Amitav Ghosh. Jhumpa Lahiri. Salman Rushdie. They may be of Indian descent, but can you really call them Indian authors?
Preeta Samarasan in her Wikipedia entry is defined as a Malaysian English author. Neel Mukherjee has been living abroad for more than a decade.
Which leaves Manjula Padmanabhan and Anuradha Roy as the only authors I would classify as truly ‘Indian’ in the shortlist for the Vodafone Crossword Popular Book Award 2008.
I don’t have anything against any of the authors. Some of them I even like quite a bit. And some of the books on the short list I have read and enjoyed. But when an award is instituted supposedly to “recognise and reward the best of Indian writing and ensure that works of merit reach a wider audience”, I would personally like the awards to honour books that are truly ‘Indian’.
Ms. Lahiri’s snapshots of the Indian diaspora, though accurate, are the musings of people who define themselves as no longer Indian. Ms. Samarasan’s debut novel is supposed to be about Malay-Indians – again, people no longer Indian.
Should the awards be open to all authors of Indian descent, or should it be restricted to people who define themselves as Indian? Isn’t there enough fiction set in India, or written by resident Indians that can be honoured? Does giving an award to a Vikram Seth or a Salman Rushdie promote the reading habit in India?
How much better it would be if the Award sought out genuine Indian gems and introduced them to the reading public. Pirated copies of ‘The Enchantress of Florence’ and ‘Sea of Poppies’ have been available at the Haji Ali signal for months. I would love to see Gouri Dange’s ‘3, Zaika Mansion’ being hawked there.
[The results are out. Neel Mukherjee is the joint winner. Is now the time to say that we were in University together?]