Tomb of Sand: Geetanjali Shree’s Hindi book translated by Daisy Rockwell marks the influence of Indian architectural verbatim on Western readers

The book by Hindi novelist Geetanjali Shree won the International Booker Prize 2022;  it captures the peculiarities of Indian vernacular architecture in its English translation by artist and author Daisy Rockwell.

Rockwell has visited India several times, hence she got the hang of the architectural eccentricities and vocabulary it contains,  her translations are enriching for a western reader.

The book seems like a travelogue in a way as it describes the fine details of what a street looks like, or the inside of a room, and you spend less time on story and character, because you’re setting up the scene so much.

When Daisy Rockwell first started studying Hindi as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, she had never visited India. Her first glimpse of the architecture of the subcontinent—with its cramped gullies, laundry-strewn balconies and clattering double-panelled doorways—came entirely through language, and she often had no point of reference for it in her native United States.

According to Rockwell, a subtle gesture or one-word description would be enough for a Western reader to pick up on this cultural difference.  “Many Indian architectural terms are challenging to translate without being overly descriptive, simply because they have no easy equivalent in the West. Rockwell points out the term “mundair”, which Hindi-English dictionaries will often translate as “parapet.”

In some cases, Rockwell decides to leave native words as they are: “gully” for instance, will often appear in its raw, jugular, untranslated form. “In old cities like Lahore and Jalandar, gullies are so narrow that you can rub your shoulders against both sides.

Readers who is likeky to chance upon “sunlight sifting  through an finely carved jharokha” for instance, have enough information to piece together a semblance of what’s going on, even if they’re not entirely familiar with the term.

It is a tribute to Rockwell’s prodigy as a translator that she recognizes how architectural spaces can influence the text in subliminal ways, even when they’re not an overt part of the plot.

Besides this  there is a number of other notable credits to her name, the other hindi books by Geentanjali Shree Ret Samadhi, Upendranath Ashk’s Falling Walls, Khadija Mastur’s, The Women’s Courtyard and Krishna Sobti’s final novel, A Gujarat Here, A Gujarat There.

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