World is becoming increasingly hostile to fiction: JCB Prize winner

Author Madhuri Vijay on Saturday was crowned the winner of this year’s JCB Prize for Literature

Updated - November 28, 2021 11:17 am IST

Published - November 06, 2019 04:03 pm IST - New Delhi

Author Madhuri Vijay. File

Author Madhuri Vijay. File

“Fiction is a strange and imperfect medium but allows for the full range of nuanced complexity that the world deserves”, said author Madhuri Vijay, who has set the literary circles abuzz in India by winning the country’s most valuable literary honour for her debut novel on Kashmir The Far Field .

The Bengaluru-born, Hawaii-based writer, on Saturday, was crowned the winner of this year’s JCB Prize for Literature, India’s richest literary award worth ₹25 lakh, seeing off competition from prolific writers such as Perumal Murugan and Manoranjan Byapari.

Reacting to the honour, the 27-year-old author, who could not attend the award ceremony in Jaipur due to her pregnancy, said in a video message from her home in the U.S. that she was yet to come to terms with the win that has catapulted her into the limelight.

“Thank you for this honour. Believe me, it is one I will never take for granted. It is very hard for me to believe that any of this is true, and I don’t think it will sink in for a very long time,” Vijay said in the video shared by JCB on its official Twitter page.

She said it was hard to describe what this prize meant to her, given what has been happening in Kashmir in the last three months after the government ended the special status of the Valley by revoking Article 370 of the Constitution.

“There is still a communication blackout in place, yet here I am speaking to you across the world with no problem at all. How does one reconcile such a thing? Should it be reconciled at all? The best way I know, the only way I know to grapple with such questions is through fiction. It is a strange and imperfect medium, but it is one of the few we have left that allows for the full range of nuanced complexity that our world deserves,” Vijay said.

The author, who teaches at a school in Hawaii, is a recipient of the Pushcart Prize and has also been longlisted for this year’s DSC Prize for South Asian Literature.

Her book, published by HarperCollins, is set partly in Bengaluru and partly in Kashmir.

Vijay said she was initially not sure her book would ever be published in India as publishers cited the “current climate in the country” as the reason behind their reluctance.

“There was a time when I truly did not think that the book would be published in India. It is a long story, but suffice it to say that more than one publisher, while expressing interest in the book, told me they couldn’t publish it in its current form because of the current climate in the country,” she said.

“I only mentioned this because on a night like tonight, when books and writers are being celebrated, it is easy to forget, and very important to remember that the world at large is becoming increasingly hostile to fiction, or, for that matter, to all forms of art,” she said.

Vijay also thanked her fellow short-listed writers — Roshan Ali, Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, Murugan and Byapari — and said she had admired them for quite a while.

“Not only for the quality of your work, but for the way you have chosen to live your lives as writers. You have faced the anger and hostility of the world, you have faced oversimplification and misunderstanding, sometimes you have even faced danger and yet you have continued to write. Watching you from afar has made me want to be a better writer, a braver writer,” she said.

Former Chief Economic Adviser to the Government of India Arvind Subramanian, who was part of the jury that unanimously adjudged Vijay’s book as the winner, termed it a “dazzling debut”.

“On behalf of the JCB Prize jury, my congratulations to all shortlisted authors and to winner Madhuri Vijay. A dazzling debut, The Far Field announces the arrival of a major talent in Indian fiction. Adding it to my Kennedy School development course reading list-under Foreign Aid”, he said in a tweet.

The jury, comprising a panel of five judges, was chaired by filmmaker and environmentalist Pradip Krishen and authors Anjum Hasan, K.R. Meera, Parvati Sharma and Mr. Subramanian.

They described the book as “an impressively ambitious novel of stunning emotional and psychological acuity” and termed Vijay a “luminous new talent in Indian literature”.

A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Vijay’s writing has appeared in the Best American Non-required Reading, Narrative Magazine and Salon , among other publications.

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