New Delhi, July 6
Propelled into the spotlight after her International Booker Prize win, author Geetanjali Shree says the public gaze is a huge adjustment but one she knows will fade away over time so she can get back to her cherished “quiet space”.
Shree won the award for her novel “Ret Samadhi”, which was translated into English as “Tomb of Sand” by American translator Daisy Rockwell. She is the first Hindi author to win the International Booker Prize.
“... This is not like a film star or cricketer that people will be chasing me always. It will settle down with time and I will find my quiet space once again. Both ways I will be happy. Yes, life has changed but one has to find the balance and find that space again to some extent. It is important,” the well-known Hindi author said on Tuesday evening at an event to celebrate her honour.
Asked how she plans to cope with the pressure of immense expectations from her future books, Shree was candid in her response. “I have never worried about my readership -- neither before nor now. So no pressure.” Life, the 65-year-old said, has changed with journalists across the world chasing her for interviews and her circle of friends and well-wishers expanding.
“I have been a very quiet person and to be in the public gaze suddenly is a huge adjustment for me... My circle of friends and well-wishers has increased incredibly in very few days. Old friends have resurfaced, new friends have emerged. I met some very nice people during this time,” Shree said while addressing a packed auditorium at the India Habitat Centre (IHC).
“So everyone enjoys attention, and I do too, but becoming too intrusive is when I start getting worried. I think I am learning to handle it. Before this I was very polite but now I can get politely rude also. I am hoping to not become rudely rude,” she said with a smile.
Set in north India, “Tomb of Sand” is the tale of 80-year-old Ma, who insists on travelling to Pakistan, simultaneously confronting the unresolved trauma of her teenage experiences of Partition, and re-evaluating what it means to be a mother, a daughter, a woman and a feminist.
On her storytelling method, often described as a 'tough' by readers, Shree borrowed a phrase from eminent Hindi poet Ashok Vajpayee who was also in the audience.
“'Sahitya koi samosa nahi hai muh mein daala aur gup kar liya (Literature is no samosa that you pop it in your mouth and it is digested). Returning to it again, trying to understand it again, or not understanding it is not a big problem.
“Literature is not about clarifying, it is about confounding. And I feel we should learn to enjoy that as well,” she explained.
Her other works include “Mai”, “Tirohit”, “Hamara Shahar Us Baras”, and “Khali Jagah”.
Talking about the unprecedented acclaim that has come her way, Shree said it would be wrong to be seen as hers alone and that she was just lucky to be the chosen one.
“My 'kriti' (work of art) has grown only because the land on which it was sown was fertile. There are many more such ‘kritis' available and it is time the gaze should move on to them,” she said.
Citing Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez, Shree said winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982 opened avenues for the then little-known South American and also for Latin American writings across the world.
“Soon people realised that there is not one Márquez and that the place is filled with people like him, and even better than him... The Booker has helped to get a spotlight on non-English South Asian languages that so far had not been in the purview of the so-called 'larger world',” she added.
The interaction was organised by production company Teamwork Arts and IHC's Indian language festival ILF Samanvay.
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