The award ceremony for the 2022 JCB Prize for Literature, celebrating a shortlist exclusively full of translations, flitted between languages. “Arrey, we can do better with this applause,” an assertive voice, who’d been speaking in English, except for this pointed Arrey, announced to the people sitting in the Ballroom at the Oberoi, Delhi on Saturday night.

It was Mita Kapur’s voice, the Literary Director of the JCB Prize for Literature, provoking a slightly breathless audience watching this year’s shortlisted authors and translators come onto the stage. Amongst them stood Khalid Jawed, the author of the winning novel The Paradise of Food, who started his acceptance speech with “Actually,” abruptly shifting to Hindi and zipping back to English sporadically.

Jawed spoke from a stage where pillars pasted with the book spines of the shortlisted novels stood on either side. Tomb of Sand’s updated spine with the “Winner: International Booker Prize” sticker stood imposingly amongst the rest. It was the first time an originally Hindi novel had entered the shortlist.

Writer Khalid Jawed and Chair of 2022 jury AS Panneerselvan.

The lighting team projected a barrage of first alphabets of all “Indian” languages on either side of the Ballroom. The catering team served food representing the locality of each novel – Kerala prawns for Valli, for instance. Even the cultural dance performances from Shri Ram Kala Kendra, and more specifically, the end sequence, where the dancers translated each step of the other through the style of their original performances, ushered the guests to recognise what Kapur called the “polyphony” of modern Indian literature. Some of the guests, tired of tilting their heads to the dancer’s position on stage, stood to watch the performances. And they continued to stand as if in a persistent ovation for the ceremony.

The dance performances at the ceremony.

The make-shift ovation is well-deserved: The Jury of the JCB prize met every week – Kapur called their meetings her “weekly highlight” – to “read and reread” the many submissions they received. After the jury members – one of them, Rakhee Balaram, was absent – huddled onto the stage, AS Panneerselvan, Chair of the Jury, recalled the “pain of (the) subtractive (reading) process.” He believed the shortlist echoed the idea of hope. It was unclear what he meant until Anthony Bamford, Chairperson of the JCB, announced the winner.

Members of JCB Prize for Literature 2022 jury (From L to R): AS Panneerselvan, Amitabha Bagchi, J Devika, and Janice Pariat.

“I’m a writer, not a speaker,” said Jawed. His acceptance speech was short and self-admittedly clear that he hadn’t prepared the address asked of all the shortlisted authors and translators, in case they won. Winning the prize marked a day of “true happiness” for him. “I wrote this novel in 2014, and it is today that it has been recognised,” he said, thanking his translator for bringing the book to an international readership. He credits Farooqi for “transporting” his world to another world. When a crowd of guests moved to congratulate Jawed, he adorably (and perhaps naively) asked many whether they’d read the book.

His win suggests those who haven’t will. “Although it’s only been five years” since its founding, the JCB Prize has had an enormous impact on readership, said Bamford, from a video projection on the stage. Farooqi acknowledges this impact when thanking the jury, calling the award a “service” to the Urdu language slowly disappearing from the Indian context.

In her speech, she thanked her father, Shamsur Rahman Farooqi, for ensuring that she engaged with Urdu literature. She quoted her father’s translation, featured in Salman Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence, to compare how Urdu, much like the novel’s protagonist, is a “stranger in the city.” Farooqi’s father believed that when one translates an old text, one should avoid rendering it “musty” with “cobwebs.” Her speech nods at a political win for not only translation, but also the Urdu language.

Khalid Jawed and Baran Farooqi with the winner's trophy.

The winning moment for Indian literature, however, were the many instances of camaraderie between the shortlisted authors and translators. Some clicked pictures of one another, with each other. Others stood to applaud someone else’s win. On stage, Arunava Sinha, the translator of the shortlisted Imaan, patted the author’s shoulders as if to remind Manoranjan Byapari that it was his win more than his own. Even the man I’d overheard asking an organiser, “When will this thing end?” couldn’t help but smile. Although, I’m sure the alcohol that the Oberoi servers were liberally presenting also helped.

The shortlisted authors and translators.
Authors Khalid Jawed, Sheela Tomy, and Chuden Kabimo.
Writer Vivek Shanbhag and Executive Publisher of HarperCollins India, Udayan Mitra.
Writer Karuna Ezara Parikh, CEO of Harper Collins India Ananth Padmanabhan, The JCB Prize for Literature's Literary Director Mita Kapur, and writer Aanchal Malhotra.
Westland publisher Minakshi Thakur, Manju Byapari, Westland publisher Karthika VK, and writer Manoranjan Byapari.
The décor at The Oberoi, New Delhi.

Disclaimer: Arunava Sinha is the editor of the Books and Ideas section of Scroll.in.