Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Prize Goes To...

We were ambitious and lucky.
The first year, we caught a big fish cheap. I had convinced the committee that ‘it’s make or break’, that we should spend all that we had to rope in a judge who would give our award, and the literary society, legitimacy and respectability. Weren’t we surprised when the head honcho stated a price less than a quarter of what we had been willing to give? We had not realized that down-on-luck writers didn’t need a recession to feel the economic pinch. Our calculations turned out to be correct as far as submissions and the attraction of a celebrity’s name were concerned. Enthusiasts submitted and paid for more than one entry, as if it was a lottery, betting that their writing would seem better in bulk. They too were right in a way. The judge’s selection was as good as a lottery. He kept aside language, plot, characters and originality; and, let his critical eye focus on ‘ingenuity and style’. The prize-winning story ‘echoes Mishima and Hemingway’, the judge declared. It had a protagonist, with a propensity for soliloquy and daydreaming, who killed himself; and the ingenious style could have been the excessive use of capital letters. Mind you, Arundathi Roy came much later.
It was smooth sailing from then on, with no dearth of funds. The second year, thirteen women and three men were shortlisted, and we let a man win. That spurred the competitive spirit in women writers, and only one man made it to the shortlist the third year. A woman won, of course, and we were the first to coin the phrase, ‘Indian Woman Writer’. That had involved a lot of deliberation. The women members of the literary society were against such a classification, ‘writer is a writer, period’, they had argued. They were clearly surprised when the public, writers and readers, took to that new class of writers with great fervor. The fourth year, we opened the competition to all, Indian and foreign, and the prize went to a Chilean working in South Africa. Apartheid was still going strong then and the photo of the writer seemed to be that of a non-white. The fifth year, the creative writing schools lobbied hard and four out of five in the shortlist advertised skills obtained in such courses. They wrote well, sounded similar and inadvertently plagiarized the same material. The sixth year, the great Indian novelist was born. The writing was simple, precursor to Chetan Bhagat and such, and plot was even simpler. That year, the protagonist in the winning piece suffered from bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, by day an Aamir Khan in Satyameva Jayate and by night the same actor in Ghajini, with the twist that the former persona turns out to be a killer. It was critically acclaimed and readers gave the feedback, ‘could identify with the character much before the end’. The next year, we returned to social causes and chose an Indian Woman Writer from Backward Society.
A few years back, we appeared liberal and the right-wing lot named us ‘left-wing fascists’. Hate mail, faeces and legal notices filled the letterbox. Two years later, the left accused us of selling our souls when we gave the prize to an endearing piece about lost culture, respect, love and god. Everyone at some time or the other has threatened to boycott us, but like dog turd on shoe-soles, we persist in form and in senses. It could be because of the handsome prize-money our deep coffers allow. We like to think that it is because we allow total freedom. We have never insisted on a theme or structure or even literary skills. Each year, the literary society channels all its efforts towards selecting the right category that resonates with or guides public sentiment, and the winning story follows.


  1. Haha.... Definitely funny..!!!

    I have to give it to you.. !!! you have written something very profound and eye opening in your own style of satire...

    I was wondering... what is more important for a writer.. being popular and recognized and accepted? or to write his thoughts and be too critical about one self?

    Last week a frustrated friend who was genuinely interested in photography but had no professional experience or learning ... in frustration told me.. anyone with a camera is a photographer now.. and with the social media and the hype I am frustrated...
    He.. like many of us... is not even competing with them and their Warholian fame...but I understood what he felt.. !!

    Do I understand what is written in this one? I am not sure...!


    1. Thanks a lot for reading this one, KP.

      Well, a writer should write. But he needs readers too. And I think the good ones do manage to get readers.

      As for those who decide what is good, now there it is best to regard it as subjective... in fact, very subjective.

      Have you followed movie awards? At times, it is more interesting to figure out why they gave an award to a particular movie. Often, I get this feeling that the reasons are outside movie-making.

      I guess book or story awards have similar considerations.