Translator Daisy Rockwell talks about ‘Tomb of Sand’, first Hindi book to make International Booker’s shortlist

The funny, engaging and deeply original novel tells the story of an 80-year-old woman somewhere in northern India who has fallen into a deep depression after the death of her husband. Resigned to the world, she turns to the wall and almost becomes a part of it, without speaking, without moving and without answering even her dearest grandson.

In a world ruled by worldliness, it takes courage and an unrelenting sense of adventure to break the system, no longer relevant or even exciting, that has been in place for decades, if not centuries.

Hindi Novel 2019 by Geetanjali Shree Ret Samadhi is such a groundbreaking and genre-defying work that made this year’s International Booker Prize shortlist in the form of its English translation, sand tomb.

It is an atypical book from beginning to end. The sentences, its literary, narrative form, its prose, all of this is categorically unusual. It takes about 100 pages to really get into the rhythm of the novel and even then you have to dig your heels in to stay grounded.

The book, translated by Daisy Rockwell, is illegible. It must be imbibed, lived. He asks his reader to be in the quiet room like a graveyard, except for the faint snoring of a bundle in the bed. The book asks its reader to look out the window which opens onto a lush garden filled with soccer ball-sized chrysanthemums. The book asks its reader to walk, or hobble, with the protagonist who has decided to get up after months of facing a wall.

When first published in 2019 in Hindi, the book surprised critics and readers with its experimental style of storytelling. As difficult as it might have been, Rockwell kept the translation true to the original literature. She kept the atypical prose, the frantic puns, and the characters of the characters in it did not get lost in translation.

Translating the novel into an International Booker shortlisted book was no small task for Rockwell, who admitted it was a challenge.

“Experimental writing is very difficult to translate, and Ret Samadhi was no exception to this rule. The experimentation had many facets unique to Hindi and it was a challenge to convey that, but ultimately if the translator is in tune with the voice of the author, everything works out in the end,” she said. declared to Firstpost.

The book, which can be “quite difficult” for casual readers and even more difficult, in both languages, for readers “with inflexible notions of what a novel should be and how a story should be told”.

Ret Samadhi/Sand Grave seeks to break those norms that can make it difficult for some.

The funny, engaging and deeply original novel tells the story of an 80-year-old woman somewhere in northern India who has fallen into a deep depression after the death of her husband. Resigned to the world, she turns to the wall and almost becomes a part of it, without speaking, without moving and without answering even her dearest grandson.

And then one day, she gets up, unbeknownst to everyone in the house, and disappears into the early morning air. This turn of events leads to mass hysteria in the household as people start looking for the grandmother in the most unusual places, under the newspaper or duvet etc.

Throwing all caution and convention to the wind, Ma insists on traveling to Pakistan, befriends a transgender person, reveals what it means to be a mother, a daughter, a woman and a feminist.

Based on a tragic premise, the story however has a playful tone and exuberant wordplay.

“At the same time, it is an urgent and timely protest against the destructive impact on borders and boundaries, whether between religions, countries or gender,” reads the cover of the book.

With each female character having authority over her decision, choices, and opinions, this is a feminist novel at its core. If for Beti it’s about living life in his own way, it’s different for Ma. And quite different for Bahu. The strongest feminist character in history is a transgender person named Rosie.

“The goal of feminism being that each woman makes her own choices and rules her own world…Throughout Tomb of Sand she practices and preaches a philosophy of autonomy, self-determination and self-actualization for her -self and for Ma and Beti,” Roswell said.

This isn’t the first time Rosewell has translated a Hindi book into English since earning a doctorate in South Asian literature from the University of Chicago in 1998.

She has translated a number of books since then, starting in 2013, including three by Hindi author Upendranath Ashk, in addition to translating the timeless work of Bhisham Sahni. tamas, The women’s court and A promised land by Khadija Mastur.

She also translated Krishna Sobti’s book A Gujarat here, a Gujarat thereand Fifty-five pillars, red walls by Usha Priyamwada.

Other books by Krishna Sobti and Usha Priyamvada are in preparation for the translator, as well as an Urdu novel titled Nagari Nagari Phira Musafir by Nisar Aziz Butt.

Although she is passionate about translating iconic Hindi works by some of the legendary authors, she does not see it as a career option.

“I don’t really see it as a career, because very few people can live on the income of literary translation. Literary translation is a labor of love for most translators. It is different, of course, for some language pairs, but not in India. she says.

A translator’s ills don’t stop with a poor financial situation, they continue to add to the lack of recognition they receive for their work.

Even though translators and authors share a close bond, it is “an unfortunate tradition” that there is a significant gap in the recognition of the two.

“I think in times past translators were held in great esteem, but for some reason over the last century it has become fashionable to erase them, both literally from the covers of books, but also reviews, etc. translators’ names are not on book covers, readers do not know specific translators and do not buy books based on who translated them,” she said.

Rockwell insisted that if it became standard to have translators’ names on book covers, it would help readers find their favorite translators.

“…you will find that you have favorite translators and they have works, just like the authors. Think of your favorite translators as curators: if they’ve chosen a project, chances are it’s done well; writers will change and writing styles will be different, but the execution will be flawless,” she said.

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