Nearly 50 years after it was first written in 1962, Bengali novelist Mani Sankar Mukherjee's book, Chowringhee, has been shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction prize for 2010 — the first time that an Indian work has accomplished the feat.

One of the most popular works in Bengali literature in the 1960s, Chowringhee, is about a myriad of characters that people a popular hotel, Shahjahan, in the city's Champs-Elysees of the times, as seen from the eyes of a clerk who works there.

That the book was on the list of bestsellers of the Ananda Bazaar Patrika as recently as last Saturday is indicative of its enduring popularity among Bengali readers.

Asked why the English translation came more than 40 years after it was first written, the author candidly remarked, “I suppose it was my middle class Bengali arrogance — why should I take my work to the world, the world should come to me.” He hoped that the recognition of the book being shortlisted would be a shot in the arm for writers of all languages in India as well as translators.

The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, awarded by The Independent and supported by the Arts Council England and Champagne Taittinger, is one of the most esteemed prizes for translated fiction in Britain. The result of the $10,000 prize, divided equally between the author and the translator will be announced on May 13.

“A certain element of universality is what usually what makes a book successful in translation,” he said.

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