Tag Archives: Hindi

Read 39 of 2022. Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree. Translated from the Hindi by Daisy Rockwell

Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree

Title: Tomb of Sand
Author: Geetanjali Shree
Translated from the Hindi by Daisy Rockwell
Publisher: Tilted Axis Press
ISBN: 978-1911284611
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translated Literature
Pages: 730
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

A book like Tomb of Sand comes once a while – encompassing everything – all of it – maybe all our stories, or some of our stories – intermingling, intertwining, greeting each other along the way, choosing whom to converse with, whom to ignore, and how to navigate life.  Stories that have a life of their own – breathing, living creations that only need an audience and Tomb of Sand will get its audience, and should – more than its fair share, because this book deserves it all.

I am gushing. I shall gush some more. So be it. Some novels do more than just provide entertainment or are more than means of passing time. They demand to be read, reread, reread some more, till they enter your consciousness and then refuse to leave. Sputnik Sweetheart is one such book for me. This one is definitely another.

Tomb of Sand on the surface seems like a book with a very simple plot-line. A mother of a family and her relationship with a transgender person, in the wake of her husband’s death. This causes some kind of confusion in her daughter who always thought of herself to be more progressive of the two. However, let this plot not fool you. This could very well be a book without a plot for the first two-hundred pages or so, and honestly it wouldn’t matter to the reader or deter the reading experience.

Tomb of Sand is so much more than just a story of a family or of a woman trying to come to terms with the past and the present as it shapes itself around her. Tomb of Sand is a book about families, about life lived in-between contemplating how to live it and the parts that you so want to live but cannot, and more than anything, it was for me – a novel about redemption, about so many what ifs, about the choices we make – intentionally and unintentionally, about empty spaces we choose to fill and sometimes the void is even more glaring than it was, and it is a novel about boundaries, about how we limit ourselves through identity and gender, about how we are much more than we give ourselves credit for.

Geetanjali Shree experiments with language, makes it her own, makes it fall flat on its head, and doesn’t bother with the rules of grammar. She makes her own rules as she goes along. I say this after also having read major portions of the book in Hindi as well. The translation by Daisy Rockwell is a different book – a unique entity, if I were to call it that. Daisy takes the book in Hindi and gives its English readers a new landscape to imagine and embrace. I do not mean the translation doesn’t do justice to the original, in fact, if anything it takes the playfulness of Hindi – makes it more than palpable to English and doesn’t transpose or transliterate, just for it to sound right, but gives it its own vocabulary, adding if I may call it the “Rockwell Touch”.  Her translation doesn’t miss a beat. It is lucid, clear, and gives the reader what they need, and also what they thought they didn’t need.

Tomb of Sand also seems like a rather simple novel, which again it isn’t. I do not mean only when it comes to structure or who is the narrator, or what is happening but also language that I have spoken about earlier. There is a sense of calm to the choice of words – both in Hindi and English – which makes the novel so relatable. I think that the “Indianness” of the novel is what lends it the added layer of appeal. For instance, the entire angle of the mother staying with the daughter in the daughter’s house while the son has his own family is something not permissible in an Indian household. The mother has to stay with the son. Shree breaks this mould and presents a new way of life. Rockwell takes that new way of life and brings to life the conversations between the two women (of course from the original) – without discussing a man – they discuss their bowel movements, they discuss childhood, life, what the mother thinks, what Beti feels, but not a man. This is perhaps intentional but does the job of meeting the Bechdel test than most other novels and movies.

Another instance that intrigued me the most was the class difference and the way Shree has highlighted it throughout the book. Domestic help have names attached – full names and personalities – from what they do to who they are and their role in the family. On the other hand, the members of the household are not known by names, except for one son called Sid. The rest are nameless, known by their roles and what they add to the plot.

Tomb of Sand also becomes a partition novel somewhere after four-hundred pages, and it didn’t surprise me at all, when that happened. I was so immersed in the world created by Shree and her magnificence, that I submitted myself more than happily to this plot-twist, if I can call it that. This again makes the novel even more profound and complex.

Tomb of Sand is shortlisted for the International Booker Prize 2022. I hope it wins. I hope it is known widely. I hope because of this other Indian language books get their place in the sun. Tomb of Sand is a delight to read and reread. If you have already read it, I recommend you go back to it. If you haven’t read it, what are you waiting for? Please read it. NOW.

Read 5 of 2022. Legal Fiction by Chandan Pandey. Translated from the Hindi by Bharatbhooshan Tiwari.

Legal Fiction by Chandan Pandey

Title: Legal Fiction
Author: Chandan Pandey
Translated from the Hindi by Bharatbhooshan Tiwari
Publisher: HarperCollins India
ISBN: 978-9354227509
Genre: Translated Fiction, Literary Fiction Pages: 168
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Legal Fiction was one of the best reads for me last year. I reread it again this month because I was in conversation with Chandan and Bharatbhooshan and enjoyed every minute of it.

Legal Fiction is unlike anything I read and kept thinking about it a lot. The themes of disappearance of a Muslim man, love jihad – a term coined by the right wing of the country to bring to task Muslim men who love Hindu women, the struggle of people in a small town who are constantly under surveillance whether they like it or not (in one way or the other), the idea of democracy just being on paper, and ultimately that of rule of land being followed over rule of law.

Silences play a major role. Silences that force people to look within, to understand their spaces, look at the role of caste and religion that draw invisible boundaries, silences that reflect lack of agency of women, and how vocabulary defeats what we feel most of the time.

Legal Fiction put simply is about the disappearance of a man – a man who lives in a small town with his wife and is from a minority religion in Modi’s India. It is about the agency of an urban middle-class man, Arjun, who travels to Noma – the fictional village – to locate the man, Rafique. It is about what Arjun unearths in Noma, and what goes on behind closed doors, and sometimes right in the open, only because it can.

Chandan Pandey makes no bones about what he has to say. The writing is sparse, calls out the hypocrisy of the system, where things have gone wrong and continue to do so, and above all packs in a punch and more on almost every single page.

Bharatbhooshan’s translation reads like the original (I also read the book in Hindi). It is fast-paced, reads like a thriller but is so much more, mesmerizing, like a sort of fever dream, and above anything else a mirror for us to see ourselves in and understand what we have become vis-à-vis what we were.

The Windows in our House are Little Doors by Vinod Kumar Shukla. Translated from the Hindi by Satti Khanna.

The Windows in our House are Little Doors by Vinod Kumar Shukla

Title: The Windows in our House are Little Doors
Author: Vinod Kumar Shukla
Translated from the Hindi by Satti Khanna
Publisher: Harper Perennial India 
ISBN: 978-9353574819
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translations 
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 5/5 

It isn’t just magic realism that makes this book what it is. There is magic, yes. There is a lot of it, some which is mostly unseen or even unread on the pages. There is adventure, and a sense of listlessness as well. Vinod Kumar Shukla captures it all on the page. It seems as though his childhood years are encompassed in this book.

“The Windows in our House are Little Doors” is an English translation of Yasi, Rasa, and Ta from the Hindi by Satti Khanna. Vinod Kumar Shukla’s story takes place in an unnamed city, could even be an unnamed small town, a village even, or just somewhere in your vicinity. The time isn’t mentioned either. There is fluidity to it all. Yasi and Rasa are siblings. Their parents are Niya and Vendra. Ta is their cousin. Their uncle Bhoona loves to sleep and doesn’t want to do anything else. Ta is Bhoona’s daughter. But all of this doesn’t matter. Nothing matters since there is no plot as such to the book, but you continue reading it. The writing pulls you in. it intrigues and teases and doesn’t let go.

Vinod Kumar Shukla’s world is unique in that sense. Bicycles understand that they have been stolen and return to their owner. A single melon starts growing on its own, and adds to the weight of the cart, till slices are cut and sold. Houses make way for people. There is no concept of home, and yet there is. Home is at the heart of this book, told through twenty-six storeys (as it is said). Everything makes sense, and nothing does.

“Time bakes the present into the past. Sometimes, much later, shards show up in digs, buried under mounds of dirt. The shards are fragments of time. The ambulant present moves on; history keeps hiding behind it.”

See what he’s done here? I mean the writing is about time and yet he separates all of it – the past, the present, and the future, and again somehow gathers them together. The writing then isn’t just metaphorical. It takes on the shape of something else.

Shukla’s writing makes you believe like you are in a dream. Anything and everything are made possible. Sandals have a mind of their own and get lost. People get lost and are found in an instant. Bicycles smile and remind people to buy towels. Yes, anything happens. There is a jalebi store that is never shut, and the fire is always burning under the jalebi pan. I mean, I just gave in to what Vinod Kumar Shukla had to offer. I entered the world created by him and was happy being there.

The translation by Satti Khanna is magnificent. I say this with confidence, since at some points, I had the Hindi edition also in front of me and read from it a little to contrast and compare. Every sentence has been dealt with kindness and care, and perhaps that’s why the essence remains.

Worlds collide in Shukla’s writing. Day and night cannot be differentiated from. He writes, “A person wishes to become a tourist in the place he has lived for decades” and you relate hard and strong because you also have looked at your city that way. When he says, “We make our homes into prisons. Let us live in a house as if we could pack up and leave for another habitation any time” you nod your head with great affirmation because you have thought about it as well.

“The Windows in our House are Little Doors” has to be experienced and felt. It cannot just be read. But read it going blindfold. Do not read the synopsis. It is nothing after all. You won’t know till you read it.




 

A Gujarat Here, A Gujarat There by Krishna Sobti. Translated from the Hindi by Daisy Rockwell.

A Gujarat Here, A Gujarat There by Krishna Sobti Title: A Gujarat Here, A Gujarat There
Author: Krishna Sobti
Translated from the Hindi by Daisy Rockwell
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin India
ISBN: 9780670091195
Genre: Fiction, Non-Fiction, Memoir
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Despite the translation, Krishna Sobti’s book, “A Gujarat Here, A Gujarat There” isn’t an easy read to begin with. Only when you get used to the person narratives being changed constantly, time being fluid, and above all anecdotes thrown about constantly, and in-between chapters, that you realize what a marvel of a book you are reading.

I honestly did not want this book to end. This novel (meta), memoir, a commentary on the Partition, a commentary even more on the world left behind, makes you want to explore everything written by Ms. Sobti, if you haven’t already read her. In fact, even if you have read her, you’d just want to go back and reread her books.

“A Gujarat Here, A Gujarat There” is a book that can perhaps be summed as falling under many genres, but to me it was a book about the Partition, about home and longing, about old and new worlds that will never merge, and mainly about displacement. Krishna Sobti’s Zindaginama is perhaps one of the finest works on the Partition to have emerged from the subcontinent, however, this book is so diverse in the plot and sub-plots that to me it is perhaps even better than Zindaginama.

The setting of course is 1947. A young Krishna and her family are now in India. The country is new, and they are treated as refugees (more about this later). She is determined to make her own path in the world and an opportunity presents itself in the form of heading a preschool in the princely state of Sirohi. From there on, she faces misogynistic behaviour from Zutshi Sahab, the man charged with hiring for the position. And finally, she is governess by twist of fate to the child maharaja Tej Singh Bahadur, which accounts for around hundred pages of the book.

Like I said, the book is a lot of things, but don’t let that bother or distract you from the writing. Sobti’s writing is charming, often melancholic, and peppered with nostalgia. She constantly goes back in time to speak of pre-partition and how it was then. The comparisons also occur. For instance, when she meets her Nani and her great-uncle on a trip to Bombay, she is overwhelmed at how her Nani is still stuck in the past (and longs for it), and how her uncle ensures that she is well-taken care of.

One of my favourite scenes is when Sobti goes to visit her aunts in Ahmedabad and they think that drinking tea (cardamom and cinnamon) will make them forget about sad incidents. I love the simplicity of this scene. It is extremely endearing and relatable to most. Tea in a way does make you forget the bad things. Also, before I forget, my most favourite part of the book is the picnic Sobti’s friends and headmistress of the college go on due to her birthday is iconic. This happens before Partition, so the sense of it never happening again hits the author so hard, and in effect the reader.

Sobti’s writing is razor-sharp. She observes acutely and doesn’t hesitate to talk about the horrors of Partition, which is of course where the book gets the title from – a Gujarat with us and another Gujarat that side of the border. Another incident that brings out the ruin of Partition is Sobti speaking of Lady Mountbatten and Rameshwari Nehru visiting the refugee camps and how the women there were told to wear colourful orhnis to show respect for the Laat Sahiba.

Everything in this book is deliciously worded. Even though at times I wondered that it could become a translator’s nightmare – given how Sobti moves from past to present and changes person from first to third almost line after line. Daisy Rockwell has done a stupendous job of this translation. I loved The Women’s Courtyard last year, which was again translated by her. I love how she gets the nuance so right – the structure, the plot, and the meaning plus emotion doesn’t get lost at all. Rockwell gets it all pat-on and the reason I say it, is I am also reading the original in Hindi alongside.

Feminism in this book isn’t lost at all. If anything, it is so subtle and yet makes itself felt, heard, and seen on every page. From Sobti choosing to work away from home to her friends and aunts and niece’s choices, women empowerment and rights shine through the book. At the same time, it isn’t easy for them. Also, the parts when she asserts her role of a governess. Though she is taking care of royalty, she does what she must.

Krishna Sobti has written a lot about women and the hypocrisy faced by them in everyday life in her other works as well – from Zindaginama to Listen Girl! (Ae, Ladki) to To Hell with you, Mitro! (Mitro Marjani). If anything, just to know her body of work, read these as well, and more.

A Gujarat Here, A Gujarat There is a brilliant book, that juxtaposes the past and the present, with nostalgia and loss at its core. It is the kind of book that must definitely be read with copious amounts of tea on the side. Read it! You will hands-down love it.

 

Stories on Caste by Premchand. Edited by M. Asaduddin. Translated from the Hindi and Urdu by Various.

Stories on Caste by Premchand

Title: Stories on Caste
Author: Premchand
Edited by M. Asaduddin
Translated from the Hindi and Urdu by Various
Publisher: Penguin India, Penguin Viking
ISBN: 978-0670091447
Genre: Short Stories, Literary Fiction, Translation
Pages: 168
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

There is no chance that you will read any short-story written by Premchand and not be moved in some manner or the other. To add to that, I started reading his “Stories on Caste” which I knew would show me the stark mirror of reality that exists in our society, even until today. We might like to believe that the caste system has been done with, but we are so wrong. It exists and how. And not just in small towns and villages, but also in cities. When we normalize abuses referring to caste; when we overlook perhaps even the smallest occurrences of caste differences at home – that’s precisely when we need to be aware and look at what is happening around us.

Premchand’s stories aren’t extraordinary. Not the writing style to a large extent. However, what makes them extraordinary are the circumstances – the acute sense of observation and transferring those experiences to words. It is unfortunate and very sad that he had to write from life. At the same time, Premchand’s stories are not all without hope. There are some that bring some amount of wit, cunning and not-all-is-lost sense of things to the table. For instance, in “The Lashes of Good Fortune”, an orphan makes something of his life when he runs away from his oppressive master and returns to a different village altogether and a different life. The book begins though with a punch-in-your-face story “Thakur’s Well” (Thakur ka Kuan) – where a woman has to slyly try and get clean water for her ailing husband and that too from the Thakur’s well.

I think Premchand was perhaps one of the only writers then who depicted the lives of the underdog so to say with such empathy and nuance. The oppressors and oppression did not limit themselves – they came in various forms in his stories. For instance in “One and a Quarter Ser of Wheat ” (Sawa Ser Gehun), a poor farmer doesn’t even know what he has done to his generations to come, just by borrowing sawa ser gehun from the local landlord. Premchand never shied away from telling it the way it was (that quality to a very large extent, I have found in most regional writers’ works. The stark reality is always shown to the reader, no matter what).

At the same time, what I found very interesting about his stories was that the oppressors were found whether sarcastically or not shown to be oscillating between doing the right thing and what their “dharma” asked of them to do. In “Salvation” (Sadgati), poor Dukhi dies a meaningless death, trying to work on something so senseless because he doesn’t want to offend a Brahmin priest. And yet, ironically enough there are times in the story when the priest and his wife get sentimental about Dukhi and yet do nothing to show any emotion because they aren’t supposed to as they are of a higher caste. This inner battle of what to do and what is ultimately done continues to be seen in almost all of these stories in this collection. Of course, Premchand explores guilt in every form – but redemption is something rare.

Premchand’s stories may seem clear and straightforward and yet the layers to each of them are that of a wider scale and thought. Might I also add that nothing gets lost in translation in these stories. I was told by plenty of people on social media to read them in Hindi but I chose to read in English only because it moves faster for me. Having said that, none of the nuances of Hindi or Urdu (3 have been translated from the Urdu) have been lost. I had read some of these stories in Hindi earlier so I am aware (well superficially though) that the translators (there are about twelve to thirteen that have worked on these stories – sometimes individually, others collectively) have been true to their craft, because the emotion hits you real hard, no matter the language.

“Stories on Caste” is one of the five collection of Premchand’s stories published by Penguin India. The remaining four are on: Women, Village, City and Animals. Each I am sure unique in their own way. I for one can’t wait to start reading the others.