Githa Hariharan, after years of writing fiction, feels non-fiction helps her raise pertinent questions
‘From India to Palestine: Essays in Solidarity’ (Leftword Books; Rs. 350), which has essays edited by author Githa Hariharan, marks her transition from fiction to non-fiction. “You can attend lectures, read up or watch movies on Palestine but witnessing the ground reality can be shocking,” she tells us, soon after launching the book at Hyderabad Literary Festival 2014. She elaborates how women and children require ID cards to go about their day-to-day lives, to get across the ‘wall’ to reach schools and hospitals, travelling longer distances. “There is also an erasure of one’s own history. The maps get changed. For example, a mountain with a name Ali can get Judaised into Eli,” she cites, recalling observations from her visit to the troubled region.
Githa Hariharan’s own involvement with Palestine, along with other academicians and artists, has been significant in recent years. “Several groups in India expressed solidarity at an international level. In 2009, a convention on West Asian region of Palestine focused on how to renew the link with India. At that point, we decided to form a Palestine Solidarity Committee in India to address issues afresh, involving progressive political parties. Otherwise it is tough to get things done at a nation-to-nation level on cultural and academic fronts,” she says.
At the same time, she recounts, Palestine called for academic and cultural boycott of Israeli institutions, not individuals. “Various Palestinian groups decided to follow a South African method of boycott; the South African idea of boycott didn’t end apartheid but it helped in putting pressure on a lot of countries to not do business with South Africa. The Indian campaign for academic and cultural boycott of Israel was set up in 2010 and I am one of the convenors,” she says.
The book includes essays by 14 writers including Githa Hariharan, Meena Alexander, Aijaz Ahmad, Ritu Menon and Nayantara Sehgal and others, delving into the history of the region, occupational hazards, foreign policy and perspectives on war on terror. The objective of the book, as Githa sees it, is to help readers form “an analogy between freedom movements in India and Palestine. The first step of knowledge is reading. In this day of the internet, there is plenty of reading material that pushes forth different points of view. But this book aims at making readers look, as a group, at what we have built as a nation. Are we going to renew and include people who got left out of freedom or are we going to exclude more regions?”
Her session at HLF seemed aptly titled ‘Speaking in many voices’. Having written fiction on children, women and fugitives, she now turns her attention to non-fiction. “You can’t help the voice you have as a writer. It’s a given. My voice is a medley. Plurality engages me and I want to hear many voices — focusing on a variety of issues. Fiction is a gift; it’s home,” she says and adds, “I am now writing non-fiction since it allows me to raise questions I want to ask as a result of learning over the years.”
Githa Hariharan’s books:
In Times of Siege
When Dreams Travel
The Ghosts of Vasu Master
The Art of Dying
The Thousand Faces of Night
The Winning Team
From India to Palestine: Essays in Solidarity