Aman Sethi, The Hindu’s correspondent in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia was on Friday declared the winner of ‘The Economist Crossword Book Award 2011’ in the Indian non-fiction category for his book A Free Man.
“It is rare to find writing in India that penetrates the texture of individual lives, but at the same time uses narratives centred around individuals to throw light on our larger social condition. Aman Sethi’s task was a delicate one. It required tactful choices: How do you convey a sense of a life without intruding? How do you make someone’s life available to others without degenerating into vicariousness? How do you convey a sense of another life, distant from your own, yet at the same time not make the mistake of creating the illusion that you have made your subject fully transparent. Sethi exercises these choices well… Simultaneously disturbing and compelling, A Free Man deserves to be read, and re-read,” the citation for the award states.
Mr. Sethi thanked the publishers and The Hindu’s Editors for their support. “The book is premised on conversation and collaboration,” he said.
Speaking of the evolution of protagonist Mohammed Ashraf’s life into a lengthier narrative for a book, Mr. Sethi told The Hindu, “As the material came together, it became a larger story about Delhi and its transformation. The episodic fragmentation of journalistic reportage cannot encapsulate the breadth of a way of life.”
The award comprises a citation, a trophy and a cash prize of Rs. 3-lakh. Jury member Harsh Sethi said that in the non-fiction category, a whole range of new and distinctive voices had emerged. “The manner in which we saw the idea of non-fiction has changed dramatically.” He said there were 125 books to consider in this category. There was “a kind of self-confidence in Indian writing,” he remarked.
In the category of Indian fiction, Anuradha Roy’s novel The Folded Earth edged out Jeeth Thayil’s Narcopolis, which was in the race for the Man Booker Prize, and Amitav Ghosh’s River of Smoke. In a video message, Ms. Roy said she never expected to win. “I am over the moon that my book has won.”
In the Indian language translation category, the award jointly went to the Bengali short-story collection titled 17 written by Anita Agnihotri and translated by Arunava Sinha, and the Malayalam novel The Araya Women by R. Narayan, which was translated by Catherine Thankamma. “There are no writers in the tribal community. Fortunately I am the one. The award is an honour to the tribal people of India and to me and my community. Translation in English brings more recognition. The book is available in seven languages,” Mr. Narayan told The Hindu.
The story of the Arya tribal community in Central Travancore was a challenge to translate, Ms. Thankamma, the translator, said. “Some of the words were untranslatable. There is a detailed glossary. Mine was a two-tier task — first to translate the book to Malayalam and then to English.”
The popular category had 10 nominations, including Chetan Bhagat’s Revolution 2020. The award in this category went to The Incredible Banker by Ravi Subramanian.
Noted Indian author Sudha Murthy was the chief guest for the evening. She recalled how her grandfather taught her to treat a book, as it is the purveyor of knowledge. That kindled in her the desire to write. “It is nice to be recognised. Recognition from our people is enjoyable,” she said, calling herself an “ordinary” writer telling stories of ordinary lives.
The total number of entries for the 11th edition of this award was 330. Actor Kabir Bedi was the compère for the event. Crossword Bookstore Chief Operating Officer Kinjal Shah said, “The awards have always been an integral part of the brand and we are thrilled the way it has risen over the years and supported Indian writing.”