The first time I heard of Ret Samadhi (रेत समाधि) was somewhere in my Twitter timeline where I read it had won the International Booker Prize. I never knew such a prize existed! So many wonderful authors of languages other than English that we never know of simply because they are not visible in our small, limited worlds. But when different worlds collide we discover things of beauty that enrich our lives.
I was a voracious reader in my childhood. I still am, albeit with much less time to devour books at speed. Of course all these are books in English. Apart from the chapters in Hindi and Marathi texts at school, I’ve never specifically bothered to read a book outside of that.
No actually, I did. In my thirties. Because I decided I wanted to, needed to, know the literature of India and, while I could not read all the languages, I should attempt books in the languages I was fluent in. So I read Premchand Ki Shresht Kanahiya (प्रेमचंद की श्रेष्ठ कहानियाँ), a collection of short stories, the first of which in that very old edition was Shatranj Ke Khiladi (शतरंज के खिलाड़ी) that Satyajit Ray adapted for his only Hindi film. It is one of my top ten films and better than the original short story.
But I really put effort in reading Marathi books. The first one was Mrutyunjaya (मृत्युंजय) by Shivaji Sawant [not Mrityunjaya, that is the Hindi pronunciation). It was hard at first. My brain had to get used to reading several pages at one time, pause over pronunciations, and learn new ways of thinking. Once I got the hang of it though, I could not put down the book. A masterpiece, it is.
Then I discovered Bhau Padhye. His Vasunaka (वासूनाका) resonated with me because it was like I knew those characters. The chawl, चाळ and the inhabitants were familiar to me because I grew up in Girgaon, the old Mumbai heartland of the Marathi manoos surrounded by chawls, the migrant workers from the Konkan, the bored eve-teasing boys, the secret affairs that everyone knows about, and the brawls. It was simple and deep writing. A reflection of the native Mumbaikar. After that I read Rada (राडा) about an industrialist’s spoilt son who challenges a Shiv Sena shakha pramookh (chapter chief). Balasaheb Thakeray, Shiv Sena chief, tried to block the publication notwithstanding it was a Marathi book by a Marathi writer. So much for the Sena’s nativist roots.
Which brings me to Ret Samadhi. When I came to know it has won the International Booker Prize I decided to read the original Hindi book first and then the English translation. I am lucky to be fluent in both. I started just like I had Mrutyunjaya. Slowy, word by word, page by page. My Hindi is a bit rusty but it is like riding a bicycle innit. And I am hooked. Stylistically it is unlike any other Indian book I have read (except perhaps The God Of Small Things). Sharp, incisive and very observant. It cuts down the patriarchal, the neoliberal aspirational, conservative upper middle class Hindu India that has forgotten history. And I am just 50 pages into it. The prose feels like poetry such that I felt as deep urge to record myself and share bits from the book.
So acknowledging Geetanjali Shree, the author, and her gift to the world, here is a paragraph about Reebok shoes. I’ll keep posting as I read only because I want to share how the book impacts me.