‘The book is about distress, religious intolerance’

Anees Salim, winner of The Hindu Prize for Best Fiction 2013, in his acceptance speech at The Hindu Lit for Life, on Monday said the award was an acknowledgement of the ugliness in the world.

“The book is not about hope. It is about hopelessness. More than anything else, it is about distress and religious intolerance that can divide humanity and win elections,” the writer, who was represented by his publisher Pranav Kumar of Picador at the event, said. Mr. Salim, who leads a reclusive life in Kochi, is a college dropout-turned-advertising professional, who has published four novels in quick succession. Vanity Bagh, his second book, largely known as a dark comic tale, is about the life of a boy from the minority community.

Youth participation

With live blogging of events and stage plays by students of Stella Maris College, the Vellore Institute of Technology, SRM University, Anna University and M.O.P. College for Women, the participation of the youth was discernible in the fest.

Writer Timeri N. Murari, who was part of the jury, said picking the best out of 125 novels that “descended” upon him and the other judges in six months was challenging. “We [the jury members] argued a lot, we emailed a lot. We skipped through some books, some we went back to,” he said. “The book [Vanity Bagh] moved all of us. The consistency of writing style, the way he [Salim] brings out characters, imagination and humour moved us all.”

“There is a lot of writing going on out there. But there is unevenness in the talent. There are writers reaching out to people, but there are not enough editors. Everyone wants to be a writer, nobody wants to be an editor,” Mr. Murari pointed out.

On other books

The jury members also talked about other shortlisted books. Surgeon and novelist Kavery Nambisan said Manjul Bajaj’s Another Man’s Wife and Other Stories was written with a lot of conviction and had exquisite moments of beauty.

Sonara Jha’s Foreign, said writer K. Satchidanandan, engages with the harsh realities of Vidharbha suicides, feudal conflicts and had atypical characters.

Amandeep Sandhu’s Roll of Honour, said writer and critic Geeta Doctor, was an evocative account of a young Jat Sikh boy in the military academy during Operation Bluestar. Writer Arundhathi Subramanian said Manu Joseph’s The Illicit Happiness of Other People was a darkly comic novel.

Novelist Jim Crace, the chief guest at the event, said writing a novel, getting it published and receiving successful reviews was difficult and challenging.

“At the end of 2013, I was shortlisted for three awards, including the Man Booker, and every time, some one else’s name was called out,” he said. Urging the other shortlisted writers not to be disappointed, he said: “There is a winner but there are no losers here.”

The three-day-long fest which culminated on Monday was sponsored by the House of Hiranandani and powered by VIT University.

N. Ram, Chairman, Kasturi and Sons Limited, N. Ravi, Editor-in-Chief, The Hindu, Nirmala Lakshman, Director, Kasturi and Sons Limited, and Curator, The Hindu Lit for Life, participated in the valedictory function

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