The making of a masterpiece

Grateful for the recognition, but literature is about the quiet and not the hype, says Author Geetanjali Shree.

Updated - March 20, 2023 07:49 pm IST

Published - February 10, 2023 06:09 pm IST

Venue TTK Auditorium, Music Academy, Chennai SEE MAP

Time & DateFeb 25 , 2023 , 12:40 pm - 01:30 pm

Geetanjali Shree is not a writer who is insulated from the world. She is present, rooted in reality, and simply has no time for pretence.“I am not imposing Hindi on you,” she says, as she begins reading the opening paragraph of her Hindi novel Ret Samadhi, to a packed auditorium that bursts into laughter, at The Hindu’s literary festival Lit for Life in Chennai. The English translation by Daisy Rockwell, Tomb of Sand (Penguin), won Geetanjali the International Booker Prize for 2022.

In a talk between her and Anita Ratnam, at the session, ‘The Making of a Masterpiece,’ she shares the genesis and the process of writing the book, reflects on celebrity status bestowed on her after the Booker, and reveals the “excruciating” process of translating her Hindi novel into English. “The Booker did not make me a writer. I’ve been writing for many years, belonging more to the Hindi world, and less-known to the international circles,” she says, as a matter of fact. Not enamoured by the fame, she says, “Literature is about quiet, not hype and celebrity. Ultimately, what has to sustain is the writing. Not the Booker or the awards.”

Her prizewinning book is rightfully credited with spotlighting the wealth of Indian literature in languages other than English, but to Geetanjali, it is not a competition. “Indian languages like Hindi are definitely having a moment. But we have to stop pitting literature in Indian English against literature in Indian languages. The world goes to what is easy to access, and that is English. So, it requires a lot of hard work and we need to put in a concerted effort to translate literature into many Indian languages, and not just English. So that we can understand each other in our own languages and not just via English. Let’s start there,” she says. 

About her collaboration with Daisy, she says, “Koi uparwala hain that things happened so nicely for this book and Daisy got attached to this book.” The process of translating, though, was excruciating for Geetanjali. As a writer, it is not very exciting to be questioned on every nuance, every usage of every word, and the context of it all, once the book has already been written. “Writing is an intuitive process. All this theorising of literature comes later,” she says.

The Hindu Lit for Life 2023 is powered by Life Insurance Corporation of India in association with Ajay Toothbrushes. The Associate Partners are NITTE Education Trust, Hindustan Group of Institutions, State Bank of India, Sai University, and Vivek’s. Jewellery Partner: Joyalukkas. The Mobility Partner is Hyundai, Banking Partner is Indian Bank Realty, the Author Lounge Partner is VFS Global, the Realty Partner is Casagrand, the Knowledge Partner is SSVM Institutions, the Bookstore Partner is Higginbothams, the Gift Partner is Anand Prakash, and the Water Partner is Repute.

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