A Gujarat Here, a Gujarat There by Krishna Sobti, Translated by Daisy Rockwell
Published by: Penguin Hamish Hamilton/Penguin India
Literary Fiction, 243p
Rating: 4/5 stars
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
About the author:
Krishna Sobti was a fiction writer and essayist. She won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1980 for her novel Zindaginama and in 1996, was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship. In 2017, she received the Jnanpith Award for her contribution to Indian literature. She was also the recipient of the first Katha Chudamani Award, in 1999, for Lifetime Literary Achievement, apart from winning the Shiromani Award in 1981.
What a lovely co incidence that my first time reading of literary stalwart Krishna Sobti’s writing happens to be the last novel she wrote before she passed away. ‘A Gujarat Here, A Gujarat There’ is part memoir; part memory embellished narrative written decades after the events, moments and thoughts associated with the past are recollected at the author’s autumn: all of which makes me wonder over just how much of her memories would have to be processed and filtered. After all, our recollections are often seen in the shadow of our present placement, even as the past is part of our present.
This book takes readers to the time when Sobti in her early twenties applies for the post of teacher at a preschool in Sirohi, a princely state caught between the remains of its former royal glory and an uncertain nation that could end up putting it in either Gujarat or Rajashthan. Sobti’s own recent past experiences of growing in Gujarat in what would later become Pakistan, studying in Lahore and then having to hear and experience the horrors of partition to fleeing her home to cross over to India, trying to find roots as a refugee are recurring motifs in this remarkable book. The name of the book in fact denotes the two Gujarat (s) so to say, one in Pakistan and the other in India and charts the flow of events that brings her from one to the other and how it has left behind close friends and family.
This is not to say that it is full of grief and pain for there is the powerful story of a young woman finding her feet, mindful of the politics played out by people when she is asked to apply for the post of Governess for the minor prince of Sirohi. Her relations with the royal women is one of respect and ally ship, her tender connection with the young prince is a mix of tenderness and the careful mentoring of a young ward who is weighed down at times by the world of the adults around him. The writing is tinged with nostalgia over friendships and family ties but also melancholy and despair over the hardships that partition brought. Overall, it is a powerful memoir that is evocative of the moods and the settings the author finds herself in. The translation flows: it does not strip every original word and turns it into a close enough English word which keeps the lyrical at times, sharp as a knife like quality of the author intact.