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And the winner is...

Arundhati Roy is the odds on favourite to win the 1997 Booker prize.

London bookmakers have tipped Roy's The God of Small Things to bag the coveted literary award for the best English fiction from Commonwealth countries.

The award will be announced on Tuesday.

Besides Roy's book, the nominations for this year's award, announced by the Booker Trust on September 15, include Grace Notes by Bernard MacLaverty, Quarantine by Jim Grace, The Underground Man by Mick Jackson, Europa by Tim Parks and Essence of the Things by Madeleines John.

Rave reviews and the popular success of the book have placed the 37-year-old Roy within striking distance of the 20,000 pound award.

Following its release on April 5, The God of Small Things has sold more than 3,50,000 copies worldwide, making it to the bestseller list in almost every country.

It is now being translated into 22 languages.

If Roy makes it at Tuesday's gala dinner award ceremony, she will be the first 'resident' Indian to do so.

The Bombay-born, London-based Salman Rushdie had won the Booker in 1987 for Midnight's Children. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, a Jew married to an Indian architect was another 'Indian' to win it -- in 1975 for her novel Heat and Dust. Before her, in 1971, V S Naipaul, a Trinidad national of Indian descent, won the prize for his In a Free State.

Two other Indians, Anita Desai and Rohinton Mistry, have won nominations, but failed to cross the last hurdle. Desai was nominated twice, first in 1980 for Clear Light of Day and again in 1984 for In Custody. Mistry's Such a Long Journey was shortlisted in 1991.

In the subcontinent, only a Sri Lankan, Romesh Gunesekara, has won the Booker -- in 1994, for his novel Reef.

Rushdie's novels Shame,, The Satanic Verses and The Moor's Last Sigh were shortlisted in 1983, 1988 and 1995 respectively, but didn't quite make it.

Naipaul won a nomination again, eight years after he won the prize, in 1979 for A Bend in the River.

Vikram Seth, surprisingly, has never figured in the nominations. In 1993, Seth's A Suitable Boy,despite its popular success, was not shortlisted, prompting his agent Giles Gordon to write a note to one of the panel judges.

''May God and literature forgive you!'' he wrote.

Rushdie was even more harsh when J M Coetzee's Life and Times of Michael K beat his Shame to the 1983 prize. He called Coetzee's novel 'a shitty choice.'

However, in 1994 Rushdie won a rare honour when his Booker-winner EM>Midnight's Children invited a special prize in 25 years, the Booker of Bookers.


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