Booker’s Tomb of Sand victory propelled South Asian literature worldwide, says author Geetanjali Shree
When sand tombthe English translation of Hindi novel by writer Geetanjali Shree Ret Samadhi (2018, Rajkamal Prakashan), won the International Booker Prize, he shed light on the vast pool of literature in the Indian language. It’s a transformative saga of an octogenarian woman’s search for her past, as she struggles the Depression after losing her husband and decides to visit Pakistan years after partition where her true “identity surfaces”.
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Shree, who was in the nation’s capital to take part in a celebratory interaction with journalist and translator Poonam Saxena, organized by Teamwork Arts and ILF-Samanvay at the India Habitat Centre, sat down with indianexpress.com before the event to learn more about her award-winning book, that transcends gender and subverts conventional stereotypes.
How would you define your connection with Hindi? Is there a specific reason why you turn to language when writing?
Of course, it’s my mother tongue so I have an umbilical link with the language. I know English and I can converse in it. But, when it comes to art and creativity, we always turn to the language that is deep within us, that runs in our blood. It is often our native language.
We are delighted to announce that the winner of the #2022InternationalReservation The prize is ‘Tomb of Sand’ by Geetanjali Shree, translated from Hindi to English by @shreedaisy and published by @tiltedaxispress@Terribleman @JeremyTiang @mervatim @VascoDaGappah @VivGroskop pic.twitter.com/TqUTew0Aem
— The Booker Prizes (@TheBookerPrizes) May 26, 2022
Many people have tried to categorize sand tomb in various genres. How would you define it?
I think that’s one of the problems people have. They always like to define something and fix it. I think sometimes big chunks of work don’t need to be so easily integrated into anything. The book speaks of ‘partition’ but not only of that between India and Pakistan. It is also about the many types of partitions we create in our lives – between the environment and human beings, between human beings and other living creatures, between gender and age, among others. It is a book on scores of all kinds.
Writing this book has been quite a long journey. How have the external changes been reflected in your writing?
When you work, you retreat into an imaginary world, but you are also involved in the world around you. All of these things together make a great book.
Even in your previous work, maai, you explored the journey of a mother. What sparks your interest in writing about middle-aged and older women?
Older women have a lot of experience that goes unsaid and there are stories to be told – stories what others haven’t said. All writers want to pick up stories that have been left out. They like to bring them to the center.
Maa’s name is not revealed in the novel until after she moves to Pakistan. Was it a conscious choice?
Before moving on to Pakistan, she was Maa. After getting there, her other identity surfaces. We have many different identities. At different times, we play different identities. I’m a woman. If I’m a teacher, I’m a teacher regardless of my gender. If I am a mother, I am a mother. When she is in Pakistan, her identity as someone who was in Pakistan with a particular name comes to the fore.
Tell us about some women writers who have inspired you.
If I have to name one, that’s fine. Krishna Sobti. In a very different way, Manu Bhandari, who had very discreet writing, also inspired me. Some black American writers like Toni Morisson and Alice Walker, among others, were also inspirational.
How important do you think winning the International Booker Prize is for other literatures in Indian languages?
Any grand prix doesn’t cast its net only on one thing. It brings a whole world to your attention. So my work is not alone. I live in the world of hindi literature and literature in the South Asian language. He suddenly brought South Asian literature, especially written in languages other than English, into the world. It’s up to the world to realize that this Literature is to be discovered.