Namita Gokhale’s new book is all about friendship, love, secrets and mountains

Never Never Land weaves a story of timelessness in a place where time stops

Never Never Land is slim, but crams within its 176 pages a universe of friendship, love, family and belonging. Evocative, elegant and hugely satisfying, the book weaves a story of timelessness in a place where time stops.

Evocative, elegant and hugely satisfying, the book weaves a story of timelessness in a place where time stops.

Iti Arya―middle-aged, single, a freelance editor and an aspiring novelist―moves to The Dacha in the Kumaon to live with her grandmother, Badi Amma Lila, and Rosinka Paul Singh. It is where she spent her childhood and was happy. At the heart of the book is the relationship between her grandmother and Rosinka. “Friendship can be a good substitute for love,” writes Iti. “You need courage for both.” Her grandmother worked with Rosinka as a housemaid till she was “elevated to a Pahadi lady-in-waiting”. Rosinka refers to her as Lily. Their friendship―with its secrets, camaraderie, silence and its complexity―propels the book. There is, of course, an inequality as Rosinka suddenly switches the power equation to mistress. Despite the undercurrents, the ease of the relationship is at contrast with Iti’s own friendships, which are accessed digitally.

As Iti, unable to work on her new novel, chronicles the memories of the two women, their past gets entangled with the present and with folk tales of the mountains as well as Russian artist Nicholas Roerich and his paintings. And, Gokhale conjures up this shadowy, dream-like world from ageing memory as well as different perspectives evocatively. There are secrets that lie buried as well as relationships unresolved―Iti and her mother, her own failed romances and the appearance of Nina.

It is at The Dacha that she encounters Nina―a Gen Z, with straight bleach blonde hair, who refers to herself as Badi Amma’s granddaughter. This Iti knows is not true. And getting to the bottom of this ‘truth’ is another layer. “Every relationship cannot be so easily categorised,” says Rosinka. And it is in this lack of clarity, in the margins of messiness that life, love and friendship exist. It is a world dominated by women―those who have lived their lives and are unwilling to disappear quietly.

But the book is also about the mountains. When she was young, Iti imagined the mountains as wise men with long beards who spoke to her. When she told Badi Amma about them speaking, she told her, “You must listen carefully when the mountains speak to you.... They don’t speak to everyone.”

Gokhale is a writer who has listened to the stories of the Himalayas, bringing to the fore their magic, mysticism, mystery and their majesty. Never Never Land is no different. The mountains, a constant in Gokhale’s canvas, loom large over the story.

In Gokhale’s last novel―The Blind Matriarch―born out of and one that chronicles the pandemic, the main character is a woman at the end of her life. It was a book about dying. In Never Never Land―like J.M. Barrie’s fairytale utopia―Rosinka, over a 100, and Badi Amma, who is 90 something, may be frail but they are far from fading. It is very much a novel about life and living, and being alive.

Grab a book―and savour it―and go back again.

Never Never Land

By Namita Gokhale

Published by Speaking Tiger

Price Rs499; Pages 176