literary awards

Twenty-four Indian languages, 24 literary prizes that more people should know about

The Sahitya Akademi awards are a handy way to discover fine literature from all the major Indian languages, and not just English.

In his speech at the inaugural meeting of the Sahitya Akademi in 1954, Education Minister Abul Kalam Azad had announced that the government of India had accepted a scheme “to give prizes of Rs 5,000 every year, for the best work, in each of the 14 languages mentioned in the schedule to the Constitution”. Further, he had said that the awards were “to be made on the recommendations of the Academy of Letters” in order to “encourage men of letters”.

By 2004, the Sahitya Akademi had translated this into awards in 24 languages – and of course, to both men and women of letters. (In perhaps a quaint tradition, while men are presented a garland, along with the usual shawl, citation, trophy and cheque, now for Rs one lakh, women are given bouquets.)

Even though India is awash with literary prizes now, their predominant focus on works in English means that the Sahitya Akademi awards amount to a virtual pan-Indian discovery of the best literature in different languages. With a different jury for each language, the quality of the works that win is almost uniformly high. The writer and the work, therefore, can safely be considered among the best in each language for that particular year.

Here then are this year’s winners and their works.

Assamese: Fiction writer Arupa Patangia Kalita (b. 1956), for her collection of short stories Mariam Astin Athaba Hira Baruah. An academic, Patangiya Kalita is head of department of English at Tangla College in Udalgudi, and is best-known for her critically acclaimed novels Mriganabi (1987), Feloni (2003) and Tokora Bahar Sonar Beji (2014).

Bengali: Poet Utpal Kumar Basu (b. 1937) for his collection of verses Piya Mon Bhabe. The recipient of several awards, notably, the Ananda Puraskar (2006) and the Rabindra Puraskar (2011), Basu, who lives and works in Kolkata, is known for a terse, minimalist style, avoiding emotional excesses.

Bodo: Writer and poet Urkhao Gwra Brahma (b. 1963), for his poetry collection Udangnifrai Gidingfinnanwi, which represents changing currents in contemporary Bodo society. A Parliamentarian from Assam in the Rajya Sabha, Brahma has been a life-long activist, working for the advancement of the Bodo language. He lives in Dotama in the Kokrajhar district of Assam.

Dogri: Novelist Shailender Singh (b. 1968), a Senior Superintendent of Police, for his deeply moving first novel Hashiye Par, which offers a stark uncompromising portrayal of the lives of the very poor – fishermen, labourers, farm hands – in the Chenab valley of Jammu as it recounts the story of one family, caught in the vicissitudes of fortune. Singh is a resident of Jammu.

English: Adil Jussawalla (b. 1940), considered one of the foremost poets and critics working in the English language in India, for his collection of poems Trying to Say Goodbye (2012), which appeared thirty-six years after his feted Missing Person (1976) and fifty years after his first volume of poems was published, Land’s End (1962), but reflecting the stamp of felicity and confidence that marks a master craftsman working with the melancholy maturity of all his years. Jussawalla lives in Mumbai.

Gujarati: Ashvin Mehta (1931 - 2014), the noted photographer, for his unique book of essays, Chhabi Bhitarani, which examines the relationship between the various art forms, as well as the influence of art upon language.

Hindi: Ramesh Chandra Shah (b. 1937), former academic and author of novels, short stories, poetry, essays as well as plays, for his novel Vinayak. Vinayak might be considered a jump sequel to Shah’s first novel Gobar Ganesh, where the protagonist Vinayak first appears and lives out his youth.  Shah, who has been awarded a Padmashree, is a resident of Bhopal.

Kannada: Scholar-critic G.H. Nayak (b. 1935) for his seminal work Uttaradha, a collection of critical papers ranging in subject from profound analyses of Shivarama Karanth’s novels to biographical sketches of the writer Tejaswi and theatre personality Keremane Shambu Hegde. Hegde lives and works in Mysore.

Kashmiri: Poet and academic Shad Ramzan (b. 1956) for his volume of verses Kore Kakud Gome Pushrith, which are steeped in mysticism. He has won the Sahitya Akademi Translation Prize in 2009. Ramzan is a resident of Srinagar, where he heads the Department of Kashmiri at the University of Kashmir.

Konkani: Madhavi Sardesai (1962 - 2014), scholar, publisher and writer, as well as editor of the Konkani literary journal Jaag, who worked in the field of Konkani linguistics, for her collection of essays Manthan. Dealing with a wide range of subjects, such as linguistic identity, language-specific problems in education systems, colonial – and post-colonial – modernity, Manthan is an important contribution to Konkani studies.

Maithili: Novelist Asha Mishra (b. 1950), for her deeply moving novel, Uchaat. Mishra is a resident of Darbhanga.

Malayalam: Popular writer and journalist, Subhash Chandran (b. 1972), for his novel, the magnum opus Manushyanu Oru Aamukham, a grand saga reflecting the social and political changes that have shaped and reshaped the lives of an entire generation. Chandran lives and writes in Kozhikode.

Manipuri: Naorem Bidyadhar Singha (b. 1972), whose Khung-gang Amasung Refugee is a collection of 67 poems and is considered an important contribution to the genre of Manipuri poetry. Singha is a resident of Cachar in Assam.

Marathi: Astrophysicist Padma Vibhushan Jayant Vishnu Narliker (b. 1938), who had developed, along with Sir Fred Hoyle, the conformal gravity theory, commonly known as Hoyle-Narlikar theory, one of the key schools of thought opposed to the Big Bang Theory, for his autobiography Chaar Nagarantale Maze Vishwa, an outstanding memoir set in four cities: Benaras, Cambridge, Bombay and Pune. Narlikar is a resident of Pune.

Nepali: Nanda Hangkhim (b. 1944), writer and retired government servant, for Satta Grahan, a collection of short stories based on the deep injustices and inequaities of our everyday lives. Hangkhim is a resident of Darjeeling.

Odia: Gopal Krishna Rath (b. 1945), a professor of law and poet, for his latest collection of poetry Bipula Diganta.  Rath lives and writes in Bhubaneshwar.

Punjabi: Jaswinder (b.1956), a poet with a unique voice and perspective, for his recent collection Agarbatti, a collection of ghazals. Jaswinder is a resident of Kharar in Mohali district.

Rajasthani: Rampal Singh Rajpurohit (b. 1935), a retired school teacher and short story writer, for Sundar Nain Sudha, a collection of short stories.  Rajpurohit is a resident of Norwa village in the district of Jalore.

Sanskrit: Prabhu Nath Dwivedi (b. 1947), noted Sanskritist and social activist, for Kanakalocanah, a collection of fifteen short stories, set in contemporary times. Dwivedi is a resident of Varanasi.

Santali: Dramaturge Jamadar Kisku (b. 1949) for his play Mala Mudam, which reflects the changing values of a Santali family in the age of globalization. Kisku has been writing, acting and directing plays in Santali at Kherwal Opera, Kolkata, and is also the editor of a Santali literary magazine, Tapal. He lives in Hooghly in West Bengal.

Sindhi: Gope Kamal (b. 1948), a renowned poet and fiction writer, whose day job was as a civil engineer with the Dubai Municipality, for his collection of verses, Sijja Agiyaan Buku. He is now a resident of Pune.

Tamil: Novelist P. Manickavasagam (b. 1947) , popularly known as Poomani, for his epic Agngnaadi, one of the greatest historical novels to come out of Tamil Nadu in recent times, portraying the life and times of a small rather marginalised community living in the south western part of Tamil Nadu around two hundred years ago. Poomani is a resident of Kovilpatti, Tamil Nadu.

Telugu: Rachapalem Chandrasekhara Reddy (b. 1948), critic, translator, poet and editor in Telugu, for  Mana Navalalu Mana Kathaanikalu, a collection of 24 literary essays, which not only deal with themes and analysis of fiction, but also interrogate the creative process involved in the writerly life. Reddy is a resident of Kadapa, where he heads the C.P. Brown Centre for Languages.

Urdu: Poet Munawwar Rana (b. 1952) for his collection of ghazals and verses, Shahdaba. Rana is a resident of Lucknow, and has won many awards in the past, including the Saraswati Samaj Award (2004), the Amir Khusroo Award (2006) and the Ambassador of Peace Award (2013).

Devapriya Roy's new book, co-written with Saurav Jha is The Heat and Dust Project: The Broke Couple's Guide to Bharat, the story of an eccentric journey through India on a very very tight budget, and is slated for release on May 15.  

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.