A quick look at the contenders for The Hindu Prize 2013, to be announced on January 13, 2014.

Culling out five names from a list of 179 is difficult, and judging fiction even more so. Together, they pose a daunting challenge of creating a shortlist that must both reflect and contain within it a cross section of the best of English fiction in India and reflect its myriad colours, voices and stories.

After months of deliberation and discussions, e-mails and telephone conversations that went to and fro like a five-way tennis rally, the shortlist for The Hindu Prize 2013 was announced on November 9. It comprised five books that the eminent panel of judges felt best reflected the new voices emerging in India.

Manu Joseph found himself on the shortlist again for his second novel, The Illicit Happiness of Other People, which is a seamless mix of tragedy, humour and satire His debut novel had won him the first award in 2010.

It’s the second time on the shortlist for Manjul Bajaj too. Her book, Another Man’s Wife, is the only collection of short stories on the list, representing that part of Indian English fiction that sometimes finds few takers but still holds a position that is both relevant and important. In her stories, Bajaj explores love, and its multifaceted reality.

Though Sonora Jha admits that she was stunned when she found her name on the shortlist, her place there feels both fitting and expected. For a journalist who claims to have no idea about writing fiction, Jha has penned a novel that is wonderfully nuanced and layered, earning the author a spot on the shortlist.

Amandeep Sandhu’s Roll of Honour handles ideas remembering and reclaimation, and perhaps most of all, resolutions. It tackles that difficult space where political and personal tragedies meet, and Sandhu, writing about the Punjab of 1984, navigates this space with masterful ease.

Like the rest of the shortlisted names, Anees Salim is no surprise. This advertising professional is sort of a literary marvel, with four books published in quick succession. Vanity Bagh, the book that has earned Salim a spot on the shortlist, is a portrait of a “tiny Pakistan inside a big Indian city”. and explores the lingering, still existing distrust and mistrust that exist between the communities. Salim’s narrative rings true and real, but never becomes too solemn or pedantic.

This handful of voices, words and stories cannot cover every single idea, theme and narrative emerging in the country today but it encapsulates the essence of authorial brilliance that is only getting better with time. This month, one of these authors will carry home the Hindu Prize, but each of them has already become a name to be reckoned with.

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