The suspense was palpable as the longlist for the $25,000 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2017 was announced at New Delhi’s Oxford Book Store.
In its seventh year, this annual international literary award is given to writers of any nationality writing specifically about South Asian region and themes.
Those making the longlist are Anjali Joseph’s The Living, Anosh Irani’s The Parcel, Anuk Arudpragasam’s The Story of a Brief Marriage, Selection Day by Aravind Adiga, The Ceaseless Chatter of Demons by Ashok Ferry, South Haven by Hirsh Sawhney, Karan Mahajan’s The Association of Small Bombs, KR Meera’s The Poison of Love, Omar Shahid Hamid’s The Party Worker, Perumal Murugan’s Pyre, Sarvat Hasin’s This Wide Night, Shahbano Bilgrami’s Those Children and Stephen Alter’s In The Jungles of the Night. These include two translated works thus opening up a much-needed avenue for the translators to be recognised and appreciated.
Omar Shahid Hamid is a Pakistani writer, a serving police officer of the Police Service of Pakistan, and son of the assassinated Malik Shahid Hamid, managing director of the Karachi Electric Supply Corporation.
While on sabbatical, Omar wrote a novel The Prisoner, inspired by his experiences in the police. The book became a bestseller in both India and Pakistan. His second novel The Spinner’s Tale was published in 2015 by Pan Macmillan India, and was loosely based on events and characters involved in the kidnapping of the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was murdered in Karachi in 2002. The Spinner’s Tale won the Karachi Literature Festival’s fiction prize in 2017, and also won the Italy Reads Pakistan prize in the same year. Omar released his third book The Party Worker, in January 2017.
With a total of 69 books submitted, the task of choosing was not easy. The five-member jury who read and decided were filmmaker Steven Bernstein, Oxford University Professor of English Valentine Cunningham, University of Peradeniya Senior English Professor Senath Walter Perera and London-based journalist and columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. Publisher and writer Ritu Menon headed it.
Releasing the list, Ritu Menon observed, “Going through the submissions, I found that a generation of writers in the region had come on its own. They are confident, accomplished, trying all sorts of new things, experimenting with language, subject matter, form, style and doing so with great assurance and very successfully. All this in large numbers, may be because we have a large young population.” She qualified that by experimenting she did not mean wildly ambitious or outrageous or shocking. “They all were approaching the subject matter with certain freshness and individuality, which is very local and South Asian.”
When asked about the subjects being dealt with in the novels, she said, “They were on sports, war, historical events, current affairs, politics, romance, almost very subject.” On pointing out that they all were universal, she agreed. “What was novel, was the perspective and experience they brought to bear on these common themes — it was local.” Giving examples, she added, “Writing about conflict or war, a Pakistani writer will not write the same way as a Sri Lankan or Indian would. Or writing about the civil war in Sri Lanka can’t be replicated even though it may remind one what is happening in Kashmir or in Afghanistan or Balochistan.”
Writer Ritu Menon notes that selected novels cover a diverse range of themes including sports, war, historical events, politics and romance
Besides recognising local voices, DSC prizes encourages new talent to take root. The longlist includes three debut writers.
“That has always been the case. In the inaugural year, 2011, we had HM Naqvi, later, Jeet Thayil in 2013 and Anuradha Roy in 2016. This acknowledgement of talent needs to be encouraged and celebrated,” said Menon with a smile.
Each jury member chose 10 books of the 69 and submitted to Menon with comments. There was voting on the list to arrive at 13. “The consensus was devoid of any confrontation or argument. In fact, there was remarkable similarity in the list,” said Menon.
Published in Daily Times, August 12th 2017.