The suspense was palpable as the longlist for the 25000 dollar DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2017 was announced at New Delhi’s Oxford Book Store. In its seventh year, this annual international literary award is given to writers of any nationality writing specifically about South Asian region and themes.
Those making the longlist are Anjali Joseph’s The Living, Anosh Irani’s The Parcel, Anuk Arudpragasam’s The Story of a Brief Marriage, Selection Day by Aravind Adiga, The Ceaseless Chatter of Demons by Ashok Ferry, South Havenby Hirsh Sawhney, Karan Mahajan’s The Association of Small Bombs, K. R. Meera’s The Poison of Love, Omar Shahid Hamid’s The Party Worker, Perumal Murugan’s Pyre, Sarvat Hasin’s This Wide Night, Shahbano Bilgrami’s Those Children and Stephen Alter’s In The Jungles of the Night. These include two translated works thus opening up a much needed avenue for the translators to be recognised and appreciated.
With a total of 69 books submitted, the task of choosing was not easy. The five-member jury who read and decided were Steven Bernstein, filmmaker, Valentine Cunningham, Professor of English at Oxford University, Senath Walter Perera, Senior English Professor, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, London-based Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, a noted journalist and columnist. It was headed by Ritu Menon, a feminist publisher and writer, co-founder of Kali for Women.
Coming of age
Releasing the list Menon observed, “Going through the submissions, I found that a generation of writers in the region had come on its own. They are confident, accomplished, trying all sorts of new things, experimenting with language, subject matter, form, style and doing so with great assurance and very successfully. All this in large numbers, may be because we have a large young population.” She qualified that by experimenting she did not mean wildly ambitious or outrageous or shocking. “They all were approaching the subject matter with certain freshness and individuality, which is very local and South Asian.”
When asked about the subjects being dealt with in the novels, she said, “They were on sports, war, historical events, current affairs, politics, romance, almost very subject.” On pointing out that they all were universal, she agreed. “What was novel, was the perspective and experience they brought to bear on these common themes — it was local.” Giving examples, she added, “Writing about conflict or war, a Pakistani writer will not write the same way as a Sri Lankan or Indian would. Or writing about the civil war in Sri Lanka can’t be replicated even though it may remind one what is happening in Kashmir or in Afghanistan or Baluchistan.”
Besides recognising local voices, DSC prizes encourages new talent to take root. The longlist includes three debut writers.
“That has always been the case. In the inaugural year, 2011, we had H.M. Naqvi, later, Jeet Thayil in 2013 and Anuradha Roy in 2016. This acknowledgement of talent needs to be encouraged and celebrated,” said Menon with a smile.
Each jury member chose 10 books of the 69 and submitted to the Menon with comments. There was voting on the list to arrive at 13. “The consensus was devoid of any confrontation or argument. In fact, there was remarkable similarity in the list,” said Menon.