literary awards

A reader’s guide to the six books in the running for the Muse India Young Writer Award

Meant for writers below 35, the award is helping the discovery of many first or second novels.

Young writers are almost the default mode of Indian publishing in English. That’s why awards for young writers are always a valuable way to discover new fiction. Here are the six writers – and books – in the running for the Muse India–Satish Verma Young Writer Award, which is given to a writer below 35 years of age for producing an outstanding original work in English, or in English translation from any Indian language. This year, all the contenders are books in English.

The Dove’s Lament, Kirthi Jayakumar
Having worked as a volunteer with the UN agencies and collaborations, Kirthi Jayakumar has had a chance to speak to many victims and survivors of wars, conflicts and trafficking. This very experience forms the genesis of her book The Dove’s Lament, a collection of twelve short stories, each of them recording and reflecting on conflict and violence. While one story brings to life the Rwandan Genocide, another laments the Israel-Palestine conflict. From Baccha Baazi in Afghanistan to child marriages in India, and from suicide bombings in Sri Lanka to the drug trade in Colombia – every theatre is familiar and acts as a reminder of the wrongs that we desperately try to ignore.   

The Courtesans of Karim Street, Debotri Dhar
Debotri Dhar with her new book The Courtesans of Karim Street challenges the conventional notion of the term courtesan and gives us two strong, intelligent female characters – Megan and Naina – who shine through the course of history, fiction and mystery. Megan Adams, a professor in the US, receives an anonymous letter stating she’s a whore, not a scholar. She enquires about her dead mother’s past and travels all the way to India to find the answers. Here she meets Naina, the daughter of her mother’s friend, who’s undergoing her own set of trials and tribulations. Together they form a bond of sisterly friendship and attempt to resolve matters of the heart and of the past.

Blue: Tales of Reddumone, the Two-Faced, MR Sharan
Twenty-five-year-old MR Sharan’s ultra-modern take on the Ramayana has everyone talking about him. An economist by profession who harbours a fascination for Indian mythology, he has produced a debut work which plays with philosophy while being grounded in realistic politics. Reddumone is clever, loyal and powerful. He is the perfect Lankan spy. Rama is noble, strong and brave. He is the quintessential king. Paired against the backdrop of gruesome civil wars, their friendship endures the test of ideals and mutual respect.

I Do, Do I?, Ruchita Misra, HarperCollins India
What happens when things fall apart suddenly? Story of most of our lives, isn’t it? Ruchita Misra’s I Do, Do I? has Kasturi Shukla in the limelight, a young lady who is all set to marry the man of her dreams and lead the perfect, happily-married life. But life’s never without hurdles – a messy engagement, a moment of indecision, a hopeful mother-in-law, an angry colleague, and so on. In Misra’s own words, “the book is a masala entertainer and full of hearty laughs with a love story that is full of theatrics.”

The Half Mother, Shahnaz Bashir
Shahnaz Bashir’s first novel The Half Mother is set in 1990s Kashmir, and focuses on the involuntary disappearances of young men during the long war. The story spans three generations in Natipora near Srinagar – there’s Ghulam Rasool Joo, his daughter Haleema, and her teenage son Imran. One night, Imran is mistaken for a separatist and picked up by the Army, and so begins Haleema’s search for him. She battles not for her own lonely existence, but for answers about her son. She visits torture camps, jails, and even morgues to find a trace of Imran. She hopes for a sign, a clue, that’ll lead her to him. The valley of Kashmir has so many untold stories; The Half Mother is just one of those.

The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey, Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar
The story is about a woman named Rupi in Kadamdihi, a Santhal village in Jharkhand, who was once known to be the strongest woman in the village. She is now found bed-ridden, rotting away under the influence of a mysterious disease given to her by Gurubari, the wife of her husband’s best friend. Rumour has it that Gurubari has used witchcraft to ruin Rupi’s health. The novel travels through the life of the Baskey family and unveils notions of good and evil in the village life.

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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.