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When Salman Rushdie came calling...

By the time the final award (English Non-Fiction) was announced, it almost didn't make sense to hang around anymore. Suketu Mehta picked it up, of course, for Maximum City, his much-feted study of Mumbai's by-lanes and denizens thereof.

According to judge Urvashi Butalia, feminist writer and founder of publishing house Kali for Women, there was a lot to wade through before the shortlist was arrived at -- coffee table books, memoirs, self-help books, travelogues, and even income tax guides! "We read over 70 titles," she said, "and had a lot of coffee, wine and single-malt whiskies to help us cope."

Mehta, clad in traditional kurta, said the award meant a lot more to him than a Pulitzer (for which he was nominated) or Kiriyama Prize (which he won), because it came from his "maximum city."

Speaking of returning to fiction, the form he started with, he added, "If the novel is dead, I am a necrophiliac." He also spoke of how regional writers who attempt non-fiction aren't protected by the state, and why it takes more courage to work on non-fiction than fiction "because you can always say you made the novel up." He ended by telling the audience about his 'dharma' as a writer: "To chronicle the individual's struggle with history -- personal and political."

Suketu Mehta is ostensibly on his way back home, to New York. Meanwhile, we wait for a real awards show for genuine Indian talent, and fiction judged by people qualified enough to make a decision.

Image: Mehta -- still raking in those awards.

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