Book Review : Ratno Dholi - The Best Stories of Dhumketu by Jenny Bhatt

 

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  • ISBN-13 : 978-9390327782 
  • Genre: Fiction, Anthology Short Stories, Translated Literature, Contemporary Fiction
  • Publisher : Harper Collins India
  • Price: INR 399/-

Book Blurb


The tragic love story of a village drummer and his dancer lover... 
A long-awaited letter that arrives too late... 
A tea-house near Darjeeling, run by a mysterious queen... 

When Dhumketu's first collection of short stories, Tankha, came out in 1926, it revolutionized the genre in India. Characterized by a fine sensitivity, deep humanism, perceptive observation and an intimate knowledge of both rural and urban life, his fiction has provided entertainment and edification to generations of Gujarati readers and speakers. Ratno Dholi brings together the first substantial collection of Dhumketu's work to be available in English. Beautifully translated for a wide new audience by Jenny Bhatt, these much-loved stories - like the finest literature - remain remarkable and relevant even today.



About the Author 


Dhumketu was the pen name of Gaurishankar Govardhanram Joshi (1892-1965), one of the foremost writers in Gujarati and a pioneer of the short story form. He published twenty-four short story collections and thirty-two novels on social and historical subjects, as well as plays, biographies, memoirs, translations, travelogues, literary criticism, etc. Dhumketu was a contemporary of Rabindranath Tagore, Munshi Premchand and Saadat Hasan Manto, and his contributions to Indian literature are just as wide-ranging and groundbreaking. 



About the Translator


Jenny Bhatt is a writer, translator and book reviewer. Her short story collection, Each of Us Killers, was critically well-received. Her writing has appeared in venues like The Atlantic, BBC Culture, The Washington Post, Literary Hub, Longreads, The Millions, Electric Literature, and others. Born and raised in Gujarat, India, she now resides in Texas, USA.


Review

Growing up in Gujarat, I was introduced to Dhumketu's work as a part of our curriculum. I fell in love with his style of narration and had read his works ( even outside the curriculum) till my college years. After that, as they say life happened. I moved out of Gujarat for professional reasons and my reading habits underwent a huge change. However, the liking for his writing was never forgotten.

So when I saw this book on my social media, I instantly knew I had to read it. It was like my favourite author recommending me another author whom I had to read. If you have been following my blog, you would know my love for translated literature so there was no way I would have missed reading this one.

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Picking 26 stories from the wide range of stories that Dhumketu wrote ( close to 600!) is no mean feat. I must start by applauding author Jenny Bhatt for her choice of stories. The collection of stories presents Dhumketu as a diverse writer. Though he was primarily a Gujarati writer, his stories take us through the length and breadth of the country. They talk about life in the 1900s and cover a wide range of topics like casteism and gender. Life in a small town, replete with the challenges and the boon can be witnessed in his stories. With this book, Bhatt manages to recreate his magic immaculately.

'Translation is not simply the act of converting words from Language A to Language B. Also, language is not merely words, phrases, idioms, etc. Languages contain entire cultures within them; entire ways of thinking and being too.' 

Jenny Bhatt states this in her Translator's Note in the book and it clearly reflects her love for languages and cultures. It would not be wrong to call this collection an extension of her love, for these lines are the core base of her work in this book. It reflects all throughout the stories.

With a stunning cover in bright hues depicting the titular story in the collection, Ratno Dholi, this book sets a tone for reader about what to expect from this collection. The stories within are evocative, thought-provoking and at the same time, saddening.  

Traditionally I am not a Gujarati though I am born and brought up in Gujarat. My love for this language is way deeper than any of the languages I can speak. This is the language I resort to when I am angry, sad, happy or excited. So imagine my excitement when I find the local flavour of Gujarat sprinkled liberally in the stories to retain their originality! For me, this book has been more like a walk down the memory lane of the years spent in Gujarat.

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The plotlines of these stories are largely predictable and might even make you wonder at the atrocities people went through in the name of caste and gender not many years ago. It particularly saddens my heart to see how certain things are still prevalent in our society along with misogyny and patriarchy. However, their narration is what makes them stand apart. The plot, descriptions and narrative arcs of every story is impressive.

Dhumketu's stories remind you of Manto and Premchand's writings. Hard hitting, heart-breaking and one that shows you the mirror - their stories always made you think. They had reality woven in fiction, slices of real life thrust open before us to gape at in shock with its ugliness intact. 

At some places, I felt as if I was watching a Basu Chatterjee movie - strong enough to make me forget the sense of time and place and at the same time, simple enough to still manage to leave a feel-good feeling within, despite it not exactly being relevant to today's times. 

The beauty of short stories lies in the ability of a writer to present a complete universe in such few words. The short stories are a perfect example of that beauty. Each story is a world in itself. Dhumketu's stories were always known for their unforgettable characters and that is a trait Bhatt carries forward brilliantly. She makes sure the characters are not reduced to mere caricatures who are lost in translation while giving prominence to the story. The characters in the story might move you and evoke compassion in your heart, but at the same time the narration continues to remain as it was - observant and distant. 

These stories though written decades ago, still manage to conjure up a million emotions in the reader and that is what makes Dhumketu a master story-teller. Often while reading these stories you wonder if the progress we have made since has impacted us positively or not. 

Need to add here, in an attempt to ensure originality, Jenny Bhatt has not only retained Dhumketu's touch in the stories but has also managed to give these stories a uniqueness of her own. Weaving a tapestry of emotions, social issues and living conditions across a varied strata of the society, she conjures a collection of stories that can easily be called stellar. 

I always believe every classic is like a time travelling machine which has the power to take us back in time and make us experience a life we couldn't have experienced otherwise. And that is exactly how I felt after reading this book. A ticketless travel to a time where lives were simple and people, simpler. 

Overall, a perfect dose of simplicity and nostalgia is how I would like to describe this collection. Definitely recommended to all short story lovers and people who enjoy translated literature. Dhumketu's stories should not be missed!





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