India’s first-ever International Booker Prize winner, Geetanjali Shree, has been on a rollercoaster ride days since her Hindi novel ‘Ret Samadhi’ won the coveted literary honor for its English translation ‘Tomb of Sand’ this week.
The Delhi-based author, along with American translator Daisy Rockwell, have been inundated with messages from around the world and the duo find themselves caught up in something of a whirlwind of excitement.
One aspect that has dominated the headlines is the emphasis on Hindi-language literature, which the author hopes will spark serious efforts to keep the momentum going.
Immediately afterwards, it certainly did something to increase the visibility of Hindi literature. Interest and curiosity were generated, Shree tells PTI in an interview.
However, more serious sustained and organized efforts will be needed to really bring Hindi literature to the fore. Publishers will need to play a leading role in this regard, particularly in facilitating good translations of this literature. I want to emphasize that this is true not only for Hindi but for all South Asian languages, she asserts.
When asked if she was concerned that Hindi is being eclipsed by English in some respects in India, the author pointed out that it should not be a choice between one or the other because the languages have the capacity to enrich each other.
It’s sad that it’s ours and available to us and that many of us have lost it. But I think it doesn’t have to be Hindi or English. What’s wrong with being bilingual or trilingual or multilingual, she reflects.
I think humans have the ability to know more than one language. We should simply have an education system that encourages people to know their mother tongue, or another Indian language, and English; What is the problem? But it becomes completely riddled with politics and becomes kind of an unsolvable problem, she says.
As someone who has written in Hindi for many years now, the 64-year-old author believes creative expression is best in the language one is intuitively closest to.
It’s a kind of sensual connection with the language. It’s the smell, taste and sight of certain things that came to you through Hindi rather than English. And that automatically becomes the language in which you want to express your creativity, she shares.
For Rockwell, as a prolific translator who fell in love with Hindi during her college days, sees “Ret Samadhi” as a “love letter to the Hindi language.”
It’s a delight that many bilingual readers choose to read both works simultaneously to get the full flavor of what Booker’s judges hailed as a light novel about India and the score.
I like that a lot of people read them side by side. I think it shows the real value of a translation when it takes people to the original and makes them want to go back, says Rockwell, who is also the illustrator behind the book cover.
At 725 pages, the English translation is almost double the Hindi original, which the translator attributes to the mysterious way the two languages are different.
But that Shree and Rockwell are perfectly in sync is evident when they complete each other’s sentences and describe their coming together as a kismet connection.
But the process involved many “friendly” debates over phraseology, starting with the title itself.
Samadhi, the original title, means many things. It is a very rich word. And so, to capture that in Tomb, she [Shree] felt she was losing that rich word but promised to incorporate the word throughout, Rockwell recalls.
The very act of submitting to a translation therefore involves some risk on the part of an author, but Shree isn’t too intimidated by it as long as she feels she can trust the translator to capture the atma. or the spirit of the work.
I think you have to realize that everything is going to be read differently each time. By the time the book is out of your hands and going to readers, it’s going to be read in different ways. It’s already out of your hands that you have to let go, says Shree.
Her next work, which she is not yet disclosing, is almost ready to be handed over to publishers after she emerges from the Booker Prize frenzy.
I’ve never seen my phone behave this way, it’s so comforting; messages saying that all of India is celebrating, with images of small celebrations, which she shares. The author of three novels and several collections of stories, Mainpuri-born Shree’s works have been translated into English, French, German, Serbian and Korean.
Tomb of Sand’, the first of her books to be published in the UK in English and which she described as an elegy for the world we inhabit, impressed Booker’s judges with its playful tone and wordplay exuberant.
The book is now traveling to the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts in Wales this weekend and the Jaipur Literature Festival in London next month, before Shree returns to Delhi for her near-complete manuscript.
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