The Openness of Literature

Geetanjali Shree at the Kalam Raipur session

Geetanjali Shree at the Kalam Raipur session

The International Booker-winning author talks to Prabha Khaitan Foundation about what made her express her thoughts in the form of writing

There is something new to learn every time Geetanjali Shree speaks. Thus, to hear more of what the renowned writer has to say, Prabha Khaitan Foundation organised a special Kalam session with the International Booker Prize winner in Raipur. Shree was in conversation with Aanchal Garcha, Ehsaas Woman of Raipur.

At the beginning of the conversation, Garcha asked Shree how she felt about her story attaining the exact form that she wanted. “A writer does not fully know how his or her creation will turn out,” replied Shree. “When this happens, they also get surprised, and it is a new feeling for them. Moreover, after getting their readers’ response, writers even begin to rediscover their own writings.”

Responding to a question about her novel, Ret Samadhi, the English translation of which won the International Booker, the author said that the book deals with the kind of plurality in which everything is related to everything else. “Whenever memory is involved in anything, that comes alive,” she said. “Take the examples of my forefather and teachers, and the chair on which I am sitting. Suppose my forefathers or my teachers had sat on this chair earlier, then my sitting on it establishes a connection between me and them. Then this chair is not just cloth or wood.” With such examples, Shree underlined that memory is associated with the thinking of plurality. She also said that the plural way of thinking is under threat. “Although the world is expanding in various ways, on the other hand, it has become very narrow as well,” she lamented. “I was full of such thoughts, and this forced me to express them in the form of literature. This process was joyful, but also painful.”

“A writer does not fully know how his or her creation will turn out.”

Ret Samadhi, Shree revealed, was first translated into French by renowned translator Annie Monto. “Later, a publication house from London contacted me for permission to translate the book to English translation. After I granted permission, Daisy Rockwell’s name came up.” Rockwell went on to do the English translation, Tomb of Sand, which went on to make history with its International Booker win. “I used to communicate with Daisy over email; we had never even met before the Booker Prize event!” exclaimed Shree.

What are Shree’s thoughts on the prestigious award and the taste of universal appeal? “Both of them have broadened my horizons, but I would not write only to have universal appeal,” said Shree. What about history and literature? “Both follow different protocols,” declared Shree. “When history grapples with a subject, it takes it to its destination. It gives you the whole story. In literature, on the other hand, questions are raised, directions are shown. But it is not necessary that you also get answers to the questions. This openness of literature is what attracts me.” After the talk, Shree answered questions from the audience regarding language and literature. The lively session was concluded with a vote of thanks delivered by Shrishti Trivedi, Ehsaas Woman of Raipur.

Kalam Raipur was supported by Shree Cement Limited as their CSR initiative in association with Courtyard by Marriott Raipur and with the support of Ehsaas Women of Raipur.