Arts & Entertainment

Triumph of Hindi, Spanish literature over English: Authors explain how

New Delhi, June 7 (EFE).- Indian writer Geetanjali Shree, this year’s winner of the International Booker Prize, and Guatemalan Eduardo Halfon say their mother tongues, Hindi and Spanish, had overpowered the “foreign” English language.

Shree and Halfon, the award-winning author of 14 Spanish and three English books, spoke Monday during a literary event in India at the Cervantes Institute in the Indian capital.

With the Hispanist Lipi Biswas Sen as a moderator in the Cervantes auditorium, Shree sitting next to her, and Halfon on a screen from Berlin, the two writers acknowledged that they had formal mastery of English.

“(The ideas) begin in my head in English because I’m still thinking in English when I write, but the words for some reason fall on the page in Spanish. There is this simultaneous translation in my head when I write, from English to Spanish,” said the Guatemalan writer, who moved to the United States with his parents at the age of 10.

When he returned to Guatemala 12 years later, he barely spoke Spanish, and that too with an accent, before gradually regaining proficiency in his mother tongue.

He said he began to write in Spanish “not because it was my mother tongue, but my childhood tongue,” from a time that he always returns to in his stories, even though he clarified that “there is a lot of English” in his Spanish.

“It’s inevitable. I don’t do it deliberately,” Halfon noted, reflected in the sentence structures, the use of commas, and adverbs.

For the Indian writer, who won the International Booker Prize in May for her “Tomb of Sand” (Ret Samadhi) in Hindi, the use of the language is “closely linked” to the history of India as a former British colony until its independence in 1947.

Her book became the first book originally written in Hindi to receive the award.

“In my case, Hindi and English, because of our colonial past, has a very skewed relationship. We have all grown up with English and our mother tongue (…) In our case it is more of a hotchpotch that we really have to untangle,” said Shree.

“In some sense, our history has taken away both languages from us,” she added.

She underlined that there was a mentality in India that if someone is fluent in English, they would prefer to write in English. Hence, many people were surprised that she chose Hindi over a “foreign language.”

“I have nothing against English, but I don’t like the hierarchy between the two languages. There is no reason for one to be considered superior and the other to be considered the language of the riff raff,” she stressed.

“Ultimately what we are writing is also all based on memory (…) When you try to recreate those memories, you need the language in which you smelt it, saw it, heard it. All those flavors were coming to me in Hindi. And quite automatically, Hindi became the natural choice,” Shree said.

She said purists would say her Hindi was not really Hindi, but the disadvantage of not knowing conventional Hindi served her well “because it freed me.”

“It gave me a freedom I would not have had if I had a traditional upbringing in Hindi. It made me adventurous, experimental, it made me borrow happily and easily, gave me a person with an eclectic tongue, and pluralistic, polyphonic vision,” she said. EFE


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