‘This novel leans to resilience’: Namita Gokhale on her latest 

Medha Dutta Yadav

Excerpts from an interview:

The pandemic plays a very important role in this book. Tell us more.
I had been taking notes from much earlier but began writing The Blind Matriarch on February 9, 2020, in Kathmandu. So the pandemic was not really planned but entered into the plot and storyline laterally. I found myself writing in real-time during the unexpected isolation of the first lockdown and observed the different characters in the joint family reacting in their different ways to the changing environment around them. The story is set in a liminal space, a threshold to so many transformations, even as the enduring structures reassert their resilience. 

Tell us the story of the embroidered cover.
Ahlawat Gunjan (art director at Penguin Random House) read the manuscript and came up with the concept of an embroidered panel cover. I left it entirely to him as I have an innate trust in his creative imagination and graphic sense—he is also a brilliant and accomplished painter and a true artist in every sense of the word. When he and designer Lavanya Asthana began interpreting the theme for the cover, they would share bits of their journey with me. She has put so much emotion into matching colours and her needlework is more accomplished than the strokes of a paintbrush. I have always believed passionately in textile narratives and this cover means a lot to me.

Unlike your other books, this book has a real-time narrative. Tell us more.
I was observing and responding to things around me during the long months of the first lockdown. I hadn’t known the luxury of solitude and long swathes of time to work on a novel for many many years. I wrote it chapter by chapter, writing the first draft in longhand, typing it out with edits in the next draft. I wrote most of it in one go, in about six months, taking a month off in between. I found that the flow maintained itself and I made very few changes.

The Jaipur Literature Festival has had to be an online affair for almost two years now. How frustrating has it been as an organiser?
Going online was an invaluable learning experience. We could access so many great writers and speakers and cut across continents and timelines. But the joys of community and the power of shared energies remain unparalleled.

You recently won the Yamin Hazarika Woman of Substance Award. How important is this for you?
Yamin Hazarika was a quietly heroic figure, who lived her life with courage, dignity and honour. It moved and inspired me to receive an award in her memory.

What next?
I am seeking quiet, and focus. I have been madly busy for much too long.