Indian author Kritika Pandey on Tuesday was declared the overall winner of the 2020 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, for her story The Great Indian Tee and Snakes. The Commonwealth Foundation announced Pandey’s award in an online ceremony.

Pandey, who is a resident of Ranchi in Jharkhand, was chosen the overall winner from five regional winners. On June 2, she had been declared the recipient for the regional award for Asia.

A press release by the Commonwealth Foundation said the book is a “haunting story of forbidden love in contemporary India”. It said the novel “tells of an unlikely friendship which reaches across religious divides, set against the background of a tea seller’s stall”. According to Pandey, she “created a strong-willed character of a Hindu girl who chooses to love a Muslim boy, even though she knows that she is not ‘supposed to’.”

Ghanaian author and chairperson of the judges Nii Ayikwei Parkes presented the award to Pandey. Actor Swara Bhasker read an extract from the story.

Pandey told that the award will bring her a lot of visibility as a writer. “Winning the CSSP will bring me the sort of visibility that I’d never imagined,” she said. “I was going to keep writing until the end of time no matter what but to get this recognition means that other people will now take me and my work a bit more seriously. This, in turn, reminds me of my responsibility to the place and the culture and the people who define my sense of self. Stories can be powerful tools for change. And I am more determined than ever to use my storytelling abilities to draw attention to the struggles of those who have historically been invisibilised.”

The ceremony featured readings from Booker prizewinning author Bernardine Evaristo and actors Bhasker, Elizabeth McGovern, Kerry Fox and Leila Bertrand.