It was a conversation with her uncle that sparked the idea for her story, says Srividya Tadepalli, the winner of the newly-established Deodar Prize for Indian fiction.
“A few years ago, my uncle went to his aunt’s funeral in Andhra Pradesh. He later described a scene that stuck with me,” says the Chennai-based writer and educator, recounting the incident: an abnormally large swarm of flies, so many that the limbs of the funeral’s attendees were barely discernible. “I started with that image,” says Tadepalli, whose prize-winning story, ‘Funeral for a Demon’, unfurls in a similar setting.
Tadepalli’s story, one among the 587 entries from 132 cities in India, creates the world of this village and brings it alive in a fable-like manner, says jury member Ajitha G.S, publisher of the Context imprint at Westland Books. “Our winning entry is telling a big story, but it is telling it very tightly, well within the word limit,” she says, pointing out that the short story brings in many elements of life in India, including caste, gender and identity. She admits to being glad that the prize’s first edition is focused on the short story. “As readers and editors, we love short stories; it is a lovely format,” she says, adding, however, that it is often challenging to sell this format. “It is good to have a serious prize focused on the short story.”
A glance at the other notable stories, which include entries by the runners-up — ‘Ants’ by Ratul Ghosh, ‘Bats of Paradise’ by Samruddhi Ghodgaonkar — and special mentions such as ‘The Older Woman’ by Srila Roy and ‘Lambs in September’ by Sourabh Gupta are equally intriguing, creating multifaceted universes and offering immense diversity of thought and perspective, perhaps not surprising in a country as heterogenous as India. Natasha Joshi, Director, The Deodar Prize, must agree. “I think creativity is inherently intersectional,” says Joshi, who kept the contest theme agnostic to encourage this diversity. “We are trying to recognise Indian voices writing in English, to begin with, but we hope to eventually expand to regional language and long form.”
The Deodar Prize has collaborated with the Bangalore Literature Festival, “an amplification platform”, as Joshi says. The prize-winning entry will take home a cash prize of ₹1 lakh and the story will be featured in The Bombay Literary Magazine’s December edition. The two runners-up entries will receive a cash prize of ₹10,000 each, detailed feedback from a panel of editors and an offer for publication in the Hammock magazine.