The awards are likely to be announced and presented in November, 2016.
The fiction shortlist
Flood of Fire, Amitav Ghosh
In 1893, China has embargoed the sale of opium, and the British colonial government in India is on a mission to reinstate it. The ship that is central to this novel is The Hind, sailing from Bengal to Hong Kong. In this, the final instalment of the ambitious Ibis trilogy, Ghosh brings together a host of characters from the tale, including Zachary Reid, the American sailor, and Shireen, the widow of an opium merchant who is looking for his lost son.
Hadal, CP Surendran
This is Surendran’s third novel, and it is about Miriam Zacharias, who has lost her family in a tsunami in the Maldives, and has quit her job to write a novel. She moves to Kerala, where she meets her ex-lover Roy, a senior scientist at ISRO, as well as disgraced policeman Honey Kumar. The novel is based on a true story about a spy scandal in ISRO in 1994.
The Black Hill, Mamang Dai
This historical novel is set in the mid-19th century, across the region now called North-East India. It concerns the resistance of the Abor and Mishmee tribes against the relentless advances of the East India Company. The book references the real-life disappearance of a French priest in the 1850s, who becomes a character in the story.
Sleeping on Jupiter, Anuradha Roy
The novel begins with Nomita the protagonist witnessing her father being murdered. After this, she is abandoned by her mother and ends up in an ashram in Jarmuli run by an influential guru. Later, she is adopted by a family in Norway. As an adult, she returns to Jarmuli to work on a documentary film – and confront her own past.
The Cosmopolitans, Anjum Hasan
The novel centres around 53-year-old Qayenaat, who is single, and exists on the fringes of the Bangalore art scene. Her life in the city is upset by events following the arrival of Baban Reddy, now the toast of the same art scene. She leaves the city and travels to Simhal – “the heart of rural, war-torn India.”
The nonfiction shortlist
Ahmedabad: a City in the World, Amrita Shah
Journalist Amrita Shah chronicles the great transformations of the city of Ahmedabad – from the site where Mahatma Gandhi’s resistance against the British was born to a city torn by communal hatred and violence, to Prime Minister Modi’s “stronghold”. She does this through a varied cast of characters and visits to important sites, including neighbourhoods torn asunder by sectarian violence.
Gita Press and the Making of Hindu India, Akshaya Mukul
This is the story of the making of “an empire that spoke in a militant Hindu nationalist voice” – the Gita Press, set up in the early 1920s by Jaydayal Goyandka and Hanuman Prasad Poddar. Mukul demonstrates how the books and materials published by the Gita Press played a significant role in the formation of “a Hindu political consciousness.”
No One Else: A Personal History of Outlawed Love and Sex, Siddharth Dube
No One Else is the story of Dube’s childhood – it begins in 1960s Calcutta, with Dube’s realisation that he does not fit into social norms of gender and sexuality. This thread of the story follows him from Doon School to Harvard and beyond – taking in the story of his loves, friendships, and political awakening. It is also the story of the people Dube considers his comrades – stigmatised sex workers and those oppressed by the ascendance of right-wing forces around the world.
The Seasons of Trouble, Rohini Mohan
Set in the aftermath of the Sri Lankan civil war, this book centres around three people. The first of these is Sarva, who has been falsely charged by the state and detained. The second is Sarva’s mother Indra, who fights for her son’s freedom. The third is Mugil, a former child soldier who deserts the LTTE in order to protect her family.
The Ivory Throne: Chronicles of the House of Travancore, Manu S Pillai
Pillai tells the story of Sethu Lakshmi Bayi, the last queen of the House of Travancore, one of India’s most powerful princely states. In this tale of political intrigue, Pillai explores the lives and machinations of a cast of characters, including “the flamboyant painter Raja Ravi Varma and his wrathful wife, scheming matriarchs of violent, profligate and sordid character, wife-swapping court favourites, vigilant English agents, quarrelling consorts and lustful kings.”
The Spirit of Indian Painting, BN Goswamy
The art historian engages with Indian art history through 101 paintings created between the years 1100 and 1900, “from Jain manuscripts and Rajasthani, Mughal, Pahari and Deccani miniatures, to Company School paintings.” The introduction to the book explores the themes and value systems that have influenced Indian painters, as well as variations in regional styles, techniques, and contexts.
The children’s writing shortlist
Adventure on Wheels, Prashant Pinge
This adventure features two thieves who accidentally kidnap three orphaned children, and “a failed attempted robbery”.
Bookasura, Arundhati Venkatesh, illustrated by Priya Kuriyan
Young Bala must contend with the “strange, many-headed creature” Bookasura, who demands to be given books. The problem is that Bala has only a finite supply of books.
Our Incredible Cow, Mahasweta Devi, illustrated by Ruchi Shah
The cow Nyadosh will has quite an appetite. She “chomps on textbooks, feasts on frocks and devours anything blue in colour.” But she really gets going once she tastes ilish fish – “there’s just no stopping her.”
Our Nana was a Nutcase, Ranjit Lal
Nana and his partner Shaddy Aunty bring up the siblings Gosling, Duckling, Dingaling and Dumpling in the Shadow House. The eccentric Nana makes life interesting for everyone around him, but it becomes clear eventually that he is living with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Talking of Muskaan, Himanjali Sankar
Young Muskaan has tried to kill herself. While she is in hospital battling for her life, three of her friends at school talking about her life, and theirs. They speak of what happens at “… school, home and the larger world, the school bus and the basketball court; about secrets that become burdens”, and try to make sense of life – and death.
The translated literature shortlist
The Sun That Rose From The Earth, written and translated by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi
Set in “the great cities of north India” and spanning “the glittering age of the Mughals”, the stories in Faruqi’s collection feature an array of some of the greatest Urdu poets of all time. In one story, a young Rajput travels to get Mirza Ghalib’s autograph. In another, Mir Taqi Mir meets the beautiful Nurus Saadat, “the first great love of his life.” The widow of Shaikh Mushafi tells a rich businessman who wants to be a poet the story of her husband’s life. Studded with the portraits of these poets, Faruqi’s collection of stories in Urdu has been translated by the author into English.
Island of Lost Shadows, E Santosh Kumar, translated by PN Venugopal
This is a translation of the Sahitya Akademi award-winning Malayalam novel Andhakaaranazhi, which delves into the horrors of the Emergency. It follows the lives of Sivan, a revolutionary who is now a fugitive, and Sakunthala, who is searching for her missing husband, the poet Sreenivasan, as well as several other characters grappling with the terror and violence they must contend with.
In a Land Far from Home, Syed Mujtaba Ali, translated by Nazes Afroz
Syed Mujtaba Ali wrote Deshe Bideshe, the only eyewitness account of a crucial point in Afghanistan’s history written by a non-Afghan, in Bengali. It details the overthrow of the reformist king Amanullah, who wanted to encourage girls to get education and give women the option of removing the burqa. The king was overthrown by bandit leader Bacha-e-Saqao.
Fence, Ila Arab Mehta, translated by Rita Kothari
Young Fateema Lokhandwala has many dreams: she would like to study further, to have a better job, and to one day have her own house. Her brother takes a different path – to join the jihad. This portrait of a young Muslim woman whose life is circumscribed by communal violence and poverty, but who strives to climb onto a larger, more hopeful canvas has been translated from the Gujarati by Rita Kothari.
Hundreds of Streets to the Palace of Lights, S Diwakar, translated by Susheela Punitha
This is a collection of seventeen short stories in which acclaimed Kannada writer S Diwakar explores different periods of time and perspective, looking at themes like “grief, hope, passion, and alienation”.
Farewell, Mahatma, Devibharathi, translated by N Kalyan Raman
The title story of this Tamil collection was written by Devibharathi after the 2002 Gujarat riots. In writing it, he wanted to “discover, through my imagination, how the spirit of Gandhi came to be extinguished from our land”. The collection consists of nine short stories and a novella.