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Geetanjali Shree won 1st Booker for Hindi novel. Regional authors must ask for right price now

A news article in ‘Independent’ stated that ‘Tomb Of Sand’ was the first novel in ‘Indian’ to win the award—it shows what India is still up against.

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History has just been made. Geetanjali Shree’s Tomb of Sand became the first Hindi novel to be awarded the prestigious International Booker Prize. Translated by Daisy Rockwell, the book was titled Ret Samadhi in Hindi. At the event in London, both the author and the translator, dressed in Indian attire, were elated with joy and hugged each other before going up to the stage to receive the award. They will share the prize money of €50,000 equally.

Tomb of Sand chronicles the journey of an 80-year-old woman who slips into a deep depression after the death of her husband and insists on travelling to Pakistan, her homeland before Partition.

In 2005, the International Booker Prize opened for English translations of foreign language books and from 2016 onwards, it equally recognised the work of both author and translator. The award brings optimism and hope for regional Indian languages, which have been pushed to the margins over the years. Tomb of Sand secured a nomination for the Booker Prize without being reviewed by any major British newspaper. The award is given every year to a book translated into English and published in Britain or Ireland.

Frank Wynne, the chair of the judges for this year’s prize, said it was unlike “any novel of Partition he has ever read.”

Why Indian regional texts fall behind

“Tomb of Sand was important, given that it was written in Hindi. Tens of thousands of books are published every year in Indian languages including Hindi, Urdu, Bengali and Malayalam, yet only a few are translated into English. That was partly because some Indian authors write in English,” said Frank Wynne. Arundhati Roy winning the Booker Prize in 1997 for The God of Small Things is proof of that.

The award is significant because it will inspire many bilingual writers who prefer to write in English rather than their mother tongue. The trend is attributed to the sparse international recognition that regional languages get. When you look at Geetanjali Shree’s interviews, she speaks flawless English. But as the daughter of a civil servant who grew up in various Hindi-speaking towns of Uttar Pradesh, despite a formal English education, she always felt “a tug towards Hindi literature.” This award will inspire all those who still feel that connection with their mother tongue.

Writing in regional languages is not easy, especially in a country like India where authors do not get enough royalty or recognition for their work. The example of renowned Hindi author Vinod Kumar Shukla is not far behind us.


Also read: A Hindi novel got longlisted for Booker. But at home, authors like Vinod Shukla get pittance


Hindi will mark its presence

While the Booker Prize has previously been given to authors for their original works in languages like Korean, Hebrew, Polish, Arabic and Dutch, it is only now that Hindi will mark its presence amid global languages. David Grossman, who won the prize in 2017 for the English translation of his Hebrew novel A Horse Walks into the Bar, said that he hoped to bring Hebrew literature to the world. “It is so hard to bring this language to life and to start to tell stories in Hebrew. Today, we have such a flourishing and really wonderful literature”, he said.

With this international recognition, we can hope that regional language literature and authors in India will also come to prominence. This could prove to be a stepping stone in the revival of India’s Hindi and regional language literature. A news article in Independent stated that Tomb Of Sand was the first novel in ‘Indian’ to win the award — it was later corrected after objections were made. It shows that Indian literature in regional languages still lies in the dark for the rest of the world.

There is no dearth of talented authors and literature in Hindi and regional languages, but any national or international recognition can boost the morale of Indian authors. It is time that Indian work becomes a part of world literature. The Booker Prize could be a positive first step in that direction.

Views are personal.

(Edited by Humra Laeeq)

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