While booklovers and the media are busy celebrating Indian authors who write in English, they still harbour (subconsciously?) a step-motherly attitude towards those who write in Indian languages.
How else can one explain why the winners of the 'Indian Language Fiction Translation' category at The Crossword Book Awards 2006 had to be recalled on stage to say a few words -- long after they accepted the award and after the winner of the 'English Fiction' category was immediately asked to address the gathering?
CS Lakshmi -- the writer of Ambai, translated by Lakshmi Holstrom as In a Forest, A Deer -- when asked to say a few words, paid tribute to her mother tongue Tamil and the short story. "It is easy to give a long speech but it's very tough to say a few words. But I like writing short stories and not big novels," she said.
It was evident, though, that the organisers had taken great pains to felicitate the writers and translators of these books. The prize money in the translation category was the same as that of the other main categories -- 'English Fiction', 'English Non-Fiction' and 'Indian Language Fiction Translation', each had a cash prize of Rs 3 lakhs.
Panels of three judges decided the winners in each category. Besides, there was a popular award category, with a cash prize of Rs 1 lakh, the winner of which was decided through an SMS poll.
The winners of the first three categories were awarded at a function held at the Nehru Centre Auditorium in Mumbai on Wednesday.
Writer Vikram Seth, who won the award for the best English non-fiction work, acknowledged the importance of translators in the literary world, mentioning that he would never have become a writer had it not been for his favourite author Russian writer Alexander Pushkin, who's works he could read only because they were effectively translated into English.
Which brings us to the 'Indian Language Fiction Translation' category, which had three nominees this year: CS Lakshmi's collection of short stories (Ambai) In A Forest, A Deer, originally written in Tamil and translated by Lakshmi Holstrom; Indira Goswami's The Man From Chinnamasta, originally in Assamese, and translated by Prashant Goswami; and M Mukundan's Kesavan's Lamentations, originally in Malayalam and translated by AJ Thomas.
Goswami's work is about protests against the various animal sacrifices at the Kamakhya temple, considered to be the greatest shrine of mystic Shaktism -- one of the main religions of the state -- during the medieval period.
Kesavan's Lamentations is set in Marxist Kerala and is about a father who struggles to cope with the normalcy of daily life after giving up his rebel Naxalite ways, even as his son gets increasingly fascinated by a prominent Marxist leader.
It was a tie between In A Forest, A Deer and Lamentations. Lakshmi and AJ Thomas collected the prize money, which was split between the two winners.
The awards were followed by a dramatised reading of excerpts from the two books, which though excellent as a concept, were not so hot on execution, due to the strongly anglicised delivery of dialogues of the actors.
Actor Atul Kulkarni played the role of underworld don Ganesh Gaitonde, one of the main character's in Chandra's book, during a short enactment and actor Rajat Kapoor who also compeered the show, played a young 17-year old Vikram Seth during an enactment of Seth's autobiographical account in Two Lives.
Last year's winners in the 'Indian Language Fiction Translation' category for her book The Heart Has Its Reasons, Krishna Sobti and translator Reema Anand, were the chief guests.
The soft-spoken Sobti, now 82, sportingly climbed the steps to the stage at least five times in the course of the evening to deliver awards to all the winners.
During a short speech, she tried to drive home the point that one's writing must always be bigger that the writer and must outlive the writer, for years, if not centuries, to come -- the mark of all great writing.
The Crossword Book Awards, 2006:
English Non-Fiction: Vikram Seth for Two Lives
English Fiction: Vikram Chandra for Sacred Games
Popular award: Man Booker Prize winner for 2006 Kiran Desai for The Inheritance Of Loss
Indian Language Fiction translation: CS Lakshmi/Lakshmi Holdtrom for In a Forest, A Deer and M Mukundan/AJ Thomas for Kesavan's Lamentations.