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'Languages Should Not Have Rigid Borders': Booker Prize Winner Geetanjali Shree

Shree, who became the first Indian writer to win the prestigious award, was in conversation with Seema Chishti.

Published
India
3 min read

Camera: Athar Rather, Ribhu Chatterji

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Video Editor: Harpal Rawat

Delhi-based author Geetanjali Shree, who became the first Indian writer to win the International Booker Prize in 2022 for her book Ret Samadhi (Tomb of Sand), said in an interview with Seema Chishti that language should not have a "rigid border."

Sharing her insights into "Hindi chauvinism" and pressure to conform to the use of a single language, she said, "As far as literature goes, it is not about a 'pure' language, it is not about a single language. It is a very mixed situation... Language should not have a rigid border."

Her novel, Ret Samadhi, translated into English as Tomb of Sand by Daisy Rockwell, was the first Hindi-language book to be shortlisted for the prestigious award.

The Booker Prize website hailed Shree's novel as an "urgent and timely protest against the destructive impact of borders and boundaries – whether between religions, countries, or genders."

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Community Has Expanded, but 'Invasion of Privacy' a Concern: Shree

Shree also said that while she was happy that her community had expanded after winning the Booker Prize, she was not too happy about the 'invasion' of her privacy.

On being asked how her life had changed since winning the prize, Shree said, "It's still very recent. I think I haven't completely processed what it (the prize) has done to me and my life... My community has expanded, my world has increased, so I am very happy with that."

However, she said that what she was not happy about was the "invasion" of her privacy and daily routine.

"I'm hoping that after some time things will be a little more settled... I hope I'll also get my own time and space back," she said.

Expressing her views on policing writers, and their responsibility in furthering social reform, Shree stressed that writers did have a responsibility, as they were "interacting with society."

However, for her, this responsibility is not a "simplistic responsibility, it comes with the writer's sensitive portrayal."

"There are different strategies to tell the story of society," Shree elucidated, adding, "In Premchand's time, the progressive writers felt that they have to write with the specific purpose of educating and informing society, so they wrote what was called social realism."

She continued, "Premchand also said that we may not produce great literature, which means that literature needs a free space. It cannot be geared to a message. That is not the way it operates, the message comes without your intention. The message is in your sensitivity."

However, great literature did come out of his time, she went on, holding that "literature is beyond what is on the surface."

The Booker Prize

The shortlist for the prize included six books, each translated from a different language and originating from a different country, with three continents represented on the list. The Tomb of Sand had won £50,000.

Set in northern India, Tomb of Sand chronicles the journey of an 80-year-old woman, who after her husband's death, slips into depression. During the course of the novel, the woman decides to visit Pakistan to confront the past that she left behind during the Partition.
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Shree's Acceptance Speech

Shree, in her award acceptance speech, had said, "I never dreamt of the Booker and I never thought I could. What a huge recognition. I am amazed, delighted, honoured, and humbled. I want to start by thanking the Booker foundation and Booker jury for choosing this book. There is a melancholy satisfaction in the award going to it."

"Ever since the book got long-listed, much has been written about Hindi making it for the first time. It feels good to be the means of that happening but it also obliges me to emphasise that behind me and this book lies a rich and flourishing literary tradition in Hindi and in other South Asian languages. World literature will be richer for knowing some of the finest writers in these languages. The vocabulary of life will increase from such an interaction."
Geetanjali Shree

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