Feeling blue: Teji Grover and craft of carrying intertextuality, sensuality

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The women in Teji Grover’s fiction seem like mythical creatures in search of a heaven they were exiled from (Express photo)The women in Teji Grover’s fiction seem like mythical creatures in search of a heaven they were exiled from (Express photo)

There can be two broad vantage points to enter Blue and Other Tales of Obsessive Love, an English translation of Teji Grover’s selected Hindi short stories. One, it’s the fiction of a writer who is essentially a poet of fragile emotions and delicate sensibilities. Second, it’s the translation of a prose into a language that, despite India’s long colonial and postcolonial encounter, does not yet fully capture the myths and fables of Indian languages.

When poets turn to fiction they often bring a distinct dreamy element to the narrative. It is not what one often calls an ‘experiment’ in the want of a better description; it’s a seamless fusion of the palette of poetry into the realm of prose. Grover’s prose has no edges, it curves along the seam and lends her fiction an elusive temperament, a transcendence that emerges from the echoes and images the narrative weaves.

This selection has a novella Blue (Neela, 1999), and eight other stories, seven of which are from her earlier collection Sapne Mein Prem Ki Saat Kahaniyan. All these works, to use her words, “have the same intertextual logic and are born of the same body heat; they are also linked together by the same incestuous union of the desire to write and the desire for love”.

These works, then, carry both an intertextuality as well as a sensuality not often seen in Hindi literature. Grover is in an intense and intimate conversation with her contemporary writers. Each of these stories draws from the life of her favourite poets like Sylvia Plath and Marina Tvestayeva, and lends us an alternative window to look at their lives. It’s a celebration of women, their many moods and temperaments, their longings that are often laced with a self-destructive tendency, a candle that burns at both ends. The many women in her fiction seem mythical creatures, who are smouldering with an ancient memory, in search of a heaven they were exiled from.

But where does one place her fiction in the genre of ‘women’s writing’? Grover belongs to that tribe for whom an artist is essentially androgynous. And yet, as she strives to retrieve the primal woman in her fiction, a woman unencumbered by the civilisational constraints, the identity returns by a different route, creating a distinct discourse.

Though the language of her creative works is Hindi, Grover is a bilingual writer, translator and painter. She has extensively translated into Hindi several titles of Norwegian, Swedish, Latvian and French literature. Among her many awards include Sweden’s Royal Order of the Polar Star.

The finest artistic achievement in the selection is the novella Blue, which has already acquired a status among Hindi readers. The colour blue has hypnotised several artists and writers through the ages. “We love to contemplate blue, not because it advances to us, but because it draws us after it,” the German poet Goethe once wrote; and the Hindi poet Raghuvir Sahay has a wonderful poem on the colour. To this rich body of work is added Grover’s meditation. In her novella, Blue is a character, a colour, as well as a state of heart. Consider this sentence: “She writes blue. She thinks she will be able to write blue in Blue’s bereavement.” The lyrical layers of her prose often resemble the multiple coatings on a canvas.

Having read Grover in Hindi, I was somewhat initially unsure with the translation. Hindi has an innate mythical character, more so when it comes to the writings of poets like Grover. Hindi has often resisted the demands of rationality that modern European languages were once subjected to. However, Meena Arora Nayak, herself an accomplished author and a professor of English and mythology, has rendered Grover’s fiction into English with an extraordinary deftness. This book can also be read as an intimate conversation between the two languages.

Ashutosh Bhardwaj is an award-winning writer and journalist. His recent book, The Death Script, received the Atta Galatta Non-Fiction Book of the Year award

Blue and Other Tales of Obsessive Love
Teji Grover; translated by Meena Arora Nayak
Vani Book Company
Rs 225, Pp 168

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