International Booker Prize to Geetanjali Shree boosts confidence of Indian language writers

'It should translate into greater interest in the literature of Indian languages'

geetanjali shree daisy rockwell Geetanjali Shree (right) with Daisy Rockwell | AP

Geetanjali Shree became the first Indian writer to win the International Booker Prize, awarded for a book that is translated into English and published in the UK or Ireland. 

Her novel - ‘Tomb of Sand’ - an English translation of her Hindi novel “Ret Samadhi” bagging the coveted award has sure enthused Indian language authors who feel the recognition for the translated work is an acknowledgement of the richness of the literary tradition in the Indian languages. It is a sentiment shared by the awardee too, as Shree said, “Behind me and this book lies a rich and flourishing literary tradition in Hindi and other South Asian languages. World literature will be the richer for knowing some of the finest writers in these languages.”

Shree's 725-page novel translated by US-based Daisy Rockwell is a family saga that chronicles the India partition. And it is the nativity in both content and style that sets the Indian language literature from the works of Indian English writers, say experts. 

While India has several writers writing in English, translations of Hindi, as well as Indian language books into English, have been picking pace only in recent years. To name a few, Vivek Shanbhag’s ‘Ghachar Ghochar’ (translated by Srinath Perur), Jayant Kaikini’s ‘No Presents Please’ (translated by Tejaswini Niranjana) and S. Hareesh’s ‘Moustache’ (translated by Jayasree Kalathil) have bagged awards. 

“IBP is an important award as I feel it will bring more attention to the Indian literary world. When our work gets known outside our language, it is not just the title or the writer who gets the recognition but our tradition, aesthetics, linguistic culture and a different world view,” said Kannada writer Vivek Shanbhag, who’s first translated work ‘Ghachar Ghochar’ was included by The New York Times in their listing of the best books of 2017 and it was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the International Dublin Literary Award. 

“This award has boosted the confidence of Indian language writers. I hope every year our Indian books make it to the shortlist. This news thrills me as I look forward to my book now. The IBP is a recognition of not just Ms Geetanjali Shree's novel, but the Indian language books. But not many Indian vernacular writers have published in the UK (England or Ireland). In Karnataka, only a couple of writers have published their books in the UK. Except for Jayant Kaikini, Vivek Shanbhag and U R Ananthamurthy (Samskara), no other writer has published his book in the UK,” said Kannada writer Vasudhendra, whose hugely popular Kannada title - ‘Tejo Tungabhadra’ is being translated into English and is likely to be published in September. 

Maithreyi Karnoor, author of Sylvia: Distant Avuncular Ends (Tranquebar 2021) and translator of ‘A Handful of Sesame’ and ‘Tejo Tungabhadra’ (forthcoming) hopes the award acts as a catalyst and kindles interest in Indian literary work globally. 

“Back in the day when The International Booker Prize was given to authors for their entire oeuvres rather than for one title, U R Ananthamurthy came close to winning it in 2013. Now, history is made with the first Indian novel in an Indian language winning the coveted prize. Ideally, that should translate into greater interest in the literature of Indian languages. And goodness knows it is about time!,” said Karnoor. 

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