The Shehnai Virtuoso and Other Stories

The first substantive English translation of the Gujarati short story pioneer, Dhumketu (1892–1965.) The first book-length Gujarati to English translation published in the US.
Pronunciation guide: “shehnai” = “shay-huh-naa-yi”; “Dhumketu” = “dhoom-kay-tu”; “Gujarati” = “Gu-juh-raa-ti”

US edition from Deep Vellum; Indian edition from HarperCollins India
Cover Design: Harshad MaratheDownload cover image

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“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.

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.

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.

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.

“. . . 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

“Jenny Bhatt’s skillful translation takes advantage of the unique place that English occupies on the subcontinent. […] To read Dhumketu is to be reminded of the ways in which the short story can be stretched and shaped organically, while always remaining true to its exquisite form.” ~WORDS WITHOUT BORDERS (Rishi Reddi)

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

". . . a magical Guajarati storyteller has arrived on North American shores to share a broad selection of his well-loved tales with a wider contemporary audience, a journey made possible by an attentive and gifted translator." ~roughghosts (Joseph Schreiber)

". . . Dhumketu shows considerable range. He is clearly a talented story-writer . . . a very welcome -- and long overdue -- introduction to a significant writer, from a language and tradition from which only a smattering has previously been accessible to English-speaking readers. This is a generous, wide-ranging selection, offering a very good variety -- an excellent sampler, even if it only offers one-twentieth (!) of the author's story-output alone." ~THE COMPLETE REVIEW (Michael Orthofer)

". . . Dhumketu’s short stories have all the elements of poetry built on the foundation of memorable imagery. And Jenny Bhatt’s translation of Dhumketu’s Gujarati makes the imagery vivid for Anglophone readers." ~KHABAR MAGAZINE (Dr. Rajesh C. Oza)

". . . Dhumketu’s insights show that, while times change, human nature does not. It is these little pearls of wisdom that make Dhumketu’s stories timeless and relevant today." ~ASIAN REVIEW OF BOOKS (Jane Wallace)

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