From February 15 to 20, 2016, as the Delhi winter dwindled to a fair brief spring – which almost seems to be in a rush to give way to a remarkably early summer this year – the Sahitya Akademi celebrated its annual Festival of Letters at Rabindra Bhawan, which included the presentation of the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Awards for 2015.
The citation, shawl, and cheque for Rs one lakh rupees – yes, those awards – were presented to Indian writers in twenty-four languages, and were given to specific works. This is an important distinction. Since the honour is bestowed upon the book, even if the author refuses the award (it has happened several times in the past) or returns it, the book that has been selected will, apparently, forever retain its honour.
In a truly liberated Foucaldian sense, thus, the Sahitya Akademi awards honour the work over its author.
Keeping this in mind, we have compiled here a list of the books which have received the Sahitya Akademi award for the year 2015. Though there are only twenty-two Scheduled Languages in the Indian Constitution, the awards are given in twenty-four, English and Rajasthani being the two non-Schedule VIII languages which are awarded the Sahitya Akademi Prize.
The award-winning collection of thirteen short stories is Akashar Chhabi Aru Ananya Galpa is by Kula Saikia (born in 1959 in Assam), fiction-writer and currently the Additional Director General of Police in Assam. Influenced by post-modernist currents, his writing has occasionally reflected magic realism.
Shono Jabaphul, a collection of poems by eminent writer and former professor of Bengali, Alok Sarkar (born in 1933 in Calcutta), whose body of work includes, in addition to about 30 poetry collections, 13 plays, several novels, volumes of essays and memoirs. He has also been the recipient of Rabindra Purashkar, West Bengal’s highest literary award.
Baidi Dengkhw Baidi Gab, by noted litterateur and former school headmaster Brajendra Kumar Brahma (born in 1943 in Kokrajhar), pioneers the “anti-poem” movement in Bodo, using prose-like techniques to talk about difficult themes ranging from ecological disasters, loss of forestlands, the trauma of urbanization and globalisation.
Parchhamen Di Lo, a book of poetry by the prolific Dogri writer and folklorist Dhian Singh (born in Gharota, Jammu, in 1939). An educationist of forty years’ standing, Singh won the Sahitya Akademi’s Bal Sahitya Puraskar in 2014.
Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer by playwright, screenwriter and novelist Cyrus Mistry (born in 1956) is a searing love story around a tiny ostracised minority among the Parsis, the Khandiyas, the eponymous corpse bearers of the title. Mistry, who lives and works in Bombay, is also the recipient of the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, 2014.
Ante Aarambh, parts one and two, offer a collection of essays – ranging on a wide variety of questions in philosophy, psychology, mathematics, education and language – by the inimitable scholar and thinker Rasik Shah (born in Mumbai in 1922) whose unique voice in the world of letters has had a towering influence on several generations of Gujarati writers and critics.
Aag Ki Hansi, a volume of poems by eminent Hindi writer and former academic Ramdarash Mishra (born in 1942 in Gorakhpur). Mishra has published widely in Hindi, across genres ranging from novels to short story collections, criticism, travelogues and memoirs, in addition to poetry, and has won many awards, including the Mahapandit Rahul Sankrityayan Samman and the Sahityakar Samman.
Akshaya Kavya, a volume of deeply experimental verse by poet and linguist, KV Thirumalesh (born in 1940 in Karadaka village in Kerala). Thirumalesh has won the Karnataka Sahitya Akademi twice in the past for his poetry and criticism.
Jamis Ta Kasheeri Manz Kashir Natia Abduk Tawareekh by noted writer and educationist Bashir Bhadarwahi (born in 1935 in Bhadarwah in Jammu) is a magnificent book of literary criticism that traces the history and genealogy of the “Naat” tradition in Kashmiri, and discusses in detail, its major and minor exponents.
Karnaparva, a play by the Konkani writer and dramaturge Uday Bhembre (born in 1939 in Margao) is based on the Mahabharata and offers a unique perspective on the relationship between Arjuna, Karna and Krishna. A lawyer by profession, Bhembre has also been an activist for Konkani, a lyricist and an award-winning actor.
Khissa, a collection of evocative short stories rooted in the local, by writer and academic Man Mohan Jha (born in 1951 in Patna). Jha has written short stories, essays and plays, and has won several awards in the past, including the Kiran Puraskar and the Rahika Madhubani awards.
Aaraachar, translated as Hangwoman, is the best-known novel of critically acclaimed writer, columnist and former journalist KR Meera (born in 1970 in Kollam). Aaraachar is set in Bengal, and tells the story of a feisty young woman, Chetna, who is about to take up the family profession: execution of prisoners. Hailed as an epic of our times, the novel was shortlisted for the DSC Prize in 2016. Meera has won both critical acclaim and great popular success for her novels, short stories and screenplays.
Ahingna Yekshilliba Mang by prolific Manipuri poet and lyricist, and army officer, Kshetrimayum Rajen Singh (born in 1968 in Thoubal, Manipur) is a collection of ninety-one poems that draw from the rich resources of Manipuri to express the different aspects of life in the times of discord and love in Manipur. In addition to awards for his writing, Singh has also won a Police Medal for Meritorious Service in 2014.
Chalat Chitravyooh, a collection of twelve personal essays on renowned artists of contemporary India, by Arun Khopkar (born in 1945), the internationally acclaimed documentary film-maker, actor and scholar. Khopkar is an authority on the aesthetic theories of Sergei Eisenstein. A polymath and polyglot, he is also the recipient of the National Award for the best book on cinema in 1996 and the Satyajit Ray Memorial Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to films.
Samyaka Prativimbhaharu, a collection of superbly crafted short stories, by well-known and widely feted author and critic Gupta Pradhan (born in 1945 in Darjeeling). Pradhan started writing from Class Eight onwards and has been the recipient of multiple awards, including the Nepali Sahitya Sammelan award.
Mahishasurara Muhan, a collection of short stories by one of Odisha’s most loved writers, Bibhuti Pattanaik (born in 1937 in Jagatsinghpur), who has published more than one hundred and fifty books – novels, travelogues, criticism, collections of short stories – in a career spanning five decades. Irrespective of the views of critics, Pattanaik never gave up on his wide readership to pursue more literary goals, embracing instead with warmth and wit his unassailable position as a popular storyteller.
Maat Lok, a powerful novel set in the backdrop of the political turbulence in Punjab in the nineteen eighties, by award-winning academic and writer Jaswinder Singh (born in 1954 in Jalandhar). While his short stories have been translated into many languages and published in India and around the world, Maat Lok has also been included in the MA (Punjabi) syllabus of Kurukshetra University.
Gawaad, a groundbreaking novel, representing a paradigm shift in the world of the Rajashthani novel, by the journalist and editor Madhu Acharya “Ashawadi” (born in 1960 in Bikaner). The resident editor-in-chief of the Bikaner edition of Dainik Bhaskar, Ashawadi has won many literary honours, including the Sangeet Ntaak Akademi Jodhpur Award.
Vandevi, a contemporary reworking of the Ramayana around Sita, cast in the form of an epic poem, by Ram Shankar Awasthi (born in 1942 in Kanpur), who has had an illustrious career as a Sanskrit scholar, publishing more than twenty works of original writing, spanning genres as diverse as drama, autobiography and short stories.
Parsi Khatir, an accomplished play that portrays the crisis surrounding the Santali language itself, by Rabi Lal Tudu (born in 1949 in Burdwan). A banker all his life, Tudu has contributed enormously to Santali literature through drama for proscenium productions as well as for the radio.
Mahingi Murk, a collection of short stories that challenge the traditional order, by Maya Rahi (born in 1939 in Quetta), who has written principally in Sindhi all her life, but has also published a volume of short stories in Hindi. Mumbai-based Rahi was a teacher of Hindi for nearly four decades.
Ilakkiya Suvadukal, a volume of critical essays which engages with contemporary literature in Tamil, Malayalam, English and Kannada, with detailed expositions on individual authors, bears the signature brilliance of Aa Madhavan, the iconic Tamil writer. Born in 1934 in Trivandrum, Madhavan was formally educated only till Class Ten. An autodidact as it were, he read translations of Russian, French, English and Indian classics in Malayalam translation and started writing by the late 1940s. He is now known as a novelist, translator, journalist, literary critic, as well as language activist.
Vimukta, a collection of linked short stories borne out of a feminist reading of the Ramayana, authored by the Telugu writer Volga (born in 1950 in Guntur). Born Lalitha Kumari Popuri, Volga is today one of the best regarded writers working in Telugu, and it is not only through her novels but also because of her screenplays. Her second novel, Svechhaa (1987) is considered a landmark moment in Indian feminist writing. Vimukta, too, offers stunning moments. In her Ramayana, for instance, Sita and Surpanakha are friends.
Tasawwuf Aur Bhakti is a brilliant philosophical treatise that analyses the central tenets of Sufism and Vedanta through the concepts of “tasawwuf” and “bhakti” by Shamim Tariq (born in 1952 in Varanasi). An alumnus of Benaras Hindu University, Tariq started his career as the Assistant Editor of Blitz magazine, and is a journalist and critic of many years’ standing. His fresh voice and unique perspective on contemporary issues has won him a large following across India.
Devapriya Roy is the author of The Vague Woman’s Handbook, The Weight Loss Club and along with Saurav Jha, of The Heat and Dust Project: the Broke Couple’s Guide to Bharat.
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