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Saturday, July 02, 2022

Geetanjali Shree’s novel is first translated Hindi work to win Int’l Booker

Originally published in Hindi as Ret Samadhi, Geetanjali Shree's book is translated into English by Daisy Rockwell.

Written by Paromita Chakrabarti | New Delhi |
Updated: May 28, 2022 1:07:11 am
UPSC, International Booker Prize, Booker Prize, Geetanjali Shree, Tomb of Sand, UPSC-CSE, UPSC-CSE current affairsThe winner of the 2022 International Booker Prize is ‘Tomb of Sand’ by Geetanjali Shree, translated from Hindi to English by Daisy Rockwell. (Twitter/@TheBookerPrizes)

When they met earlier this week in London, it was the first time writer Geetanjali Shree and translator Daisy Rockwell interacted in person. Over the previous two years, as they worked on the English translation of Shree’s Hindi novel Ret Samadhi (2018, Rajkamal Prakashan), published as Tomb of Sand in 2021 (Tilted Axis Press), Covid-19 had ensured they could not meet. They had also not interacted on Zoom, the pandemic’s alternative to real-life interaction.

Like the novel that they now share, their relationship unfolded slowly over time, through “hundreds of emails” and intense discussions on the process of translation.

On Thursday, Tomb of Sand won the 2022 International Man Booker Prize, the first book written in an Indian language to have won the honour. It is also the first novel translated from Hindi to be recognised by the award.

Announcing the win, Frank Wynne, Irish translator and jury chair, said: “…We were captivated by the power, the poignancy and the playfulness of Tomb of Sand, Geetanjali Shree’s polyphonic novel of identity and belonging, in Daisy Rockwell’s exuberant, coruscating translation. This is a luminous novel of India and Partition, but one whose spellbinding brio and fierce compassion weaves youth and age, male and female, family and nation into a kaleidoscopic whole.”

“This (the award) is not just about me, the individual. I represent a language and culture and this recognition brings into larger purview the entire world of Hindi literature in particular and Indian literature as a whole,” said Delhi-based Shree, 64, the author of three novels and several volumes of stories. She described the win as “a bolt from the blue” that had left her “reeling”.

“Tomb of Sand is an elegy for the world we inhabit, a laughing elegy that retains hope in the face of impending doom. The Booker will surely take it to many more people than it would have reached otherwise. That should do the world no harm,” she said in her acceptance speech in London.

The International Booker Prize, earlier known as the Man Booker International Prize, was launched in 2004 to reward, every two years, a contemporary author of any nationality for a body of work published in English or available in English translation.

Since 2016, the £50,000 prize has been awarded annually to a book translated into English and published in the UK or Ireland. The award is split equally between the writer and the translator.

In 2021, French novelist David Diop and translator Anna Moschovakis won it for At Night All Blood is Black. In 2020, the award went to Dutch writer Marieke Lucas Rijneveld and translator Michele Hutchison for The Discomfort of Evening.

Set in north India, Tomb of Sand is a story that examines boundaries — between nations, religions and genders — even as it follows the story of Ma ji, its octogenarian protagonist, whose husband’s death pushes her to assess her choices.

Over time, Ma ji finds her way back into life, shedding conventions and choosing to confront the demons of her past — the trauma of Partition — in an attempt to evaluate the many roles she has played through her life: mother, daughter, and, ultimately, a feminist. Reminiscent of the worlds created by Hindi novelists Krishna Sobti, Shrilal Shukla and Vinod Kumar Shukla, Shree’s book is imbued with an old-world charm and an enchanting disregard for convention. The narrative voice alternates blithely between humans and birds, butterflies and doorways. And despite the seriousness of its theme, the tone is humorous and effervescent.

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“Geetanjali Shree’s exuberant and magical novel Ret Samadhi and Daisy Rockwell’s utterly brilliant translation Tomb of Sand winning the International Booker Prize is well deserved in every sense of the word. It is a narrative for our times, breaking across borders and boundaries to assert the human spirit through the unforgettable figure of Ma Ji, or Badi Ammi. It will bring the richness and nuance of contemporary Hindi literature to another wider readership. Good things are happening all around us in literature in the middle of all the darkness and despair and so we all deserve to congratulate ourselves for Geetanjali and Daisy Rockwell’s win,” said novelist Namita Gokhale, one of the organisers of the Jaipur Literature Festival, who has had a long association with Shree.

The Vermont-based Rockwell is a painter, writer and translator. She has translated a number of Hindi and Urdu classics such as Upendranath Ashk’s Falling Walls (2015), Bhisham Sahni’s Tamas (2016), and Khadija Mastur’s The Women’s Courtyard (2018), winning several accolades.

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Her 2019 translation of Sobti’s A Gujarat Here, a Gujarat There was awarded the Modern Language Association’s Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Translation Prize. Rockwell is also the winner of English PEN’s translation awards in 2019.

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