DSC Prize for South Asian Literature

With the announcement of the winner taking place on Saturday, this seems like a good of time as any to mention the second annual DSC Prize for South Asian Literature.

The DSC Prize for South Asian Literature is a first-of-its-kind initiative as it is specifically focused on the richness and diversity of South Asian writing. The prize is also unique since it is not ethnicity driven in terms of the author’s origin and is open to any author belonging to any part of the globe as long as the work is based on the South Asian region and its people.

In January 2011, the inaugural DSC Prize was won by Pakistani author HM Naqvi for his debut novel Home Boy (HarperCollins India) which has gone on to become one of the most celebrated recent renditions on South Asia. Following the announcement, Home Boy was acquired by Hamish Hamilton [Penguin Books] in the UK. It is now being published by Penguin in the UK and British Commonwealth, realizing one of the central visions of the prize, which is to propagate and present South Asian writing to a larger global audience.

This year’s shortlist is made up of these six titles:

Bharanthipura by U.R. Ananthamurthy (Oxford University Press, India, Translated by Susheela Punitha)

According to OUP’s jacket copy:

First published in 1973, ‘Bharathipura’ reveals U.R. Ananthamurthy’s (b.1932) lifelong preoccupation with moving beyond caste and class interests in a modern society.

Set in contemporary India, ‘Bharathipura’ revolves around the life of an ‘enlightened’ modern Indian, Jagannatha, who in order to get rid of his personal burdens commits a ‘scandalous’ act. His attempt to take ‘untouchables’ into the local Manjunatha temple exposes the complexities of the caste system and the myth of social justice in modern India. Further, the novel brings to light how the contemporary world recreates and reconstructs the past to protect hierarchical structures prevalent across societies, and also portrays the altering destinies of individuals and communities.

You can read an extract by clicking here.

A Street in Srinagar by Chandrakanta (Zubaan Books, India, Translated by Manisha Chaudhry)

From the Zubaan website:

Srinagar, capital city of the famed ‘paradise on earth’, Kashmir. Ailan Gali, a deep, dark narrow lane that lies at its heart, where houses stand on a finger’s width of space and lean crookedly against each other, so deep, so narrow, so closely connected that even thieves do not dare enter.

Yet people live and love here, they cling on to their old ways, they share stories and food, joys and sorrows, sufficient unto themselves. But the outside world beckons, youngsters begin to leave, and slowly change makes its way into Ailan Gali only to find its hitherto hidden mirror-image – the change that has insidiously been working its way into the lives of those who are the gali’s permanent residents.

This funny, poignant, evocative story of a Kashmir as yet untouched by violence – but with its shadows looming at the edges – is a classic of Hindi literature, available in English translation for the first time.

Monkey-man by Usha K.R. (Penguin/Penguin India)

This book from Penguin India sounds particularly strange and intriguing:

3 January 2000. It is the start of the new millennium. On Ammanagudi Street in Bangalore, a strange creature is spotted. As the beast seizes the imagination of the city, the first people to sight it—Shrinivas Moorty, a teacher in a local college, Pushpa Rani, who works in a call centre, Neela Mary Gopalrao, secretary to an influential man, and Sukhiya Ram, her office boy—are invited to talk about it on Bali Brums’s hugely popular radio show. What was it that they saw? A bat? A malevolent avatar? A sign of the displeasure of the gods? The grotesque mascot of a city that is growing too fast and crumbling too soon? Or merely a monkey that has lost its way?

Using evocative prose that reflects her profound understanding of human nature, Usha K.R. delves into the lives of her characters and their unexpectedly linked destinies in a city that has grown from a ‘Pensioner’s Paradise’ to the frenetic hub of the country’s IT industry.

Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka: Chinaman (Random House, India)

Booze + family troubles + dying man + cricket . . . Sounds pretty intriguing:

Retired sportswriter, W.G. Karunasena is dying. He will spend his final months drinking arrack, upsetting his wife, ignoring his son, and tracking down Pradeep S. Mathew, an elusive spin bowler he considers ‘the greatest cricketer to walk the earth’. On his quest to find this unsung genius, W.G. uncovers a coach with six fingers, a secret bunker below a famous stadium, an LTTE warlord, and startling truths about Sri Lanka, cricket and himself. Ambitious, playful, and strikingly original, Chinaman is a novel about cricket and Sri Lanka—and of Sri Lanka through its cricket. Hailed by the Gratiaen Prize judges as ‘one of the most imaginative works of contemporary Sri Lankan fiction’, it is an astounding book.

The Thing about Thugs by Tabish Khair (Fourth Estate/HarperCollins-India)

This book has already received a bunch of nominations/prizes (the Harper India site leaves this intentionally ambiguous), including the Man Asian Literary Prize, 2011 and Hindu Best Fiction Prize, 2010. (Unfortunately, none of these awards can make that cover any less crappy.) Here’s the description from the HarperCollins site:

Amir Ali leaves his village in Bihar to travel to London with an English captain, William Meadows, to whom he narrates the story of his life – the story of a murderous thug. While Meadows tries to analyse the strange cult of the Indian Thug, a group of Englishmen sets out to prove the inherent difference between cultures and people by examining their skulls – with bizarre consequences.

Set in Victorian London, this story of different voices from different places draws intricate lines of connection from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century, between England and India, across individual and cultural differences.

And here’s a longish review.

The Story that Must Not Be Told by Kavery Nambisan (Viking/Penguin India)

I can’t find the Penguin India page for this book (%^&*ing corporate publisher websites . . . here’s her Penguin India author page that doesn’t like this title . . .), so instead, I found this semi-positive review:

When Simon Jesukumar misses his train back to Madras from Delhi, among his lost possessions are his deceased wife’s thick manuscript, which he has lugged from publisher to publisher over the years out of a sense of guilt and duty. Aging, curmudgeonly, and living alone in an apartment complex beside the city’s vast and thriving slum, Sitara, he is returning from a stay with his son – whose mother-in-law he has struck a slightly dubious friendship with. His only companion at home is his cat Thangu; when his formerly-estranged daughter Sandhya visits, he tolerates her with a mix of parental affection and genuine dismay. Kavery Nambisan’s The Story That Must Not Be Told opens with tremendous promise, introducing to the reader this complicated old man, one of the most interesting protagonists seen in recent Indian fiction.

Throughout the novel, similarly adroitly-sculpted characters make their appearances, only to fade in importance. Each of them – from the noble butcher Gaffur to the quack doctor Prince to the envious and dastardly Ponnu – come with a compelling backstory. The slum itself is drawn with a strong sense of the overbearing spirit pervasive through locations as complex and gritty as Sitara (or even Madras itself). The trouble is, cast and setting both arrive fully-formed and precisely executed in a novel that loses track of its own plot.

As of the moment, the only book from this list that’s technically available in the U.S. is U.R. Ananthamurthy’s Bharathipura. The Thing about Thugs is coming out in July, and used copies of the others are available. Which is unfortunate. It’s impossible to judge a book by its copy, but Chinaman and Monkey-man in particular seem like they’d appeal to at least some English readers . . .

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