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Return to the roots

Author pours soft emotion into novel, words wafting seamlessly like mountain clouds in short, well-spaced paragraphs and chapter

Tayana Chatterjee Published 10.05.24, 11:16 AM

Book: Never Never Land

Author: Namita Gokhale


Published by: Speaking Tiger

Price: Rs 499

Namita Gokhale gives us in Never Never Land a rare and unusual presentation of the coming-of-age narrative. The protagonist of Never Never Land, a woman in her fifties called Iti Arya, is presented at the very beginning as someone who, in her own words, is “a wreck”. Having lost her job as a result of the pandemic, she engages herself professionally as a freelance editor. She lives in a rental in Gurgaon and her small, depressing life drives her to such a point of suffocation that she suddenly decides to run away to her childhood home in Kumaon.

Fashionably named “the Dacha” by its part-Russian owner, Rosinka, Iti’s home is situated high up on the mountain. Gokhale plunges us into the soft, cloudy, sometimes gloomy, solace of the hills. The fifty-year-old Iti, who has been brought up by her grandmother, Badi Amma, and Rosinka, Badi Amma’s erstwhile employer and now living companion, is treated like a little girl in her childhood home. She revels in the quietness she feels in her silent home with its frequent power cuts and its lack of internet connectivity. The calmness of the Dacha compels Iti to revisit episodes of her life; her strained relationship with her mother who abandoned her long ago leaving her to be raised by her grandmother, her failed attempts at love, her incomplete novels with immature names like Promises to Myself, HypeReality and A Litany of Lost Loves. Her insecurity about herself is amplified by her encounter with the mysterious Nina, a young girl, who says she is Iti’s cousin and has made a comfortable and confident home for herself in the Dacha.

Gokhale makes it clear that this is not to be a tale of mystic romanticism about the hills. Indeed, Iti’s retreat to her childhood dwelling forces her to face her inner anxieties. She tries to make herself at home but is constantly irked by the feeling of isolation and being an outsider to the jolly camaraderie and cohabitation of Badi Amma, Rosinka and Nina. Iti’s suspicion of Nina is confirmed when the young girl decides to elope with her lover after having stolen two precious paintings from the Dacha, claiming them to be her ‘dowry’.

Slowly Iti finds herself detaching from the outside world, caring less about the WhatsApp group of school friends in which, although she is a non-interactive outsider, she feels like she belongs and clutches on to the happy images of traditional life that are shared. She starts to feel more at home at the musty old Dacha, constantly revisiting the old library, feeling possessive about the books and paintings, drinking tea, and taking walks along the mountain road. Unable to explain or justify the strange and mysterious relationships connecting her to the three other women, she
finally accepts this for her reality — a remarkable realisation that allows her to feel like a mature adult, perhaps for the first time in her life. After multiple oscillations between wanting to return to Gurgaon and staying in Kumaon, discovering some unpleasant truths about Badi Amma and Rosinka’s husband, and some accidents and scares, Iti concedes that however weird, this “never never land” is indeed her home. Her belief is reaffirmed when both Badi Amma and Rosinka bequeath their earthly possessions to her, giving her a sense of true belonging.

Gokhale pours soft emotion into the novel, the words wafting seamlessly like mountain clouds in short, well-spaced paragraphs and chapters. Her expert handling of the language allows the turbulence and uncertainty of Iti’s life to settle gradually into a serene acceptance of who she is and where she comes from, a progression that assures us that there is no limit to when we do come of age.

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