The Hindu Best Fiction Award 2010 ceremony was a heady mix of intelligent conversation, magical music and an appreciation of the best that Indian literature has to offer today…

“The Literary Review brings together the two ends of the literary world — the love of reading and good books; the love of reading good books,” said N. Ram, Editor-in-chief of The Hindu in his welcome address at The Hindu Best Fiction Award 2010 ceremony, held at the Taj Connemara in Chennai on November 1. Every single person in the audience could identify with this statement, for, after all, they had gathered there to commemorate and celebrate great fiction. Mr. Ram also underlined that The Hindu, despite not always agreeing with their views, had consistently stood for the freedom of expression of authors, supporting the likes of Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy. The award was yet another way of recognising and encouraging Indian writing in English, providing a platform that he hoped would grow from strength to strength till it could stand proud and equal to the many other coveted literary awards of the world.

In her introductory address, Dr. Nirmala Lakshman, Joint Editor, The Hindu, said that “The Hindu Literary Review has, over the last 20 years, showcased some of the best writers in India and across the world.” She said that what started as a four-page edition has grown to become one of the widely read literary supplements. “We will recognise good writing and exemplary literary achievement not just through our pages, but also hopefully with awards like the ones that we are giving today; wider in scope and range to include works in translation, new creative talents, and also to honour writers who have spent their lifetime mining the human spirit through their words and ideas.” She also added that the shortlisted books were of high calibre and proof that there is some exceptional writing talent in the country. “The number and range of books that were sent to us by publishers was astonishing both because they demonstrated a wide range of fictional themes and diverse talents from different parts of the country, ” Dr. Lakshman said.

Gracing the event was the Guest of Honour Gopalkrishna Gandhi, former Governor of West Bengal. Mr. Gandhi unveiled the plaque of the Book Award, revealing to the audience the beautifully crafted black and gold book. Mr. Gandhi also shared his views on the importance and relevance of literary awards in his speech, peppered with his trademark humour and quips.

Invigorating exchange

Following Mr. Gandhi's speech was an invigorating conversation between Chief Guest Nayantara Sahgal and N. Ram, where Sahgal introduced her new book Jawaharlal Nehru: Civilizing a Savage World. Published by Penguin India, the book canvases the life and times of Nehru as only a book by his niece, ‘an insider with a ringside view to history', could.

In the first year of its conception and presentation, the award received responses from the audience that confirmed its mark on the literary world. Gathered among the audience were noted and distinguished writers and publishers, along with just great readers. “This event is typical of The Hindu, and done in the typical Hindu style. It's something I am grateful I've attended and will not forget,” said Prem Karra. Another member of the audience said that Sahgal's speech had made a great impression on her. “Her speech was a huge lesson to me. The way she returns to the foundations of our country, away from the scams and scandals that are racking it right now... hats off to her” said Padma Srinath.

The Ballroom, fragrant with flowers and lit up brightly, was made even more special by the presence of the guests and audience, each there to support and uphold the legacy of literature in India. Packed to capacity with more guests walking in every minute, it looked as if every fiction lover in the city had gathered there. Suraksha Giri said, “It's almost like a mystery you see, with so many elements packed together, the music, the spice, the action, and of course, the end. I hope there will be much more of this next year”.

Amaan Ali Khan and Ayaan Ali Khan worked magic on the sarod, elevating the audience to an hour of musical ecstasy. The compositions in Raag Bihag and Desh were a delight to the ears, as Sandeep Das and Vignesh Kumar accompanied them on tabla.

Then, it was time for the much-awaited moment. Putting an end to the suspense, on behalf of the final judging panel, Shashi Deshpande announced Manu Joseph as the winner of the inaugural year's award for his debut novel Serious Men. “It was a unanimous decision and it was the book that we all were excited about,” said Deshpande.

Man of the moment

The audience was all smiles as Manu Joseph spoke on how it was a sweet moment after many failed attempts to get his name printed in The Hindu when he was in college. “An award is as good as its shortlist”, said Manu and added that he was delighted that his book was selected from among such fine works.

Academic and critic Brinda Bose, one of the final jury members said, “The book is well written and spans across a whole lot of important and exciting issues. The author has an amazing sense of humour and it is surely a brilliant read.”

Author and essayist Mukul Kesavan, another jury member, said “There are no low pressure passages in this book. The book is exciting line by line, but altogether it is focused on the method of story telling. It is a brilliant read and I would say this is what we get when we put together Lucky Jim (by Kingsley Amis) and Tin Men (by Michael Frayn). I know this is a confused analogy and it is difficult to compare this book to something else, but this is the closest that I could come to.”

V. Kalidas, Vice President, Advertising, thanked the sponsors — Ford, Shriram Chits, VGN, Univercell and Parker — for their cooperation. The evening ended with a promise to come back with the award next year, but with grander celebrations as it coincides with the successful completion of 20 years of the Literary Review.

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