Despite the still-raging Covid-19 pandemic, 2021 turned out to be a productive year for new books. Here is a selection of winning books from various literary awards in India.

JCB Prize for Literature

The 2021 JCB Prize for Literature was awarded to M Mukundan for his novel Delhi: A Soliloquy. The novel describes the experiences of the Malayali community in Delhi over the years, presenting incidents like the anti-Sikh violence or the Emergency from its perspective. The novel, written in Malayalam has been translated into English by Fathima EV and Nandakumar K.

Tata Literature Live Awards

The Tata Literature Live awards 2021 were announced during the literary festival held in Mumbai in November.

  • Asoca: A Sutra by Irwin Allan Sealy won the Book of the Year in the fiction category. As the title suggests, Sealy’s historical fiction epic explores the life of Emperor Ashoka the Great of ancient India’s Mauryan Empire.
  • The non-fiction book of the year award was presented to Born A Muslim: Some Truths About Islam in India by Ghazala Wahab. The book presents an account of personal stories of growing up as a Muslim in India in the context of the country’s politics and history. It also deals with the social structures of the religion, including gender and caste.

Here are the other books that won awards at the Tata Literature live Awards.

  • First Book Award (fiction): A Death in Shonagachhi by Rijula Das. Das’s debut novel is not only a murder mystery but also delves deeper into contemporary debates around sex work, conventional ideas of love and romance, and the figure of the helpless woman who requires “rescuing”.
  • First Book Award (non-fiction): Landscapes of Loss: The Story of an Indian Drought by Kavitha Iyer Landscapes of Loss: The Story of an Indian Drought tells the stories of Marathwada – an area in Maharashtra that has seen a surge in farmer suicides and cyclical droughts – through marginal farmers, Dalits, landless labourers, farm widows and children of the area.
  • Business Book of the Year Award: Pandemonium: The Great Indian Banking Tragedy, by Tamal Bandyopadhyay. Bandopadhyay is a journalist who has written extensively on the country’s banking industry. His award-winning book gives the readers insights into themes like consolidation of public sector banks, bad loans, non-performing assets, and so on.

Atta Galatta Book Awards

These awards are a joint initiative of the Bengaluru-based Atta Galatta Bookstore and the Bangalore Literature Festival.

  • Gyan Chaturvedi’s Alipura, translated by Salim Yusufji, won in the fiction category in 2021 edition of the awards. Alipura is the story of a family in the Bundelkhand region of north India in the 1960s. 
  • Ghazala Wahab’s Born a Muslim: Some Truths about Islam in India won in the non-fiction category.
  • Shabnam Minwalla’s Saira Zariwala is Afraid, a mystery novel about a young girl and her new mobile phone in frightening circumstances, was declared the best book in the young adult category. 
  • Priyanka Chopra Jonas’s Unfinished: A Memoir – an autobiographical book that highlights major events in her life – won the popular choice award.

Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay New India Foundation Book Prize

Valley of Words Book Awards

  • The award in the “translated into English” category of prizes by the Valley of Words Foundation Trust went to The Loneliness of Hira Barua, a collection of short stories, by Arupa Patangia Kalita. The book was originally published in Assamese as Mariam Austin Othoba Hira Barua and won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2014. It was translated into English by Ranjita Biswas in 2020.
  • Originally written in Marathi, Sharankumar Limbale’s Sanatan was declared the winner in the “translated into Hindi” category. The book was translated by Padmaja Ghorpade.

Here are the other winners of the Valley of Words Book Awards 2021.

  • Hindi Non-fiction: Vidrohi Sanyaasi by Rajeev Sharma. It is a novel based on the life of philosopher Adi Shankaracharya.
  • Writings for Young Adults: Loki Takes Guard by Menaka Raman. The book features 11-year-old protagonist Lokanayaki Shanmugam and her quest to play cricket for a local team that has a strict “boys only” policy.
  • Hindi Fiction: Kulbhooshan Ka Naam Darj Keejiye by Alka Saraogi.
  • English Non-fiction: Jinnah: His Successes, Failures and Role in History by Ishtiaq Ahmed, who is a Pakistani-origin Swedish political scientist and author. His book on Muhammad Ali Jinnah traces the leader’s early days as an Indian nationalist to a Muslim communitarian and then to the head of state of the newly-formed Pakistan.
  • Creative Writing in English (Fiction & Poetry): Analog/ Virtual by Lavanya Lakshminarayan. Set in a dystopian future, Analog/Virtual is the story of the world where technology, productivity, and success are at the forefront, and failure means having to live without access to technology.
  • Writings/ Picture Books for Children: A Quiet Girl by Paro Anand, a story about a young child named Puja and her best friend, a foal named Takbak.

Kalinga Book Awards

  • Actor Divya Dutta won the Kalinga Literary Women Writer Award for her book Stars in My Sky. The book is a look back at her Bollywood journey and talks about actors and directors who have made significant contributions to her career. “I am now romancing with heroes in my 40s which I had dreamt of during my 20s,” Dutta was quoted as saying. “But I am doing it because I know that the work you do will remain forever if you have invested your passion in it.”
  • Journalist Tamal Bandopadhyay won the best writer award in the economy category for his book Pandemonium: The Great Indian Banking Tragedy.
  • Non-fiction: Princestan: How Nehru, Patel and Mountbatten Made India by Sandeep Bamzai. The  book throws light on how a number of princely states wanted to join neither India nor Pakistan when the plan for India’s freedom from British rule was being charted.
  • Children’s literature: Grandparents’ Bag of Stories by Sudha Murthy. This book is a collection of short stories for children crafted by Murthy to beat the Covid-19 lockdown blues.

Neev Book Awards

The Neev Book Awards, an initiative of the Neev Literature Festival, celebrate “outstanding children’s literature”.

  • The winner in the early years’ category was Vinitha R for her book Ammu and the Sparrows. In this picturebook, a little boy named Ammu spends time at his grandmother’s home, feeding birds and waiting for his favourite sparrows to visit.
  • Nandita da Cunha won in the emerging readers’ category for her book The Miracle of Sunderbaag Street, which  follows young Zara and Miss Gappi through an adventure that “changes Zara’s life”. 
  • Devika Cariapa, William Dalrymple and Anita Anand’s The Adventures of the Kohinoor was declared the winner in the junior readers’ category. It’s the story of the “world’s unluckiest diamond”, the Kohinoor, and the bad luck it brings to its owners.
  • Devashish Makhija won for his book Oonga in the young adult category. Oonga was originally a film, released in 2013 at film festivals, but not in India. Tulika Publishers reportedly approached Makhija when they decided to convert this movie into a book that revolves around tribal culture, mining development, and conflict.

Sushila Devi Award for the best book of fiction by a woman author

  • Anukrti Upadhyay won the award for her novel, Kintsugi. Named for the ancient Japanese art of mending broken objects with gold, it’s a novel about young women breaching boundaries, overcoming trauma, and challenging the social order.