Sunday, February 23, 2014

Gita Mehta - An appreciaton

One of the authors I have enjoyed immensely over the years is Gita Mehta. I remember reading her first book “Karma cola” sometime in the late nineties. Curiously, I had picked that book off the shelf not so much for the title but for the picture of Gita on the Flap cover of the hard bound edition. It was a stunning Black and white photograph of her, leaning against a wall relaxed and demurely poised, a charming smile and ever so gracefully draped in a flowing Saree. To be frank, I had a curious disregard for female Indian authors at that time, and the only one that I had read were Shobha de’s attempts at writing Hollywood fiction in Indian context. But “Karma cola” was a revelation. Here was a writer, who not only could write beautifully but also understood the deep moral and spiritual fibers that run through this large and divided nation. It was an attempt to redefine the relevance of Modern India to western eyes, not so much as a justification, but as a testimony to its depth and resilience. In quick succession then, I read her “Raj” and “the river sutra”. I was enthralled by her artistry..

Gita’s heritage is noteworthy. Her Family had played a prominent role in the Independence struggle, and she was one of those “midnight’s children”, who came into this world with a colonial past still lingering heavily in the air, and the pulsating throb of a newly born India waiting at her threshold. Her Father was the erstwhile Biju patnaik – architect of Orissa, and a visionary who wanted the land of “Kalinga” to shine brightly in the firmament of Independent India, and her Younger brother, the learned Naveen patnaik, who reluctantly became the chief minister of the State after his father passed away. Gita, though had for a large part of her adult life lived outside the country; educated herself at Cambridge, married Sonny Mehta - the chief editor of the leading Publishing house Alfred Knopf in the late eighties and lived a life of a Glitterati, rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous across the globe. Yet, the rich strain of her genes never forsook her. Having seen the best of both worlds, she brings to her writing a blatant pragmatism, authenticity and a realistic interpretation of what her Mother country stands for. Scathing in her criticisms, unpardoning in her comments on Political and social mediocrity, overflowing in praises where it is due, her work presents an insight into the true strength of India - the meaningful repository of thousands of years of Cultural experimentation and learning.

In one of her interviews to Western press, Gita frankly confesses that she was dreadfully frightened of ever being able to write a book. Being the wife of a prominent publisher and editor, she would have had to meet the likes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jackie Collins, Douglas Adam and Salman Rushdie amongst others for dinner or drinks at every social event or private gathering. In fact, it was in one such meeting that she was offended by a casual remark with a racial slur that propelled her to write and finish “karma Cola” in three weeks straight. Her most mature work is “The river sutra” , a balanced, exquisitely written story of retired government bureaucrat finding his spiritual solace on the banks of river Ganges through the eyes of six different travelers. The book reads like a poem in prose…

The reason I wrote this piece is because I happened to buy a second-hand hard bound copy of her “snakes and ladder” from a Goodwill store. This work was published in 1997, and probably, the last major work written by Gita Mehta. After nearly a decade, I am reading her again; and the words and ideas leap out of the pages with the same freshness and beauty as it had many years ago. I wish she would continue writing more. Literature will only become richer with her contribution….

Read her books - the fragrance will linger on…

God bless…