FEATURE: On DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2019

DHAKA (The Daily Star/ANN) – A wide spectrum of South Asian themes across geographies is visible here which includes writers of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Afghan and Sri Lankan origins. 

The DSC Prize celebrating the rich and varied world literature in South Asia 2019 had announced its longlist on September 26, 2019 evening at the Oxford Bookstore in New Delhi. Harish Trivedi, Chair of the jury panel revealed the much awaited list of writers which was well appreciated by the publishers, authors, journalists, and literary enthusiasts present at the event. This year’s international jury panel of DSC Prize carrying an award of US$ 25,000 includes Harish Trivedi, former Professor of English at the University of Delhi, Jeremy Tambling, former Professor of Literature at the University of Manchester, Kunda Dixit, Editor of the Nepali Times newspaper in Kathmandu, Carmen Wickramagamage, Professor of English at the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, and Rifat Munim, a bilingual writer, essayist, translator, and the literary editor of Dhaka Tribune in Bangladesh.

The well-balanced longlist comprised 3 translated works, 7 women authors and 7 debut novelists, which highlights the growing diversity in the South Asian literary landscape. A wide spectrum of South Asian themes across geographies is visible here which includes writers of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Afghan and Sri Lankan origins. The longlist involved works as followed: Half Gods by Akil Kumarasamy, Half the Night is Gone by Amitabha Bagchi, The Atlas of Reds and Blues by Devi S. Laskar, The Runaways by Fatima Bhutto, 99 Nights in Logar by Jamil Jan Kochai, The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay, There’s Gunpowder in the Air by Manoranjan Byapari (Translated by Arunava Sinha), Tell Her Everything by Mirza Waheed, In the Time of the Others by Nadeem Zaman, A Lonely Harvest by Perumal Murugan (Translated by Aniruddhan Vasudevan), The City and the Sea by Rajkamal Jha, The Empty Room by Sadia Abbas, Latitudes of Longing by Shubhangi Swarup, Sugandhi alias Andal Devanayaki by T. D. Ramakrishnan (Translated by Priya K. Nair), and Mother India by Tova Reich. Spellbinding and penetrating, each and every single work of the list raises questions of religion, literature and society that speak to our fractured times, offering profound portrayals of grief, guilt, compassion and existential dilemmas in a diasporic context while employing a powerful meditation on art and the artists who must find their own creative path in hostile conditions.

The jury further evaluated the longlisted entries over the month and a shortlist of 6 books for the DSC Prize 2019 was finally announced on 6th November, 2019 at the London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) in London, marking the program’s ninth year of successful operation. The shortlist includes: Half the Night is Gone by Amitabha Bagchi, where the protagonist Vishwanath confronts the wreckage of his own life while seeking to make sense of the new India that came into being after independence; 99 Nights in Logar by Jamil Jan Kochai that tells a deeply humorous and surprisingly tender tale of an Afghanistan teenager confronting family secrets and his own identity as he returns to a home he’s missed for six years; The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay that masterfully examines Indian politics, class prejudice, and sexuality through the lens of an outsider; There’s Gunpowder in the Air by Manoranjan Byapari, a searing investigation into what deprivation and isolation can do to human idealism; The City and the Sea by Rajkamal Jha, posing India’s tragedy of violence against women with a powerful story about our complicity in the culture that supports it; and finally, The Empty Room by Sadia Abbas, a portrait of life in Karachi at a significant moment in the nation’s history.

Mr. Trivedi, Chair of the panel commended the concerted effort of the jury board and stated, “Three of our writers live in South Asia and three live abroad—which may not come as a complete surprise. There’s now a South Asia beyond South Asia!” Two of the six novels are set partly in New Delhi, and partly in the surrounding countryside in one case, and in the other case partly on the Baltic coast. One of the novels is set in Pakistan of the 1970s, one in Kashmir, and one in Afghanistan. The sixth is actually set in a prison and was written originally in Bengali by an author who had served time and used that period to learn to read and write. Altogether, the shortlist includes works that encapsulate postcolonial realities in the 21st century South-Asian framework that are worth our close speculation on many levels.

Thereafter, the jury will meet to arrive at the final winner that will be announced at a special Award Ceremony on 16th December, 2019 at the IME Nepal Literature Festival in Pokhara in Nepal.


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