The Shehnai Virtuoso and Other Stories

The first substantive English translation of the Gujarati short story pioneer, Dhumketu (1892–1965.) The first book-length translation from Gujarati to English published in the US.

US edition from Deep Vellum; Indian edition from HarperCollins India
Cover Design: Harshad Marathe. Download cover image

Pronunciation guide: “shehnai” = “shay-huh-naa-yi”; “Dhumketu” = “dhoom-kay-tu”; “Gujarati” = “Gu-juh-raa-ti”

[For interviews, contact here. Download the book club discussion guide. Contact here if you’d like Jenny Bhatt to join your book club discussion. For ongoing news about the book, go here. For a full media press kit, including translator Q&A, go here. Read a Dhumketu story that’s NOT in the book at Asymptote Journal.]

“Dhumketu is a wonderfully gripping storyteller . . . Bhatt has certainly done him justice in this excellent selection.” ~JENNIFER CROFT, translator of The Books of Jacob by Olga Tokarczuk

“The translator . . . follows each dip and tremor in the narrative flow with practised ease and linguistic flair . . .” ~N KALYAN RAMAN, translator of The Story of a Goat by Perumal Murugan

“Jenny Bhatt transposes the lushness of life as described by [Dhumketu] . . . in new, important, florid, and disciplined renderings.” ~RAJIV MOHABIR, translator of I Even Regret Night: Holi Songs of Demerara by Lalbihari Sharma.

“A selection of treasures from Dhumketu’s profound stories . . . a translation that itself sparks and flames.” ~THOMAS HITOSHI PRUIKSMA, translator of The Kural by Tiruvalluvar.

“. . . a love letter to the power of art and the human spirit . . . These stories invite readers to rediscover the wonder in the quotidian.” ~KIRKUS REVIEWS

“Complex characters, vibrant imagery, and descriptions of rural Gujarat State bolster each of the stories. Readers are in for a treat.” ~PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

“. . . a kaleidoscope, abundant in variegating depictions of both landscapes and the human interiors populating them.” ~ASYMPTOTE JOURNAL

Cover Design: Harshad Marathe.
Download cover image

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.

The Shehnai Virtuoso brings together the first substantial collection of Dhumketu’s work to be available in English in the US. Beautifully translated for a wide new audience by Jenny Bhatt, these much-loved stories — like the finest literature — remain remarkable and relevant even today.

It is fair to say that Dhumketu is the Gujarati Chekhov or Tagore. He pioneered the short story form in Gujarati literature, taking it beyond mere storytelling to a creative art form with advanced literary devices, universal themes, and characters drawn from all walks of life — rural to royal, young to old. In particular, his strong, independent-minded women and emotionally sensitive men were well ahead of their time. Read below for more details.

FROM THE INDIAN EDITION’S COVER:

“How do you hold the gaze long enough on a spark, the ‘tankha’? Dhumketu’s stories appeared in Gujarati literature like sparks, or comets, lighting up the sky, creating a desire to hear more, and see more. Generations in Gujarat have grown up on Dhumketu’s stories. Although not the first, Dhumketu is the most renowned short-story writer. Jenny Bhatt’s labor in understanding, contextualizing, interpreting, and translating him deserves our gratitude and attention. Without translations, we would be living a self-absorbed life, not learning about anyone else in the world!” ~RITA KOTHARI, Professor at Ashoka University; translator of The Greatest Gujarati Short Stories Ever Told

“The brilliant and prolific writer, Dhumketu, is an integral part of the Gujarati canon. Jenny Bhatt’s empathetic and intuitive translations convey the signature and nuance of his short stories, and make this iconic voice available for readers around the world.” ~NAMITA GOKHALE, Founder and Co-director of the Jaipur Literature Festival and Mountain Echoes, the Bhutan Literature Festival; Director of Yatra Books, a publishing house specializing in translation

“A comet that flew through other linguistic skies now visits the Anglophone firmament. Train your telescopes, ladies and gentlemen, Dhumketu is here!” ~JERRY PINTO, translator of Baburao Bagul’s Marathi short stories, The Day I Hid My Caste and Other Stories

“Dhumketu wrote nearly 500 short stories and this beautifully translated, brilliant and glittering collection from his oeuvre will go a long way in reminding readers about one of the finest short-story writers from India.” ~ARUNI KASHYAP, Assistant Professor at the University of Georgia; translator of Indira Goswami’s last work of fiction, The Bronze Sword of Thengphakhri Tehsildar

SELECT PRAISE FOR THE INDIAN EDITION (HarperCollins India; October 2020)

“. . . powerful plots, which Dhumketu handles with sensitivity and with a sense of the subtly moving that is never mawkish. [ . . .] the English translation is reasonably fast-paced and eminently accessible. [. . .] This collection is an essential read.” ~Hindustan Times

“The translator of this collection, Jenny Bhatt, contextualizes his work in the introduction while providing insightful details about his craft.” ~The Hindu

“The translator is deeply engaged with the context of each story and follows each dip and tremor in the narrative flow with practised ease and linguistic flair.” ~Indian Literature (a Sahitya Akademi publication)

“The mellifluous translation is as close as one can get to Dhumketu’s original [. . .] well-informed choices for pivotal words open new possibilities of re-readings for a Gujarati reader. Rendering terms and expressions, idioms, and traditions of a bygone world into an alien language is a delicate job: it requires patient and skillful negotiation across two periods, two cultures, and two languages. Bhatt has accomplished the task sensitively.” ~Indian Express

“. . . depth in each of the 22 stories in this book, which means that a) the translator has done an excellent job and b) every story in the book is satisfying . . .” ~Deccan Chronicle

“The collection scores well on the two fronts of readability and its ability to spark the interest of the reader. It succeeds in doing this by maintaining a fine balance between the familiar and the foreign. […] Jenny Bhatt’s Ratno Dholi, a volume of selected stories from Dhumketu, is an attempt to reach out to the roots of Gujarat’s literary imagination and present something of its wealth . . .” ~The Book Review

“Dhumketu’s layered exploration of human psychology and behavior are what make his short stories so impactful. There is definitely a master-class spread out across these pages for those who are interested in the technical aspects of writing short stories. Jenny Bhatt’s translation is nuanced but simple, and does justice to these stories.” ~Womensweb.in

ABOUT DHUMKETU:

Dhumketu (1892–1965) was the pen name of Gaurishankar Govardhanram Joshi, one of Gujarat’s most prolific writers in the early-20th century. During his lifetime, he wrote some 600 short stories in twenty-six volumes, twenty-nine historical and seven social novels, various plays, travelogues, memoirs, and more. He was also an avid translator of Rabindranath Tagore and Kahlil Gibran.

It is fair to say that he is the Gujarati Chekhov or Tagore. He pioneered the short story form in Gujarati literature, taking it beyond mere storytelling to a creative art form with advanced literary devices, universal themes, and characters drawn from all walks of life — rural to royal, young to old. In particular, his strong, independent-minded women and emotionally sensitive men were well ahead of their time. Many of these stories, if transposed to contemporary times, would still work just as well as in their time.

Unfortunately, in addition to suffering the same neglect as many other regional language writers in India (there is a language hierarchy or pyramid where certain Indian languages get translated and published more than others), Dhumketu’s brilliance has been forgotten because, in India, the short story form has also lost the audience it once enjoyed. With this translation, I hope to help shine a brighter spotlight on his rich legacy.