It's the triumph of the translator: Daisy Rockwell has done a remarkable job

Read the English translation first and then go back to the original Hindi novel 'Ret Samadhi' by Geetanjali Shree, advises Rohini Kumar while raising a toast to Daisy Rockwell

It's the triumph of the translator: Daisy Rockwell has done a remarkable job

Rohini Kumar

When you read Daisy Rockwell’s translation of Geetanjali Shree’s ‘Tomb of Sand’, nowhere will you feel that it’s a translation, it’s a new work in itself.

I think I liked reading the book in translation a little too much. It is beautifully crafted, it is anti-establishment, anti-patriarchy and has finely shown how patriarchy affects a woman. What was most interesting was how it portrays a woman in her 80s, finally liberating herself, freeing herself from society’s expectations. It shows the pain of Partition, in a different sense this time, since it’s not about violence, but about a woman going back to meet her lover, her first husband whom she had to keep a secret in her heart all those years.

I’ve read a few pages of the original Hindi text as well, and I realised how many different techniques of translation Rockwell used. She hasn’t done a literal translation, but a literary translation of the content, the running emotions, and the book itself. I personally would recommend people to read the translation first, and then the Hindi version, because I believe the reader will find it more interesting then.

What I sincerely hope is that ‘Tomb of Sand’ brings about a change for translators. I hope people start giving translators the same weightage and respect as writers. As a translator myself, I feel it’s tougher to translate. When you’re writing, you have your own thoughts and ideas and there’s no external force affecting you. But when you translate, you have to keep your own understanding of the text aside and do justice to what the author has written. That said, Daisy Rockwell has done a phenomenal job. It shows that she has a good command over Hindi, the culture, time, place, periphery and our history as well.

There’s a totally unnecessary controversy going on with many people saying that ‘Ret Samadhi’ is an “unreadable” book, which is something I don’t understand. You can criticise the book, have discussions about it, but how can you label a book “unreadable”? And that too at a time when it has just won an international award and is being hailed across the world as a fine representation of our literature?

The book is not written in the “regular” language and it doesn’t follow the grammatical order of Hindi, but that’s the craft of the writer. So, it’s a little complicated, and might take time to grow on people, and I truly believe that good things take time.

There could be another reason for controversies like this. Geetanjali Shree is not as accessible to readers as several other authors, and she is not on social media. She doesn’t seem to hard sell her books and promote them like others do. A writer recently said that it could also be because Geetanjali Shree is a woman, or because people accuse her of being elitist in her stories, and can’t connect with her. But none of that can be used against her to discredit her work.

(As told to Garima Sadhwani)

(Rohini Kumar teaches at Jamia Millia Islamia and has translated books from Korean to English and English)

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