Curbing Freedom of Expression Angers Me: Writer Shanta Gokhale

Curbing Freedom of Expression Angers Me: Writer Shanta Gokhale

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Writer and translator Shanta Gokhale was recently felicitated with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Tata Lit Fest, and spoke to The Quint about her journey as a writer so far. She spoke about how the media has become populist, the theatre scene in Mumbai and how the current sociopolitical scenario angers her.

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Do you feel like having been a writer and writing for so many years has, in fact, kept you abreast with what’s happening around? Do you feel like you’re more connected and you are more aware of the relevance of the times because you’re a writer?

Shanta Gokhale: It’s the other way round. Of course, because I’m connected, I write. What would I write about, if I wasn’t connected? I mean, unless some writers are writing mythology, which I’m not. So if you want to write contemporary stuff, then you write because you’re connected. There are issues out there. There are things that you observe, and all of that makes the material of your work. In the old days when I took buses, that was a huge kind of world by itself. You meet so many different kinds of people. And you overheard conversations. And luckily, in India, people don’t keep their voices down.

So, in your autobiography, ‘One Foot On The Ground’, you actually quoted Virginia Woolf. I’m going to say that ‘a woman must have money in a room of her own if she is to write fiction’.

Shanta Gokhale: Yes. That’s true. I had to struggle so hard to write my first novel. I didn’t have the time. I was in a full-time job, my children were growing up and, I was living in a shared space. So, as you would have found out from my autobiography, I was liberated when my partner moved out. And then I had a room of my own and also time, because a relationship is a lot of investment, consumes so much time. So here, I was liberated from that as well. I was my own mistress, and then nothing could stop me. So it was important to have that space and that time. And during the second novel, I had already left my full-time job, so that helped. So both ways, Virginia Woolf was right.

You’ve also been like watching theatre and writing about it for a long time. How have you seen that culture evolve in Mumbai over the years?

Shanta Gokhale: Oh, hugely, hugely because the audience’s tastes change, and there are times in the life of a country when artists feel, including playwrights and actors, that they’re contributing to the life of the country. In the 70s and 80s, they definitely felt that we were helping to build the nation. After that, the feeling has gone. In the old days, even the media was very keen on having things written about theatre. Theatre people were pretty glamorous. Now, it’s all Bollywood, it’s films- no one bothers about theatre. But theatre people are pretty self-content. Happy in that space. Absolutely, and doing pretty good.

But are you a film buff?

Shanta Gokhale: I’d like to think I am. Except once again, in various priorities of my writing life, I find very little time to watch films. At the Mumbai Film Festival, I didn’t watch a single film. For the last two or three years, I haven’t watched any film at MIFF.

What about going to the theatre?

Shanta Gokhale: I love that. I don’t want to watch on a small screen. So I wait for a film to come, a Marathi film to come to City Light theatre which is close to my place. And I even walk there because cabs won’t take short distance. And I tell you, with the metro work going on, going out, it’s an adventure. It is a headache. It’s always been one, more so now.
Yeah, and it bugs me to read that slogan, ‘For a better tomorrow’. Give me a good today.

So of course, you feel, you feel like your freedom hasn’t been curbed as much but do you feel like what you see around you, does that bother you?

Shanta Gokhale: Oh yes, bothers is putting it mildly. I get very angry and I get very upset. And I mean, a whole day can be spoilt. I keep hearing about these things from people who have been my colleagues in the newspaper world and they, they have a lot of inside information which I don’t have anymore, and it’s very upsetting. It’s very scary. Yeah.

But therefore, I’m even more in admiration of people who are sticking to it. Sticking to what they want to say. Unafraid, whatever happens, and that’s how we are getting to hear the truth. Otherwise, we’d be living on government handouts. So, it’s those people who are doing really outstandingly courageous work.
And, you know, Habib Tanvir Saab, one of the greatest theatre people we’ve had, had a very nice story to tell. He used to talk about the ‘Hilsa’ fish and he said that Hilsa is sweet when it is swimming against the current. It’s the struggle that makes it sweet. And he said that’s true of art. That if you struggle against the stream, then you come out strong and sweet.

Camera: Sanjoy Deb
Camera Assistant: Gautam Sharma
Video Editor: Veeru Krishan Mohan

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