Booker Prize winner Geetanjali Shree at the Sharjah International Book Fair in Sharjah on Thursday. Image Credit: Angel Teseroro/Gulf News

Sharjah: Indian novelist and short story writer Geetanjali Shree is hopeful her 2022 International Booker Prize winning book Tomb of Sand will help bring more attention to South Asian languages and literature, which she had said “the world knew so little about”.

Talking to students at the 41st Sharjah International Book Fair on Thursday, the New Delhi-based Indian novelist, who is the first Hindi writer to win the International Booker Prize, also exhorted her audience to first “care for their own language and learn how rich it is, then learn as many languages as they can.”

Shree has been writing for about 30 years and her works have been translated into English, French, German, Serbian and Korean. Tomb of Sand (originally titled Ret Samadhi in Hindi and translated into English by Daisy Rockwell), that won this year’s International Booker Prize award, is her fifth novel.

In an exclusive chat with Gulf News after her conversation with the students, Shree said: “Winning a prestigious award such as Booker Prize does not shed light on one work alone, it sheds light on a whole linguistic area, a whole world of literature.”

“What my book (Tomb of Sand) has done is that it brought the attention of the ‘outer world’ to South Asian languages and literature to which they knew so little about. Now, here’s an opportunity for publishers, translators and funders to grab the chance and promote works in (native languages) and bring them to the world,” she added.

Shree underlined winning the Booker Prize is a big boost but promoting South Asian literature is everybody’s responsibility in the industry. She also hoped her win will give South Asian writers the same path of recognition given to Latin American writers after Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez (author of One Hundred Years of Solitude) received the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Geetanjali Shree signing a copy of her book for an SIBF visitor. Image Credit: Angel Teseroro/Gulf News

“After that (Nobel Prize) everybody’s attention was focused on Latin American literature and the world got to know more about a lot of things,” Shree noted.

Power of translation

Shree is a strong advocate of writing in one’s own language but she is also a strong believer in the power of translation. “Translation is the way of bringing one’s work to the world,” she underlined.

It is inevitable that something will change or get lost in translation, she admitted. “But if it is a good translation, readers will love it like the original,” she pointed out.

Shree added: “We must not forget that many great literature of the world, we have only read through translation. Do we know how much of (Leo) Tolstoy’s or (Fyodor) Dostoevsky’s works have lost a little bit from the original? But we love what we are getting and we are reading translated works of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.”

“That is the way – we can never ensure that everything is exactly the same. It changes. The most important thing is you get the real essence of the original work,” she continued.

Shree also called for more support in the publishing industry. She explained: “In doing translation (for example), you need resources, support of many kinds, training centres and money. People in the industry and related institutions must get together to make things happen.”

Who is Geetanjali Shree?

Geetanjali Shree, 65, born on June 12, 1957 in Mainpuri, Uttar Pradesh, is the first Hindi writer to win the International Booker Prize. Her fifth novel Tomb of Sand (originally titled Ret Samadhi in Hindi and translated into English by Daisy Rockwell), won the award this year.

Shree studied BA (History) at Lady Shri Ram College and received a master’s degree from Jawaharlal Nehru University. She wrote her first short story ‘Bel Patra’ in 1987, while completing her PhD.

Shree describes herself as a very private person. She said: “Before winning the Booker Prize, I have a small circle of writers in my own (Hindi) language. The award opened me up to the world. Now, I’m travelling more and interacting with different people. But I always remember that I’m a writer and my main purpose is to write. As much as I enjoy the rich interactions, I still prefer going back to my old life of just writing.”

Her three favourite books/ authors are: Mahabharata – for its range of “simple and complex stories, philosophy and child-like tales.” In her childhood years, she loved ‘Alice In wonderland for its “magical adventures and wonderful imagination.” And in her mature years, she was fascinated by the works of legendary Hindi writer Krishna Sobti.

Advice to aspiring writers: “Treat life and the world with honest observation and come to terms that it doesn’t have to be big things. Start at home, let’s say domestic violence: Why is it happening, who is right, who is wrong, and why should we correct it? Observe with sensitivity and honesty, then get a grip of the larger world”

“If you are writer, you are interested in the world and life itself. Everything and everybody everything inspires you. Observe and have the sensitivity be honest in your observation. Then have a wide imagination.

“Becoming a writer or an artist is not a lucrative career with lots of money. It is actually not a career but a passion. It is a passion, not something necessary a career but a passion. If you want to becoe a writer take the plunge, even it means that life will mean become poorer. For me, I’m not a millionaire but I’m not starving.”