Age: 65 Years
Hometown: New Delhi, India
Education: Masters In Modern Indian History
Some Lesser Known Facts About Geetanjali Shree
- Geetanjali Shree is an Indian novelist and short-story writer who is popular for her Hindi-language novel ‘Ret Samadhi’ (2018), which was translated into English as ‘Tomb of Sand’ by Daisy Rockwell. In 2022, ‘Tomb of Sand’ won the prestigious International Booker Prize.
- Geetanjali Shree grew up in the eastern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, where her father was posted as a civil servant. Although she received her education in the local English-medium schools of UP, Shree’s family and surroundings saturated her in the Hindi Language.
- Apart from being a Civil servant, her father was also a writer.
- Growing up in Allahabad, UP, she had the chance to interact with prolific Hindi and Urdu writers like Sumitranandan Pant, Firaq Gorakhpuri, and Mahadevi Verma.
- A voracious reader since childhood, she developed an interest in Hindi literature by reading novels like Panchatantra, Chandamama, Parag, and Nandan.
- Celebrated Indian writer Munshi Premchand’s granddaughter was a close friend of Geetanjali Shree. She attributes her inclination toward literature to Munshi Premchand’s household. In an interview, Geetanjali said,
My very close friendship with Munshi Premchand’s granddaughter and close links from my childhood on with her entire family, I think, played a very positive role in sensitising me to ‘culture’. Theirs was a household full of practitioners and learners of Indian music and literature.”
- To pursue her higher education, she moved to Dehli. Although she felt the tug toward Hindi literature from the beginning, in the absence of formal Hindi education, History became a viable option for her.
- Her first forayed into Hindi literature while pursuing PhD in Munshi Premchand’s literary work when she converted her compilation of work into a book.
- In the 1980s, her career was kickstarted by the leading Hindi publishing house, Rajkamal, which was then headed by Sheela Sandhu.
- She emerged as a short-story writer in 1987 with ‘Bel Patra,’ featured in the Hindi-language prestigious literary magazine ‘Hans.’
- In 1991, she published her first collection of short stories ‘Anugoonj.’
- Geetanjali Hindi adaptation of the Chinese play Lao Jiu: The Ninth Born, by Kuo Pao Kun, was staged at the New National Theatre, Tokyo, where three different plays by Kuo Pao Kun were performed by groups from Japan, India and Indonesia.
- While listing the wide variety of literary works that she has read over the years in an interview, she said,
Reading was a major pastime. Very haphazard though it was. Lots of the Russian greats, the Victorian women greats, French classics, an odd Knut Hamson here, a Max Havelaar there, later Calvino, Kafka, Kundera, Latin American literature, Japanese literature, Indian writers of Bengal, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, and Hindi writers upto my own times, like Krishna Sobti, Nirmal Verma, Shrilal Shukla, Vinod Kumar Shukla, etc..”
- She came into the limelight with her debut novel, Mai, whose English translation was shortlisted for the Crossword Book Award in 2001. The novel was translated into English by Nita Kumar, who went on to earn Sahitya Akademi Translation Prize for it. Published by Kali for Women, the novel gives readers a sneak peek into the life and consciousness of women of three generations and of the men around them, in a North Indian middle-class family. Mai has been translated into several languages including Serbian, Urdu, French, German, and Korean.
- In an interview, she revealed that she never learnt creative writing. She said,
No, I did not learn creative writing!…Like an Indian! I learn on the job! And get better and better!”
- Her second novel, Hamara Shahar Us Baras, centres around the time Ayodhya was plagued by communal violence in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition.
- In 2006, she published the novel Khālī jagah, which focuses on the topics like violence, loss, and the quest for identity in the contemporary world. Its French translation is titled ‘Une place vide’ (2018) and its English translation is called ‘The Empty Space’ (2011).
- While talking about her fondness for music in an interview, she said,
I love Hindustani music and listen to it most of the time. Mallikarjun Mansur and Amir Khan are my favourites. My collection could make a connoisseur jealous!”
- In 2018, she authored the Hindi-language novel ‘Ret Samadhi,’ which talks about the destructive impact of borders between religions, countries, and genders. The novel humorously presents the journey of an 80-year-old Indian woman to Pakistan after her husband’s death.
- She gained international recognition for the novel ‘Tomb of Sand,’ which is the English translation of her novel Ret Samadhi (2018). The novel was translated into English by Daisy Rockwell.
- On 26 April 2022, Tomb of Sand won the International Booker Prize, becoming the first Indian book to receive the accolade. Geetanjali and Daisy received 50,000 pounds literary prize, which they split evenly.
- She also has the credits of various academic publications under her belt which includes Premchand and Industrialism: A Study in Attitudinal Ambivalence”, featured in the journal The Indian Economic and Social History in 1982, “Premchand and the Peasantry: Constrained Radicalism,” featured in the journal Economic and Political Weekly in 1983, and “The North Indian Intelligentsia and the Hindu-Muslim Question” featured in Journal of Regional History 1993.
- In 2001, she authored the novel ‘Tirohit.’
- She has been a fellow of the Ministry of Culture, India, and Japan Foundation.
- Her other literary works include Agyey Kahani Sanchayan, Vairagya, and The Roof Beneath Their Feet.
- In an interview, she revealed that she has an unfinished book titled ‘The Name of the Rose.’
- Apart from writing, Geetanjali Shree has also been actively associated with theatre. The origin of her association with theatre can be traced down to the year 1989 with a theatre group called Vivadi, which comprised writers, artists, dancers, and painters.
- She is also known for the adaptation of Rabindranath Tagore’s Gora, the longest of Tagore’s twelve novels, into a theatrical production. Another Tagore’s novel which she adapted into a theatrical production is ‘Ghare Baire,’ which was staged at the Kamani Auditorium in New Delhi.
- Thereafter, she penned the play, Nayika Bheda, which was staged at the Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai.
- One of her most successful scripts is the adaptation of ‘Umrao Jaan Ada,’ an Urdu classic novel by Mirza Hadi Ruswa, which narrates the life of a courtesan. Geetanjali Shree’s adaptation reversed the male vision of the original novel and attempted to give a radical feminist reading of the text. The theatrical adaptation was first staged at the Shriram Centre in December 1993. Immensely appreciated the play was later staged numerous times in Delhi, Bombay, and Kolkata. It was also filmed to telecast on TV. An English translation of her adaptation of ‘Umrao Jaan Ada’ was performed by a group called Rasik Arts at Tarragon Theatre in Toronto.
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