Translation Books

A weave of emotions: Review of ‘Ratno Dholi: The Best Stories of Dhumketu’

Dhumketu is regarded a pioneer of the short story form. A contemporary of Rabindranath Tagore, Premchand and Manto, Dhumketu — the pen-name of Gujarati writer Gaurishankar Govardhanram Joshi (1892-1965) — wrote short stories, novels, plays, literary criticism and more. The translator of this collection, Jenny Bhatt, contextualises his work in the introduction while providing insightful details about his craft. The translations of Dhumketu’s own introductions to his work help the reader understand the writer’s approach to the short story form.

Dhumketu’s awareness of the short story as a distinct form rather than a “a miniature novel” comes off brilliantly. A deep orality is ingrained in the stories, assisted with sharp details and soft imagery. They are as much about social structures and human behaviour as about a sense of wonder. Dhumketu inhabited a period of limited communication, connectivity and resources. Stories like Tears of the Soul and The Queen of Nepal have the charm of tales from a bygone era. He can be stylishly meta too — On the Banks of Sarayu is a story about storytelling being deferred and how this delay plays out in a father-son relationship.

Since the stories are presented chronologically, we get an idea of Dhumketu’s evolving craft. His earlier works are at times archetypal and simplistic, but he soon masters the art of handling complex emotions. This leads to the stories becoming more layered and stimulating — The Noble Daughters-in-Law is one such. With many conflicts ending with some form of poetic justice, the stories seem to advocate the idea of karmic balance.

The most remarkable aspect of Dhumketu’s craft is that it deflects attention from the craft itself, giving us an immersive reading experience. Ratno Dholi is a revelation: we hope that several other writers like Dhumketu, who are almost unknown to the English-speaking world, will soon be made available in translation.

The writer is the author of Painting That Red Circle White, a poetry collection.

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Printable version | Mar 3, 2021 1:44:22 AM |

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