Indian writer Namita Gokhale is co-founder director of Yatra Books and the Jaipur Literature Festival (pic, below), which attracted over 170 authors and 30,000 visitors this year. Last month, she hopped onto a plane and dropped in on Manisha Koirala's wedding bash. But she was rather more interested in the Nepali literary scene. Nepali Times asked her what she makes of it all.
Nepali Times: Who is Namita Gokhale? Writer, publisher, festival director?
Namita Gokhale: Writer, publisher, festival director …yes, I think it works in that order of priority, although the excitement and intellectual energy and sheer stimulus of the Jaipur Literature Festival tends to take over
What trends do you see in South Asian writing? Where does your own writing fit in?
I'm wary about discussing 'trends' – the real impact of these things shows up in a very much larger perspective. The big story about South Asian writing is in relocating the literary voice in our own cultural and geographical space and context. My own writing is a modest attempt to make sense of my world. I write in many voices, and love working with a sense of the absurd and with social comedy.
Is there a risk that Indian authors will dominate the idea of 'South Asian' writing, at least in western minds?
'South Asian' writing is no longer bracketed with Indian writing alone. Pakistani authors have established themselves internationally with a distinct and powerful identity, and there has been excellent literary fiction coming out of Sri Lanka. Nepali fiction is getting noticed too, there is so much wonderful writing I have read recently, and we hope to devote a special session to Nepal in the Jaipur Festival next January.
You've been involved in the development of the new $50,000 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. How will you encourage submissions from across the region, including Nepal?
This was the first year, so a lot of effort went into establishing systems. Next year, as the prize gets to be better known, we will reach out with specific initiatives to different parts of South Asia, including Nepal.
Do you think encouraging writing in English through such lucrative prizes will extend the reach of South Asians writing in English at the expense of vernacular and even major national languages?
The fact that the DSC prize is open for translated work from any South Asian language into English actually supports and encourages a more multi-lingual appreciation of literature.
What are the difficulties and opportunities for independent publishers like Yatra in India?
Independent publishers face challenges in distribution and sometimes in the scale of operations they can sustain. But the commitment in the mindset of the independent publishers, and the lower administrative and overhead costs, often work positively for them.
What is your take on Nepali literature, and more specifically, Nepalis writing in English?
I think Nepali writing is vibrant and rooted and engaged. It does not carry the baggage of postcolonial pretensions and relates dynamically to the changes in Nepali society.
What do you think about the prospect of a Kathmandu Literary Festival?
Kathmandu has loyal friends and visitors internationally, and is the eye of the storm in a powerful cycle of change. It makes sense to have a literary festival here...
How was the Jaipur Festival when it started out, and did you ever imagine it would grow in size and stature so quickly?
The Jaipur Festival began five years ago with 18 authors, 2 of whom couldn't make it at the last minute. But it integrated Indian language and Indian English writers, as well as international writers, without pomposity or pretension. I think it was the multilingual, plural and determinedly democratic nature of the Jaipur Festival that made audiences so receptive. Of course I never ever imagined it would grow to this size at this speed, and neither did my co-director William Dalrymple. Then one day we woke up to realise that the world was tuning in to Jaipur!
What is the role of such festivals?
I think literary festivals can resist the consumerist dumbing down that the mass media sometimes seems to promote. Festivals encourage individual voices, alternative forums and democratic debate. They give space to young writers and an opportunity to established writers to renew their connection with what's happening around.