Tomb of Sand, by Geetanjali Shree (2021)
(UK cover spread)
(Indian cover spread, cover image by Daisy Rockwell)
Winner of an English Pen Award
LONGLISTED FOR THE INTERNATIONAL BOOKER PRIZE 2022
In northern India, an eighty-year-old woman slips into a deep depression after the death of her husband, and then resurfaces to gain a new lease on life. Her determination to fly in the face of convention – including striking up a friendship with a transgender person – confuses her bohemian daughter, who is used to thinking of herself as the more ‘modern’ of the two.
To her family’s consternation, Ma insists on travelling to Pakistan, simultaneously confronting the unresolved trauma of her teenage experiences of Partition, and re-evaluating what it means to be a mother, a daughter, a woman, a feminist.
Rather than respond to tragedy with seriousness, Geetanjali Shree’s playful tone and exuberant wordplay results in a book that is engaging, funny, and utterly original, at the same time as being an urgent and timely protest against the destructive impact of borders and boundaries, whether between religions, countries, or genders.
Fifty-five Pillars, Red Walls, by Usha Priyamvada (2021)
First published in 1961, Usha Priyamvada’s debut novel Pachpan Khambe, Laal Deewaarein is located within the boundaries of an all-women’s college in Delhi. Behind its walls is Sushma Sharma?lecturer, warden, single, and sole provider for her large family. Despite her relative youth and elegance, she is resigned to the regimented loneliness of her life, until a chance meeting with the charismatic Neel. Then, long-thwarted desires uncurl and the shackles she has accepted suddenly begin to seem unbearable. But the world around her is still unchanged, and independence still causes scandal?
In spare, evocative prose, Fifty-five Pillars, Red Walls skilfully explores the physical, mental and social paradigms which locked so many women into narrow ideals, as they still do. Daisy Rockwell’s pitch-perfect translation brings this quietly intense, poignant and pathbreaking Hindi novel into the blazing spotlight of classic Indian literature for the first time.
All these memories came flooding as I held a mint-fresh copy of the novel, which has been brilliantly translated into English by Daisy Rockwell, in my hands. I stayed awake all night as I read this well-told story, chronicling the dreams and disappointments of the ill-fated love affair of Sushma and Neel set in the vintage Delhi of the 60s.
—Nirupama Dutt | Hindustan Times
The book deserves accolades for the foresightedness of its author, Usha Priyamvada who upheld a question that was not cut out of the usual feministic wailings a prevalent inclination in her contemporary writings, despite it being essentially a women-centric narrative.
—Sukanya Saha | Muse India
A Promised Land, by Khadija Mastur (2019)
In the wake of the Partition, a new country is born. As millions of refugees pour into Pakistan, swept up in a welter of chaos and deprivation, Sajidah and her father find their way to the Walton refugee camp, uncertain of their future in what is to become their new home.
Sajidah longs to be reunited with her beloved Salahuddin, but her journey out of the camp takes an altogether unforeseen route. Drawn into the lives of another family—refugees like herself—she is wary of its men, particularly Nazim, the eldest son whose gaze lingers over her. But it is the women of the household whose lives and choices will transform her the most: the passionately beseeching Saleema, her domineering mother Khala Bi, the kind but forlorn Amma Bi, and the feisty young housemaid Taji.
With subtlety and insight, Khadija Mastur conjures a dynamic portrait of spirited women whose lives are wrought by tragedy and trial even as they cling defiantly to the promise of a better future.
A Gujarat here, a Gujarat there, by Krishna Sobti (Penguin India, 2019)
WINNER OF MLA’S ALDO AND JEANNE SCAGLIONE PRIZE FOR A TRANSLATION OF A LITERARY WORK
A powerful feminist novel of the aftermath of the Partition by a legend of Hindi literature
Delhi, 1947. The city surges with Partition refugees. Eager to escape the welter of pain and confusion that surrounds her, young Krishna applies on a whim to a position at a preschool in the princely state of Sirohi, itself on the cusp of transitioning into the republic of India. She is greeted on arrival with condescension for her refugee status, and treated with sexist disdain by Zutshi Sahib, the man charged with hiring for the position. Undaunted, Krishna fights back. But when an opportunity to become governess to the child maharaja Tej Singh Bahadur presents itself—and with it a chance to make Sirohi her new home once and for all—there is no telling how long this idyll will last.
Part novel, part memoir, part feminist anthem, A Gujarat Here, A Gujarat There is not only a powerful tale of Partition loss and dislocation but also charts the odyssey of a spirited young woman determined to build a new identity for herself on her own terms.
“In scintillatingly rich and poetic language, the semiautobiographical novel A Gujarat Here, a Gujarat There portrays the human dimensions of the partition of India in 1947 and the complex questions about belonging that it provoked as entire provinces, populations, and kingdoms were rearranged and incorporated into new political structures. In this translation, Daisy Rockwell has reflected the complex linguistic layering of the original, especially the influence of Gujarati and Punjabi on the Hindi of the author, Krishna Sobti, which reveals much about the characters’ shifting identities. Skillfully navigating the novel’s complex shifts in tense, perspective, and persona, Rockwell’s nuanced translation presents us with a much-needed modernist masterpiece about one woman living through a defining, fractious moment in world history and forging a new identity.” —Scaglione Prize selection committee
In the City a Mirror Wandering, by Upendranath Ashk
(Penguin India, 2019)
Unfolding over the course of a single day, Ashk’s sweeping sequel to Falling Walls explores the inner struggles of Chetan, an aspiring young writer, as he roams the labyrinthine streets of 1930s’ Jalandhar, haunted by his thwarted ambitions but intent on fulfilling his dreams.
Smarting from his recent failures in Lahore and Shimla, Chetan is faced with the prospect of taking up a dead-end job. To make matters worse, he is married to a woman he does not love and is pining for another man’s wife. Constrained by his circumstances, wracked with remorse and regret, he desperately seeks a way out of his myriad problems. And as he trudges around Jalandhar, constantly running into people he’d rather avoid, Chetan finds himself confronting the tangled memories, frailties and fears that assail him.
Intensely poignant and vividly evocative, In the City a Mirror Wandering is an exploration of not only a dynamic, bustling city but also the rich tapestry of human emotion that consumes us all.
The Women’s Courtyard, by Khadija Mastur (2018)
Aliya lives a life confined to the inner courtyard of her home with her older sister and irritable mother, while the men of the family throw themselves into the political movements of the day. She is tormented by the petty squabbles of the household and dreams of educating herself and venturing into the wider world. But Aliya must endure many trials before she achieves her goals, though at what personal cost?
Set in the 1940s, with Partition looming on the horizon, The Women’s Courtyard cleverly brings into focus the claustrophobic lives of women whose entire existence was circumscribed by the four walls of their homes, and for whom the outside world remained an inaccessible dream. Daisy Rockwell’s elegant and nuanced translation captures the poignance and power of Khadija Mastur’s inimitable voice.
“Rockwell’s translation is superbly judged. Her English renders the spareness of Mastur’s Urdu, the efficiency of her physical descriptions, and the devastating concision with which she handles tragedy. This is a retranslation — a common and necesary practice, but too rare in India. Retranslation is necessary not only because existing translations may be inadequate, but also because there is no one way to best translate a work. Rockwell is a literary scholar as well as translator, and her Afterword is essential reading, both as an analysis of The Women’s Courtyard and as an explanation of her motives and methods.”
–Keshava Guha, The Hindu
Tamas, by Bhisham Sahni (2016)
Nilanjana Roy, Business Standard
‘Tamas is a prophetic warning against the use of religion as a weapon to gain and perpetuate political power’
In a city in undivided Punjab, Nathu, a tanner, is bribed to kill a pig. When the animal’s carcass is discovered on the steps of the local mosque the next morning, simmering tensions explode into an orgy of bloodlust. But in the midst of the ensuing carnage, despite the darkness of the times, rare moments of unexpected friendship and love also surface.
Winner of the Sahitya Aakdemi Award, Sahni’s iconic novel about the Partition of India tells the tale of an unfolding riot from different vantage points. In Daisy Rockwell’s definitive translation, this magnificent work comes vividly to life.
‘Tamas drove the point home that ordinary people want to live in peace’ Guardian
Falling Walls, by Upendranath Ashk (Penguin India, 2015)
A young man from Jalandhar longs to become a writer but fails at every turn. Upendranath Ashk’s 1947 novel explores in great detail the trials and tribulations of Chetan. From the back galis of Lahore and Jalandhar to Shimla’s Scandal Point, Falling Walls offers a rich and intimate portrait of lower-middle-class life in the 1930s and the hurdles an aspiring writer must overcome to fulfil his ambitions.”
Jai Arjun Singh for Open Magazine: “Falling Walls – completed by Daisy Rockwell 20 years after she began it – is not just one of the year’s publishing events, it is a terrific, deeply engrossing read too.”
Nilanjana Roy for Business Standard: “Daisy Rockwell’s translation is superb, because it is so unobtrusive. The flavour of Ashk’s Hindi comes through behind the form of the English words, setting this classic free to reach an even larger audience than before.”
Asif Farrukhi, for Dawn: “I have always wondered why this magnificent novel has been overlooked by readers and critics who complain about the paucity of good novels, but whichever language you read it in, Girti Deewarain will not fail to impress. It is as if an entire microcosm of old town lanes, teeming with people of all kinds suddenly comes alive.”
Rakhshanda Jalil for The Wire: “Despite all its minutiae of time and circumstance, all the explicit details one young man’s life, his trials and tribulations, his intellectual and sexual urges, his marriage to a dowdy young woman he doesn’t especially care for somewhere, Falling Walls somehow becomes compelling reading simply because it transcends the personal and particular. In its slow unfurling of a mind looking to expand its horizon, in its insistent exploration of the darkest recesses of the human heart it no longer remains just the story of one young man.”
Chandrahas Chowdhury for Livemint: “Ashk is one of the realist Hindi novel’s holy trinity alongside Munshi Premchand and Yashpal. This series was his great novelistic project: the story of five years in the life of a highly sensitive young man that he hoped would also become a portrait of the age.”
Hats and Doctors, Stories by Upendranath Ashk (Penguin India, 2013)
Hats and Doctors offers English readers the opportunity to savour, for the first time, the work of Upendranath Ashk, one of Hindi literature’s best-known and most controversial authors. The stories in this collection often display a wry sense of humour, such as ‘The Dal Eaters’ in which a family of cheapskates journeys to Kashmir. While Ashk’s satirical eye is employed to great effect in ‘The Cartoon Hero’, where a hapless traveller encounters a petty politician on a train, his talent for capturing human frailties is amply evident in ‘Furlough’ and ‘In the Insane Asylum’—two thought-provoking stories that later became part of his novel Girti Divarein. And finally, stories such as ‘Mr Ghatpande’ and ‘Hats and Doctors’ give the reader a glimpse of some of Ashk’s primary personal preoccupations: his health and his hats. Exhibiting a lightness of touch and a deep engagement with the human condition, these stories come alive in Daisy Rockwell’s delightful translation.
(Alphabetical, by author)
Dabral, Mangalesh, Seven Poems in Sangam House, February 2017. http://poetry.sangamhouse.org/2017/02/mangalesh-dabral/
Mishra, Avinash, “Four Untranslatable Poems on Hindi Orthography.” inTranslation, Web. December 2016. http://intranslation.brooklynrail.org/hindi/four-untranslatable-poems-on-hindi-orthography
Shree, Shubham, “Poetry Management.” Chapati Mystery. Web. August 8, 2016. http://www.chapatimystery.com/archives/optical_character_recognition/poetry_management.html
Shree, Shubham, Three Poems. Asymptote. Web. Winter 2017. http://www.asymptotejournal.com/special-feature/shubham-shree-three-poems/ (two of these also featured in the Guardian’s Translation Tuesdays: https://www.theguardian.com/books/translation-tuesdays-by-asymptote-journal/2017/jan/17/translation-tuesday-two-poems-by-shubham-shree)
Selected Short Stories
“Before Crossing the Street.” InTranslation/Brooklyn Rail. Web. July, 2017. http://intranslation.brooklynrail.org/urdu/before-crossing-the-street
“The Chameleon’s Game.” Out of Print Mag. Web. September, 2017. (http://outofprintmagazine.co.in/archive/sept_2017_issue/azra-abbas_the-chameleons-game_art.html)
“The Soaking of Sardar Jagdish Singh,” By Upendranath Ashk (Papercuts Magazine)
“Furlough“, by Upendranath Ashk (in Pratilipi)
“Hats and Doctors”, by Upendranath Ashk (in Caravan)
“The Bed“, by Upendranath Ashk (in Spolia Mag)
“Thus, the Tale of Miss Tapna,” by Arun Prakash (in Out of Print Magazine)
“Among the Hunters,” by Shrilal Shukla (in Out of Print)
“Interview with a Defeated Leader,” by Shrilal Shukla (in Outlook)