NEW DELHI — Namita Gokhale — novelist, publisher, sparkplug of the annual Jaipur Literature Festival — says the essential (maybe the only) revolution in India today is literary. She’s envisioning something like a galactic explosion outward from a Sanskritic big bang of three or maybe five thousand years ago. Abetted by digital technology, in deep sync with the info-tech surge in the Indian economy, her Indian literary supernova today is a force for liberating language communities, women and what used to be “untouchable” or “unhearable” voices. “Many languages, one literature” is the stand-by mantra of Indian writers. “Simultaneous” and “subversive” are the contemporary tags on a booming Indian literary space that she says is “beginning to see itself in its own mirror.”
It is the multiplicity of voices. It’s the spaces both democratic and technological — you’ve had a very stratified society for thousands of years. People are breaking out into an individual and individuated understanding of themselves. It’s a big deal for women to be able to be given new spaces, for people from different castes, different repressive backgrounds to be given new spaces and equal opportunities.
There’s huge collateral damage … but it is a new India in the hope that many people bring, with education, with the right to assert themselves. Of course all this hope is surrounded by hopelessness and damage. But there is a new India, fighting for its voice through many, many languages, through many literary traditions coming together to speak not as one voice, because in India we would never speak as one voice. Not in an orchestra either, because an orchestra is not an Indian concept. But in what is called a jugalbandi. Jugalbandi is when two people sing and perform together in a way that has complex classical structures, but is completely improvised in that moment. That is a Jugalbandi…
Namita Gokhale in conversation with Chris Lydon in New Delhi. July, 2010