For the second year in a row, eminent Tamil novelist Perumal Murugan has made the shortlist of the Rs 25 lakh JCB Prize for Literature, India’s richest, his two novels, sharing space with Roshan Ali, Manoranjan Byapari, Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar and Madhuri Vijay, it was announced here on Friday.
The six novels, Murugan’s was a collective entry, “share a deep sense of justice and injustice”, jury chair Pradip Krishen said, adding the selection process provided an “incredible opportunity to look at different parts of the country” through a “vertical slice of writing in one year”.
“Bringing voices from across the country, these novels address the many specific difficulties of living a life in Indian society. With a combination of lyricism and humour, the five novelists portray characters who are at odds with their – very different – worlds. Their private struggles help illuminate larger themes, including patriarchy in rural southern India, religious and political conflict in Kashmir, and social and sexual marginalization in eastern India.
“Taken together, these novels remind us that fiction remains the most powerful way for a society to examine its fundamental concerns,” Krishen added.
The 2019 shortlist:
* “Trial by Silence” and “Lonely Harvest” by Perumal Murugan; translated from the Tamil by Aniruddhan Vasudevan (Penguin Random House India, 2018)
* “Ib’s Endless Search for Satisfaction” by Roshan Ali (Penguin Random House India, 2019)
* “There’s Gunpowder in the Air” by Manoranjan Byapari; translated from the Bengali by Arunava Sinha (Westland Publications, 2018)
* “My Father’s Garden” by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar (Speaking Tiger Publishing Private Limited, 2018)
* “The Far Field” by Madhuri Vijay (HarperCollins India, 2019)
Roshan Ali and Madhuri Vijay are debut authors
Each of the five shortlisted authors will receive Rs 1 lakh; if a shortlisted work is a translation, the translator will receive an additional Rs 50,000. The winner of the Rs 25 lakh prize will be announced at the awards dinner on November 2. If the winning work is a translation, the translator will receive an additional Rs 10 lakh.
“This year’s shortlist displays a satisfying diversity of voices, as is appropriate to the scale and variety of this country. These five books transport us to very different parts of India, and give us access to very different kinds of life,” Literary Director Rana Dasgupta said.
“Each of them is imbued by the spirit of its moment, which is perhaps why the shortlist has such an unsettled, turbulent flavour. But literature contains wisdom too, and the deep sense of justice in these books reminds us why, whatever our reality, we continue to care, hope and strive,” he added.
On Perumal Murugan, the jury said: “It is unusual for any writer to release two novels in one year, and we have taken the unusual decision of including both on the longlist. Both novels are sequels to Perumal Murugan’s own ‘One Part Woman’. Both, therefore, start from the same situation – and both are equally compelling and equally true.
“In one way, these novels try and answer an eternal question: when hurt by love, does one respond by hurting back, or hurting yourself? In another way, and taken together, they provoke another thought: how much do we control our future, if at all.”
Roshan Ali’s work, the jury said, is “a well-sculpted debut novel about an ennui-ridden, disaffected, unmoored youth in contemporary urban India. Full of dark humour and wise-cracking angst, its laid-back style comes back and smacks you in the jaw as you realise you are in the midst of a fascinating experiment with language. An anxious, brilliant read”.
On Manoranjan Byapari’s book, the jury said: “Telling the story of a jailbreak during the Naxal days in Bengal, this novel reminds us of the magic of grand fiction. Beginning as a series of vignettes in a prison, it builds up, through a narrative of controlled anger and humour, into a devastating critique of what it means to be free. It leaves us with no answer, but just a sense of dread.”
Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s work, the jury said “is a writer reflection on loss and disenfranchisement, both romantic and political. Shekhar handles big and complicated questions about social privilege, everyday corruption, sexual desire and community
ties with beautiful ease, and produces a slim book that nevertheless delivers powerful blows”.
Madhuri Vijay’s book, the jury said, “is a wonderful experience for a reader to be inside the head and heart of this flawed, fallible but always plausible narrator-as-protagonist, protagonist as perpetrator, observer and (sometimes) victim. Without referring to overt politics, this personal story captures all the moral complexities – and the attendant hubris of outsider intervention in Kashmir”.
The other members of the jury were an author and critic Anjum Hasan; authors K.R. Meera and Parvati Sharma; and former Chief Economic Adviser to the Indian government Arvind Subramanian.
The longlist announced on September 4, was chosen from a vast range of submissions by writers in fourteen states writing in six languages (Bengali, English, Hindi, Kannada, Tamil and Telugu) published between August 1, 2018, and July 31, 2019.