By Life Positive September 1999 Her latest novel The Book of Shadow helped bestselling Indian author Namita Gokhale come to terms with pain and see life from a different perspective Winged wisdomI am not a patient ghost (how I detest that word!). In our world too, we have our shortcuts and ways around things, our fixers and facilitators. I decided to appeal to the most venerable of the wise ones, our black brethren, the crows. Crows have ancient eyes, they look into the twenty-seven depths of surface events and understand their totality. There is nothing that they do not know. Their opinionated cousins, the ravens, are parvenus and pretenders, the object of much pity and ridicule in refined circles. The walrus, I understand, is acquainted with death, with the synapse between the worlds. The cat too is companion to many mysteries. But it is the crow, lustrous, black, benign in the indifference of its cold intellect, which can be trusted totally in delicate matters. The Himalayan crow, in particular, is cognizant of the power of dreaming and receptive to the web of interconnectedness. I do not leave my habitation much, but my friends the crows are eternal wanderers. Much that I have learnt in the course of my existence has been gleaned from the feathered denizens of the deodar tree that fronts the house. And so, driven by the compulsions of love, I sought out the crows. There is a time, just before dawn, in the last throes of the night, when the crows talk. Their words and their visions are known to the wise as the kagbhushandi, the speech of crows. That night, I left the comforting confines of Dona Rosa’s bosom and visited my friends. They were waiting for me, alert and motionless, just the set and turn of a beak or the ruffling of a wing to indicate their seriousness. The lady of the deodar was asleep, or absent, yet I could sense her presence in the quiet majesty of her home. I could not but contrast the warm-blooded tumult of Dona Rosa’s heart with the serene sanctuary of the admirable Vanbhanjika. Excerpted with permission from The Book of Shadows Every human being has two novels inside—the story of life as it is and the story of life as it might have been. When I was writing my latest novel, The Book of Shadows, I didn’t realize that this was a book about pain. It’s only after I finished the book that I saw its purpose. In the book, Rachita, the connecting link of the story, feels a lot of anger. I had lost my husband some years ago. And although on the surface I looked peaceful, there was a lot of anger inside me. That’s what I fuelled Rachita with. It was the kind of anger that makes you demand: ‘Why should this happen to me?’ I felt angry with my husband. Why did he have to die? I don’t know how I worked it out while writing the novel. But, in the end, I felt more sorted out, exorcised of a lot of pain. It was cathartic, in that sense. The book is also about death. As if I’m trying to find out what death is all about. The ghost in the novel serves that purpose. With him, I explore the soul’s outward journey. Initially, I had thought that at the end of the novel, Rachita would go back to the city, perhaps have a plastic surgery (she has acid thrown on her face by her lover’s sister) and live on. But somewhere along the way, I realized that this wouldn’t happen. She would live on in that house in the hills. This is symbolic of my living on in the world of—well, I won’t say psychic, because I mock the obviously psychic—let’s say, in the world of the spirit. In a sense, it is also about rebirth. Every book that is written sincerely involves a certain amount of the paranormal, because the aim of the author is to harness a way of seeing beyond her own limitations and increase the limits of the reader’s experience. In fact, many authors feel that the book exists out there. The job of the writer is just to access it. Writing a novel is also a therapeutic experience. Human character and human destiny are formed by the way we handle our life crises. When you write a novel, in hindsight, you realize that you were actually examining why you made certain choices. But, at the same time, writing is a neurotic activity. You build a parallel universe, you play God with your characters. The Book of Shadows came to me in a strange way. My husband and I lived in an old house in the hills. It was a house we both fell in love with. But we also felt that there was something strange, some presence that was not entirely at peace with itself. I based my novel on that house. I didn’t set out to do it. I didn’t say: ‘Okay, I’ve been to a haunted house so I’m going to write a ghost story.’ It happened rather insidiously. I began writing these diaries by a British missionary. Now, I have read a lot of diaries written by early missionaries so I know that style. But I was surprised at the fluency with which I managed that. This is how the novel began. Then I just put it aside. But it kept tugging at me. Later, it came back as the voice of the ghost. Then lines and sentences just started coming to me. They actually had a life of their own. Though some parts of the book were sourced, generally speaking, the story just arrived. I won’t call it automatic writing. But there was a strong amount of suggestion from external forces. There was also synchronicity. For example, there is a lot of Aleister Crowley happening in this book. Now Crowley is not an author you can easily locate, but each time I went into a bookshop, I would find books by him. While I was writing this novel, my computer behaved really strange. I had read that computers have a sensitive nervous system. When I was completing what was then the last draft of the novel, I overwrote the file. As soon as I realized this, I tried to retrieve it. But it had disappeared without a trace. Later, the blank computer screen showed the words: Hex 666. Now, Hex is just a computer program, but at that time, it looked pretty sinister. Then, without anybody touching any keys, these lines from the novel came up on the computer screen: ‘I hide in corners, I lurk in shadows.’ It was unnerving. I feel that magic and technology have a lot in common. Both seek instant gratification. It’s not that I don’t respect magic. But I don’t respect magical tricks. There is magic in the elements-in air, fire, earth, water. When you try to manipulate this power, you’re really demeaning it, and it’s always for childish and immediate reasons. So, when I write mockingly of magic in the novel, I’m actually mocking human nature. Somewhere in the novel, I write: ‘Love, like magic, is an illusion, but at least it is that. Reality is a shoddy hoax.’ What we feel is never what we see. We are always trapped by our apparatus of observation. But the ghost knows that his apparatus of observation is not entirely valid. So, with the ghost, I’m trying to see things from a different perspective. Perhaps this is what the novel is all about.
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