-encountered lives," Gokhale said.
‘The Habit of Love’ (Penguin India) will be released Friday.
"These narratives have been imagined in airports, scribbled on the backs of envelopes, corrected in traffic jams! I think I`ll be doing more of them, carrying my tangled balls of wooly ideas and half-knitted stories around with me everywhere I go," Gokhale told reporters.
"There is something about these very different voices and settings that hold together. They speak of the interior lives of women. They carry a note of anxiety, of regret, of time flying by and the fact that real love comes from vulnerability," she said.
"Omens 1" is about Vatsala Vidyarthi, a lonely "literary lady" who works in an advertising agency. Vidyarthi suspects she has been robbed by her one-night stand during an official junket to Rishikesh and returns determined to bury the hurtful incident; yet it leads her to reassess the nature of faith and trust.
In the moving and enigmatic ‘Hamsdhwani’, a golden-winged swan, becomes the narrator of the tale of star-crossed lovers Nala and Damayanti.
"I wanted to work on a piece about Nala and Dayamanti for many years. The myth touched something in me ever since the time I had worked on the Mahabharata for young readers and encountered it hidden in the folds of the epic. My sister has a house in Nainital and there is a Nala-Damayanti lake nearby. There is also a mountain named after the Snake god, Karkotaka, who plays a transformative role in the myth.
"I identified with the emotive landscape as well as the physical geography, but I did not know what the handle was, or where and how to begin. My editor at Penguin suggested I turn it around, and look at love from the point of view of the swan in flight," the writer said.
‘The Habit of Love’, from which the collection gets its title, "was written for an Italian publication". The story looks at the life of a widowed mother of two daughters, whose grief stands like a lonely Himalayan peak in the ring of icy heights surrounding Kathmandu.
Gokhale, who has been at the forefront of several global projects to carry Indian writing abroad, is now working on a new novel, ‘Things to Leave Behind’.
She is the author of several acclaimed novels like ‘Paro - Dreams of Passion’, ‘Priya: In Incredible Indyaa’, ‘Gods, Graves and Grandmother’, ‘A Himalayan Love Story’ and ‘Shakuntala: The Play of Memory’. Her works of non-fiction include ‘Mountain Echoes’ and ‘The Book of Shiva’.