Know Who is Geetanjali Shree: The First Booker Winner for any Indian Language
Who is Geetanjali Shree
Geetanjali Shree, also known as Geetanjali Pandey, is a Hindi novelist and short-story writer residing in New Delhi, India. She was born on June 12, 1957. She is the author of five novels and several short tales. In 2001, her novel ‘Mai’ was shortlisted for the Crossword Book Award, and Niyogi Books published an English translation by Nita Kumar in 2017. Her novel ‘Ret Samadhi’ (2018), which Daisy Rockwell translated into English as ‘Tomb of Sand’, won the International Booker Prize in April 2022. She has authored critical studies on Premchand in addition to fiction.
Early Life: Family and Education
Geetanjali was born in the Uttar Pradesh town of Mainpuri. Her family moved around Uttar Pradesh since her father, Anirudh Pandey, was a civil servant. Anirudh Pandey was a DM in Allahabad. Her mother’s name is Shree Kumari Pandey. She has two sisters, Jayanti Pandey and Gayatri Shukla, and one brother-Gyanendra Pandey who is a historian and writer. She asserts that her childhood in Uttar Pradesh, along with a paucity of English children’s books, gave her a strong attachment to Hindi. Her ancestors came from Gondaur village in the Ghazipur district.
She studied history at university. Lady Shri Ram College awarded her a BA and Jawaharlal Nehru University awarded her an MA. She became increasingly interested in Hindi literature after starting her PhD thesis on the writer Premchand at Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. During her PhD, she penned her first short tale and then moved on to poetry.
Her first story, “Bel Patra,” appeared in Hans in 1987, and was followed by Anugoonj, a collection of short stories (1991). Her novel Mai, which was translated into English, made her famous. The story follows three generations of women and the men in their lives in a North Indian middle-class family.
Mai has been dubbed in a number of languages, including Serbian and Korean. It was also translated into English by Nita Kumar, who won the Sahitya Akademi Translation Prize, and into Urdu by Bashir Unwan, with an introduction by Intizar Hussain. Annie Montaut’s French translation and Reinhold Schein’s German translation are two others.
The events of the Babri Masjid demolition are loosely depicted in Shree’s second novel, Hamara Shahar Us Baras. ‘Khali Jagah’ (2006), her fourth novel, has been translated into English (as The Empty Space) and French (as Une place vide) by Nivedita Menon and Nicola Pozza, respectively (by Georg Lechner and Nivedita Menon as I’m leeren Raum).
Alka Saraogi praised her fifth novel, Ret Samadhi (2018), for having “unique and unconstrained sweeping imagination and pure power of words. Daisy Rockwell’s ‘Tomb of Sand’ and Annie Montaut’s Au-delà de la frontière have been translated into English and French, respectively. ‘Tomb of Sand’ was awarded the International Booker Prize on May 26, 2022, making it the first book in Hindi and the first by an Indian author to do so.
Awards and Recognition
Geetanjali Shree is a fellow of the Ministry of Culture, India, and the Japan Foundation. She received the Indu Sharma Katha Samman award. She also works with Vivadi, a theatre company composed of writers, artists, dancers, and painters, and performs in theatre. Tomb of Sand was the first Hindi-language novel to be shortlisted for the International Booker Prize, and it won the prize the same year-2022. Some other awards are as follows:
- Krishna Baldev Vaid Sammaan(2014)
- Hindi Akademi Sahityakar Samman
- Dwijdev Samman
Interests Some of her favourite books are as follows:
- The Mahabharata
- Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian
- Maila Aanchal by Phanishwar Nath Renu
- Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
- Basti by Intizar Hussain
- Gora by Rabindranath Tagore
Apart from reading she also loves listening to music and her favourite singers are Mallikarjun Mansur, Amir Khan.
Some Lesser-Known Facts about Geetanjali Shree
- Geetanjali Shree, Indian novelist and short story writer, won the prestigious International Booker Prize in 2022 for her Hindi language novel ‘Ret Samadhi’ (2018) which was translated into English as ‘Tomb of Sand’ by Daisy Rockwell.
- Apart from being a Civil servant, her father was also a writer but he was against Shree writing in Hindi as he believed that writing in English would be more prosperous.
- During her days in Allahabad, UP she got the opportunity to interact with prolific Hindi and Urdu writers such as Firaq Gorukhpuri, Mahadevi Verma and Sumitranandan Pant.
- Panchtantra, Parag, Chandamama and Nandan were some pieces of Hindi literature that sparked her interest in Hindi literature.
- Geetanjali had prominent Indian writer Munshi Premchand’s grand daughter as a close friend and attributes her inclination toward literature to Munshi Premchand’s household.
- She took up teaching jobs at Jamia Millia Islamia and Zakir Hussain College in New Delhi but couldn’t continue as she had to deliver lectures in English but write her novels in Hindi. Her supportive husband asked her to become a full-time writer.
- She wrote her first story while traveling on a train with her husband to convince herself that she could become a writer.
- Her career was kickstarted by leading Hindi publishing house Rajkamal in the 1980s.
- In 1987, her short story was published in Hindi language prestigious literary magazine ‘Hans’ which was her first significant achievement.
- Her first collection of stories, Anugoonj, was published in 1991.
- Her debut novel was ‘Mai’ that brought her into the limelight. It was shortlisted for the Crossword Book Award in 2001.
- “No, I did not learn creative writing! Like an Indian! I learn on the job! And get better and better!” she said during an interview.
- Her other literary works are Agyey Kahani Sanchayan, Vairagya, and the Roof Beneath Their Feet.
- Since 1989, Geetanjali Shree has also been actively connected to a theatre group named ‘Vivadi’ that members writers, artists, dancers and painters.
“I never dreamt of the Booker, I never thought I could. What a huge recognition. I’m amazed, delighted, honoured and humbled.” Ms Shree said on winning the Booker. Geetanjali Shree brought India its first International Booker Prize in any Indian language which is a really proud moment for India and the Indian author community. This will surely give a much-needed boost to Hindi and Hindi writers along with other Indian languages.
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