I suppose I have written every woman’s story: Shanta Gokhale

Sathya Saran | Updated on September 20, 2019 Published on September 20, 2019

Extraordinary circumstances: ‘If I had not thought it possible to write about the bad parts of my life as well as the good, I would not have written the book’   -  RAJNEESH LONDHE

Author, translator, columnist, screenwriter and playwright Shanta Gokhale discusses what it was like to write her autobiography

Shanta Gokhale laughs at her full blown cancer, with bulletins titled ‘Breast bulletin 2 or the Case of the Dying WBCs’. She sometimes closes her left eye, sometimes her right to write despite her glaucoma and tunnel vision, and is proud that she began walking when she was one year old, and hasn’t “stopped at seventy-eight... Heaven’s Gate”. She is a translator, columnist, screenwriter, playwright and the author of several books such as Rita Welinkar and The Scenes We Made: An Oral History of Experimental Theatre in Mumbai.

One Foot on the Ground: A Life Told Through the Body; Shanta Gokhale; Speaking Tiger; Non-fiction; ₹399


Gokhale, now 80, talks to BLink about her irreverent autobiography, One Foot on the Ground: A Life Told Through the Body.

How did you begin writing about your own life?

It was not my idea, it came from elsewhere. I refused to take the idea seriously. It was only when I was trying to capture events in my life that the body came into focus, and I took it as a sign that it was the sutra for my book. I began to write and it flowed. After two years of thinking about it, pushing the thought away, once I started on the idea of a life through the body, it took just 6-7 months. And that, mainly because I had to make time between writing my column and watching plays and attending concerts to gather material for it.

You discuss your relationships, your two marriages and divorces in the book. Was it difficult to do so?

If I had not thought it possible to write about the bad parts of my life as well as the good, I would not have written the book. There would have been no point. I have been honest with all the people I have related to: Husbands, relatives, friends... They have all known about all my relationships, so I wrote it all. However, any kind of writing is selective, so I left out a lot of the pain.

Was writing the book a catharsis then?

No, not a catharsis at all. Every single event in my life that had caused me pain, I had introspected on and already dealt with. It was not as if I was carrying baggage, I wasn’t. I would have had huge problems if I had let the pain stay; I would have lost that part of me which is creative and constructive. I cannot live with myself that way, it is not in me to brood. My mother often used a Marathi phrase: “With one clean cut, make two pieces”. I have been able to put that into practice and cut away what is not mine anymore.

The section on being hospitalised makes light of what for anyone is an unpleasant, often painful experience. Was this treatment of the chapter a conscious decision?

Outside the hospital you may come across as courageous, rational, but when you face a situation like cancer or a heart problem (both of which I have experienced) the real you comes out. I really felt the way I wrote. I can still see the two doctors on either side of me, looking down at my exposed breast, jiggling it... I had to try not to laugh aloud. My first experience of chemotherapy, with everything draining out of me, was tough, but I still found it very funny, and was half-giggling. I have written it as it was.

As I was reading the book, so many incidents resonated with me personally. A 13-year-old I recommended the book to felt the same thing. How do you explain this?

(Laughing) I suppose I have written every woman’s story...

What is a typical writing day like for you?

I write every day. At the beginning of a book, I do tend to go back and read what I have started, as I want to get a sense of that as I go on. Once I get into the rhythm of it, I write continuously till the end. But I do return at least twice, so there are at least three drafts. The second draft is to edit, tighten. I make sure that even before I put pen to paper, the structure of the book is very clear. For my book The Theatre of Veenapani Chawla: Theory, Practice and Performance (2014), I sent the entire contents list to the publisher Oxford University Press even before starting.

Tell us a little about the cover. Your photograph is both evocative and intriguing.

I am 20 here, on the cover. I had sent a bunch of photographs. A photographer had even come to shoot me, but the publishers wanted something more personal. The photograph on the cover was taken thanks to a friend of my mother’s. She was very enthusiastic about young women doing well. When I came to Bombay from the UK for my holiday before I went to Bristol for higher studies, she insisted I should have a photograph taken. Her usual photographer, Babu, was called for and he shot this picture. I don’t think any of us guessed it would find its way to the cover of a book.

Sathya Saran is a journalist and editor based in Mumbai

Published on September 20, 2019
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