Wednesday, 8 January 2014

DSC Prize for South Asian Literature

The annual DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, carrying an award of US$50,000, aims to bring South Asian writing to a global audience, and to raise awareness of South Asian culture around the world.The shortlist of six books for the 2014 prize was announced in London in November. It is:
Anand: Book of Destruction (Translated from Malayalam by Chetana Sachidanandan; Penguin, India)
Benyamin: Goat Days (Translated from Malayalam by Joseph Koyippalli; Penguin, India)
Cyrus Mistry: Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer (Aleph Book Company, India)
Mohsin Hamid: How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin, India)
Nadeem Aslam: The Blind Man’s Garden (Random House, India)  
Nayomi Munaweera: Island of a Thousand Mirrors (Perera Hussein Publishing, Sri Lanka)
I put it to Manhad Narula, Steering Committee Member of the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, that writers from India and Pakistan are already doing well in reaching international audiences. So did South Asian writers really need a specific prize? “Yes. We instituted the Prize in 2010 because we felt that there was a need for an international literary prize specially focused on writing about the South Asian region, its people, and its cultures. Over the last decade or so, South Asia has significantly gained importance in the global scheme of things, be it on the political, economic or cultural front, and more and more writers from all over the world are writing about the region. The DSC Prize is not limited to showcasing and rewarding Indian and Pakistani writers, or writers from other South Asian countries, but is open to any author from any part of the globe as long as the writing is about the region.”
Given The Prize’s commitment to South Asia, it seemed to me oddly lacking in confidence that the shortlist was announced in London.  Why so cautious? “Of the three key events of the DSC Prize, two are held in South Asian cities and one in London. We announced the longlist in New Delhi, then announced the shortlist in London, and we will be announcing the final winner in Jaipur later this month. In addition we have the DSC Prize Winner’s Tour where the winner is taken to South Asian cities for readings and interactions. So there are a lot of Prize-related initiatives and activities happening in South Asia. We do the shortlist announcement in London as there is a significant interest in South Asian literature in the UK and also as an international prize we get close to 30% of our entries from publishers based in the UK, US, Canada and Australia.”

South Asia is defined in the eligibility criteria as India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, Burma and Afghanistan.  But bar one from Sri Lanka, and one set in rising Asia, all the books on the shortlist are from India. Were there no worthy entries from elsewhere? If so: was it a language issue? Are books from beyond India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, simply not translated into English? “We do receive entries from Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan and Burma, but the larger share at present comes from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It would be incorrect to say that there is any dearth of talented authors in the other South Asian countries - we have had authors from Nepal and Bangladesh on both the Prize’s longlist and its shortlist in the past. The literary landscape and the publishing infrastructure is now evolving quite well in these countries, where the Prize is encouraging more writing, both in English and translation, so that writers from all over South Asia should become increasingly visible.”

Four of the six books on the shortlist were originally written in English. So is writing in English an advantage when it comes to winning the Prize? “Encouraging writing in regional languages, and encouraging translations, are key objectives of the DSC Prize. I do not think that there is any distinct advantage if the book is originally written in English; the essence and nuances of the narrative can be brought to life to the reader through a good translation as well. We really give a lot of importance to the role of the translator; if a translated entry wins, the prize money is equally shared between the author and the translator.” 

Last year's winner, Jeet Thayil’s Narcopolis, was already heralded in the West. Is being so heralded an advantage?  Or to put it another way, is Mohsin Hamid odds-on to win this year? “There is no such advantage. We have a five-member esteemed international jury panel which cannot be swayed by an author’s fame. Being well known in the West is no criteria at all for judging an entry, no advantage in the adjudicating process. The shortlist over the years has had a healthy mix of established writers as well as newer writers – in fact the three winners so far have coincidentally all been debut writers.”

The winner of the DSC Prize 2014 will be announced at the Jaipur Literature Festival, which is also sponsored by DSC. The announcement will be made on 18th January – look out for a post giving the result. 

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