Geetanjali Shree makes history with first Hindi novel to win Booker

Geetanjali Shree makes history with first Hindi novel to win Booker
Winners Geetanjali Shree & Daisy Rockwell with publisher Ashok Maheshwari

Indian author Geetanjali Shree has made history with her novel ‘Tomb of Sand’ being named the first Hindi novel to win the prestigious International Booker Prize at a gala awards ceremony in London this week.

The New Delhi based writer said she was “completely overwhelmed” with the "bolt from the blue" as she accepted her prize, worth £50,000 and shared with the book's English translator, Daisy Rockwell. ‘Tomb of Sand’, originally ‘Ret Samadhi’, is set in northern India and follows an 80-year-old woman in a tale that has now become the first book in any Indian language to bag the coveted literary prize.

“I never dreamt of the Booker, I never thought I could. What a huge recognition, I’m amazed, delighted, honoured and humbled,” said Shree, in her acceptance speech.

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Winners Geetanjali Shree & Daisy Rockwell with publisher Ashok Maheshwari
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Reflecting upon becoming the first work of fiction in Hindi to make the Booker cut, the 64-year-old author said it feels good to be the means of that happening.

“But behind me and this book lies a rich and flourishing literary tradition in Hindi, and in other South Asian languages. World literature will be the richer for knowing some of the finest writers in these languages. The vocabulary of life will increase from such an interaction,” she said.

Rockwell, a painter, writer and translator living in Vermont, US, joined her stage to receive her award for translating the novel she described as a “love letter to the Hindi language".

Frank Wynne, chair of the judging panel, said: “Ultimately, 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.”

The book’s 80-year-old protagonist, Ma, to her family’s consternation, insists on travelling to Pakistan, simultaneously confronting the unresolved trauma of her teenage experiences of Partition, and re-evaluating what it means to be a mother, a daughter, a woman, a feminist.

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Winners Geetanjali Shree & Daisy Rockwell with publisher Ashok Maheshwari
Bringing Hindi literature into an international purview

Publisher Ashok Maheshwari, Managing Director of Rajkamal Publications, said: “‘Ret-Samadhi' had already proved its mettle by being included in the long list of International Booker Prize. Then it reached the shortlist, which further strengthened its potential.

“Now that it has won that award, I see this decision in the form that the attention of the world is rapidly going towards the excellent writing of Indian languages including Hindi.”

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