The morning of that day was very special, every Hindi lover felt proud. The simple reason was that for the first time Hindi author Geetanjali Shree along with an English translator of her novel have been awarded the prestigious Booker Award. Previously, Rabindranath Tagore was awarded the Nobel Prize for his Bangla poem Geetanjali. It is a pleasant coincidence that this time the name of the author is Geetanjali. Full of pride I cancelled all my mornings asan, pranayam, meditation and tried downloading the Kindle edition.
As I started reading the book, I felt a bit suspicious why the book was selected and immediately opened the Booker website. The first page itself gives a good idea, it explains as below.
“Tomb of Sand is the first book originally written in any Indian language to win the International Booker Prize, and the first novel translated from Hindi to be recognised by the award. Set in Northern India, the novel follows the adventures of an 80-year-old woman who unexpectedly gains a new, and highly unconventional, lease of life.
The result is a book that is engaging, funny and utterly original, at the same time as being an urgent and timely protest against the destructive impact of borders and boundaries – whether between religions, countries or genders.”
Liberals Worried About Their Future
It was clear by now why the novel satisfied the Award Committee which might have had the liberal agenda of opening trade, playing with the enemy and cultural exchange in mind. With the rise of social media writers and Hindus getting control of Ram Janmabhoomi, fear has taken over liberals about their future. There is also fear that there will be demand that looted wealth of India should be returned. It seems that the award has a motive to promote literature which suits their agenda. A bigger plan is being executed to expand the market of their preferred language by penetrating the market of other languages by promoting translated work but not the original literature.
To verify it further, I did more research and found that Tomb of Sand has been translated into English by Daisy Rockwell and published in 2021, while the original book Ret Samadhi was written in 2018. So efficient is the Search Committee that it took no time to identify the translated work as early as March 10, 2022. The translated work is among 13 books shortlisted.
Finally, the book became the first Hindi-language translated novel to win the International Booker Prize.
Incidentally, the reader who purchased it on Amazon has given it a rating of four stars out of five. We may forgive the poor reader who spends the money and reads the book but rate it second best as he may not be the master of judging literature. But the surprising part is the novel and authors do not appear in the best ten performers for 2019. The living authors in the list are Satya Vyas and Amish Tripathi along with Rabindra Nath Tagore and Premchand. Google search for leading women writers also indicate 10 names and our pride of Booker Prize winner Geetanjali’s name is not there. I tried many times with different key words without success. The name Krishna Sobti, the guru of our prize winner, did appear in this list.
Gandhi Was Denied the Award
Being fully satisfied that the exercise is having some hidden agenda, I felt that the Selection Committees look into those books which have a certain narrative and indulge in lobbying. If we go by our experience with the Oscar awards then we can assume the translator might have played a major role as done by Sir Richard Attenborough for the movie Gandhi. It could get the global award due to his capacity to approach and influence the jury. Our real Gandhi could never get a Nobel Prize despite being the greatest leader of last century.
Now let’s come to the novel Tomb of Sand or Ret Samadhi. It seems more perfect as a tomb can be built for any dead person, whereas samadhi is created only for enlightened Hindu saints. All other Hindus are cremated on fire but never buried. However, the way our leading lady chooses to die falling on her back is truly a burial in a tomb. Therefore the translator has done justice to the narrative. Maybe that is why translation has won the prize.
An excerpt from the book
“If she were to fall, she did not wish for it to be facedown. Wherever the bullet came from, wherever it hit, she would fall straight back and lie supine on the ground. Regally. Her eyes filled with sky. Let me practise, she’d tell her daughter.”
Not able to understand it? My mistake as I have not shared the plot. Tomb of Sand is a story of a lady who has gone into depression or withdrawal due to the death of her husband. She is 80-year-old. Her children tried their best but she refused to get out of bed. One day she visited her daughter who was in a relationship. There she met a cross dressing person. Seeing this character the lady starts growing young. She decides to visit Pakistan as she was married to a Muslim in an arranged marriage. She now wanted to locate her lost married love and to die in Pakistan, that too with a bullet. She succeeds and our genius author built an entertaining, captivating story which questions three issue pertains to boundaries of nation, religion and sex. The only loophole here is the question whether the issues raised are genuine or invented to suit the narrative.
On account of strong opening, compelling characters and absorbing story, the novelist has done exceedingly well and the style is also unique. The author in her previous work also had shown great command over language and proved her capacity to captivate the reader. Her work has been translated into many languages. The great coincidence is that her other translated work has also won an award for the translator.
Despite these strengths, the novel fails on a few counts which have nothing to do with literature. Insulting Pakistan’s Armed Forces and the shooting of a fragile octogenarian lady does not reflect Pakistani Armed Forces in good taste. Despite exporting terror into India and attempting to bleed it with thousand cuts, Pakistan Army has no track record of killing a lone 80-year-old woman. I expected Pakistani media to react but was surprised to see no reaction there.
The author claims Krishna Sobti as her guru and recreated some aura of the Partition period by engaging with authors of that era along with their characters. This bent upon conviction has led to our leading lady being 80 as Partition itself is 75 year old.
The Booker web site has praised the novel for being “an urgent and timely protest against the destructive impact of borders and boundaries – whether between religions, countries or genders.”
But we don’t find any reason for our leading lady to run away from a Muslim husband in Muslim-dominated Pakistan taking shape. She might be a Hindu but safely married a Muslim groom through an arranged marriage deeply revered by our liberals. Now where is the threat to life or fear ? But when we are committed to a certain narrative, these things do happen!
It seems that the desire to astonish the reader has gone too far. The author is a genius, has mastery over words and language yet fails on account of authenticity. To me it is taking the narrative too far without having much logic. This is a normal practice these days in the name of creative freedom. The author has justified it by saying, ”Although the tale has no need for a single stream. It is free to run, flow into rivers and lakes, into fresh new waters.”
The above lines touch our heart like magic but the fact is once merged with river a stream loses its identity and also loses its right to go elsewhere, so is life, once she left her husband married another Hindu male gave birth to children, raised them, loved them, mourned for the dead husband, where is the exploitation, who has cheated whom ? Let’s examine!
Leaving a husband without any fault, crossing over to an unknown country. Marrying a male without disclosing the previous marriage. It seems everything has been pre decided by our leading lady or by our talented author. Religions, countries and gender have to take the blame.
The author is aware that the work may get criticism, so it is preempted by saying “Those who didn’t understand her arguments considered her crazy”.
Translator On Par With Author
Leaving aside the literary issues, the bigger conspiracy in these awards is making the translator equivalent to the author. This is unfair as the author conceives a plot like a mother, incubates it in his/her heart, takes up research, weaves the characters into his plot, packs sorrow and joy, love and hate, conspiracy and truth, hope and despair, win and lose,loyalty and betrayal word by word, sentence by sentence and chapter by chapter.The translator is simply replacing the language, as a result translated work is paid by word count only. No translator has ever become immortal by translating a great book but here Booker has achieved this great feat. I am sure that the sale of Tomb of Sand will sell more copies and will become a bigger name that too with the consent of the original author and the readers.
Condemning and cribbing is not going to help as the market is governed by brutal laws of the sea where big fish eats the small fish and fast fish eats the slow fish, it is our job to choose the system which suits our condition. India is now the sixth largest economy and determined to be a five trillion economy, time has come to put in place a robust system to nurture art and literature. Last year, the Government selected and trained young authors to match the global standards. States should also promote budding talent. Literary mafia of civil servants, business tycoons and politicians should not eat into the space needed for full time creative writers and poets. Mentors should not kill their prodigies devoted to literature. Until and unless Hindi or vernacular language provides livelihood and respect to its creative talent, the world will keep on exploiting them politically and financially. Time has come to create an ‘Indian Premier League of literature’ where big international names may line-up to join as happens in Indian cricket. I am eagerly dreaming that Western authors are lining up to get their books so that their translated work may win a mega million rupee award.