International Booker Prize to Geetanjali Shree boosts confidence of Indian-language writers

Geetanjali Shree has become the first Indian writer to win the International Booker Prize, awarded for a book translated into English and published in the UK or Ireland.

His novel – ‘Tomb of Sand’ – an English translation of his Hindi novel ‘Ret Samadhi’ winning the coveted prize has certainly excited Indian language authors who believe that recognition of the translated work is recognition of the richness of the literary tradition in the Indian languages. It’s a sentiment shared by the winner as well, as Shree said: “Behind me and this book lies a rich and thriving literary tradition in Hindi and other South Asian languages. World literature will be all the richer to know some of the best writers in these languages.

Shree’s 725-page novel translated by American Daisy Rockwell is a family saga that chronicles the partition of India. And it is nativity in content and style that distinguishes Indian-language literature from the works of Indian English writers, experts say.

While India has several writers writing in English, translations from Hindi, as well as Indian-language books into English, have only accelerated in recent years. To name a few, “Ghachar Ghochar” by Vivek Shanbhag (translated by Srinath Perur), “No Presents Please” by Jayant Kaikini (translated by Tejaswini Niranjana) and “Moustache” by S. Hareesh (translated by Jayasree Kalathil) won awards.

“IBP is an important award because I believe it will bring more attention to the Indian literary world. When our work is known outside our language, it is not just the title or the writer that is recognized, but our tradition, our aesthetic, our language culture and a different worldview,” said Kannada writer Vivek Shanbhag, which is the first translated work “Ghachar Ghochar.”’ was included by The New York Times in its list of the best books of 2017 and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the International Dublin Literary Award.

“This award has boosted the confidence of Indian language writers. I hope every year our Indian books will be on the shortlist. This news delights me as I eagerly await my book now. The IBP is an acknowledgment of not only Mrs. Geetanjali Shree’s novel but also Indian language books. But few vernacular Indian writers have published in the UK (England or Ireland). In Karnataka, only a few writers have published their books in UK. With the exception of Jayant Kaikini, Vivek Shanbhag and UR Ananthamurthy (Samskara), no other writer has published his book in the UK,” said Kannada writer Vasudhendra, whose hugely popular Kannada title – “Tejo Tungabhadra” is being translated into English and is likely to be released in September.

Maithreyi Karnoor, author of Sylvia: Distant Avuncular Ends (Tranquebar 2021) and translator of ‘A Handful of Sesame’ and ‘Tejo Tungabhadra’ (forthcoming) hopes the award will act as a catalyst and spark interest in the literary work Indian in the world.

“Back when the International Booker Prize was given to authors for lifetime achievement rather than a title, UR Ananthamurthy nearly won it in 2013. Today, history is made with the first Indian novel in an Indian language winning the coveted prize. Ideally, this should result in a greater interest in the literature of Indian languages. And God knows it’s time! “said Karnoor.

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