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Tomb of Sand by Geetanjai Shree

Tomb of Sand by Geetanjai Shree - Challenging Stereotypes And Borders

by Meghna Chatterjee

Anything worth doing transcends borders.

Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree (Ret Samadhi) is a 2018 Hindi language fictional novel that has been translated into English by Daisy Rockwell. Described as an unrivaled literary masterpiece by many, it is the first-ever book in an Indian language to win an International Booker Prize (2022) for fiction translated into English. Its translated version has been published by Tilted Axis in the UK, by Penguin in India, and will be released by Harper Collins in the USA this winter.

Don’t you think youth comes at the wrong time? When we haven’t lived at all. It comes and then it’s gone, and we don’t even notice.”

Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree

Written by Geetanjali Shree and later on translated by Daisy Rockwell, the heartfelt story narrates the life of an 80-year-old rebellious woman who crosses borders to confront an uncomfortable past while challenging stereotypes during her enlightening journey.

Add to wishlist: Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree

Shree weaves a moving story, dealing with the themes of death, grief, and trauma that instigates anxiety and depression, in a meaningful way while also not letting the heaviness of the plot affect readers with her funny and playful tone.

Once you’ve got women and a border, a story can write itself. Even women on their own are enough. Women are stories in themselves, full of stirrings and whisperings that float on the wind, that bend with each blade of grass.”

In northern India, Ma, an 80-year-old woman falls into depression after her husband dies. She then spends several days of her life in practical isolation by turning her back on the world and stubbornly confined in her grief of separation.

Neither friends nor family can persuade her out of this state that remains the same for more than 170 pages until Ma decides to emerge with the wonder, perspective, and adventurous nature of an adolescent–with a twist.

One fine day, she suddenly disappears, which brings panic to the household. Bade and Bahu (son and daughter-in-law, respectively) are panicked to their very bones; however, they are soon relieved when they find Ma at the police station, albeit in an oddly changed state. They decide that Ma will live with them and be cared for once Bade moves to his official residence after retiring from auspicious government service.

Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree

Add to cart: Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree

But it seems that the 2.0 Ma has other plans. She decides to go with her self-claimed bohemian Beti (daughter). And we see the end of the first part.

No one noticed when the leaves changed the season of the heart yet again.

As the feminist of the family who is divorced and spends her time with her current boyfriend (KK) when he is not traveling, Beti welcomes Ma in her modern furnished flat.

However, as the second part unfolds, we see Beti finding her world upending with Ma’s fortifying bond with Rosie Bau (Ma’s transgender friend) as she slips into several layers of suffocation and her world starts to fall apart.

On the other side, Bade is looking to cut down his aimless post-retirement period while Bahu is conflicted in two options: whether to seek an individual expression or be concerned regarding the expectations of her place and her family in the society.

While one side gets lamented under layers of obstruction, Ma on the other hand sheds hers. She breaks through the shackles that society has put on her as a woman, as an elderly widow.

Thus, with Ma’s enlightening transformation, we enter the third part–the most reckoned partition literature. And, Ma decides to go with Beti to revisit the 1947 partition.

But the sum total of the thing is this: life is life and death is death, and what is dead is dead, and gone is gone, and busy is busy. The gist being that if great beings and treasures and memories depart, never to return, what happens to ordinary everyday items? Nothing.”

What is awaiting them in that uncomfortable past where memories are blurry yet painfully fresh at the same time?

What are they going to encounter beyond the borders of India-Pakistan?

Read on to know the journey of a woman who defies all stigmas and stereotypes that society had once put on her, be it gender, class, or religion.

Add to wishlist: Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree

Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree

Comments on Tomb Of Stone:

  • In the novel, most of the burgeoning cast have a given name (like the servants, officials, and Ma’s transgender friend) rather than the family, except the eldest son (Siddharth or Sid). The rest are addressed as Bade, Bahu, Beti, etc.
  • A subtle detail but it showcases that the family’s core lies in prizing as well as testing their self-identities (In fact, Ma, our protagonist, itself is a designation rather than a proper name).
  • Another very imperative point to note is that Ma was previously (before her husband died and a transformation came) a typical matriarch of the family. Her transformation can be indeed called ‘exuberant’ as the novel’s wordplay happens realistically in various stages.

(Daisy Rockwell also does a commendable job in identifying the spirit and energy of the novel for translating it to the best of her abilities without missing out on its essence in between translated texts!)

Also Read: Books in Translation or Lost In Translation?

  • Rosie Bau is a lovable character. Ma’s transformation can also be accredited to Rosie’s contribution to the story who herself breaks the stereotype of Hijra in the society who are known to earn through begging or sex work.
  • And Rosie’s independence paired with her influence over Ma threatens the three views of Beti who is stigmatic about Rosie as a transgender and is quite obsessed with Rosie’s ‘topsy-turvy’ body (clearly explains the presumptuous hipness of Beti).

In the end, although the story has been judged as a ‘loud and irresistible’ book, the mere heart of the plot lies in its peaceful pace.

Now, should you read it?

Well, if you do not like a novel that is a feast for eyes, mind, heart, and practically all parts of the body, you may happily ignore this gem for spending the rest of the days in guilt. Cheers.

That which is torn develops an increased capacity for insight and forbearance. A capacity to experience sensations that escape the notice of others.

Still haven't finished your fill with Geetanjali Shree? How about checking out more books by her!

Add to cart: Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree

~ Phir milte hai, dumplings!

- Meghna Chatterjee

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