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History her way

Namita Gokhale's new novel, "Shakuntala" was released this Wednesday. She shares a few words about her work with ZIYA US SALAM


She is forever on the move. One moment, she is getting into her car. The next, she is driving down home. But when she does settle, when she does put her mind to it, Namita Gokhale can be a good conversationalist, a person who can keep the chat going without seeming effort. She can make you feel welcome and familiar. No airs. No reluctance to share it all. Now, she is ready with probably her "most painstaking work", "Shakuntala - The Play of Memory", released by Penguin in English and Hindi this past week.

Says Namita, for whom every living moment comes with possibilities of coming across a character for her novels, "It is a mood novel. It is a historical novel. I put it together first as fiction, then layers of our history came in. There can be some inaccuracies in it but, the larger facts are all true. I did a lot of research for the book. And also used some experiences from life."

Chance encounter

Talking of research, it took Namita five long years to put together this book. And that also with some help from someserendipity. "I got lucky with a few things. For instance, I read one book on Kalidas and felt it was inadequate. Then I chanced upon another book, probably from my grandfather's collection - he used to teach Sanskrit. The book from his trove helped." As did a chance encounter with a cleaning woman of Indian origin at London's Heathrow airport. "The lady and I became good friends. She related her story to me. And I felt it could be at any time in history, because human emotions don't change."

The more things change, the more they remain the same. Namita believed in this old saying, and has put together some really astonishing characters in her work. "Yaman's party in the book, it could be any Page 3 party now-a-days."

Incidentally, Namita did not set out to write a book rich in characters from history or rich in tradition. "My initial draft had none of it. It was simply fiction. It still is, but now it has layers of history. However, at the same time, I did not want to make it too historical, as historical novels get bogged down with too much detailing. So I cut a bit of it. Now the book will be around 60,000 words, and some 50,000 more words were there initially." The words flow easily. In print. And in conversation. Forever candid, Namita has the last word. "I got lucky with this book, but sometimes it reads better in Hindi than English. In Hindi some of the words fall in naturally, one does not have to explain things.' Fair enough.

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