The shortlist for this year's Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize, featuring six first-time writers, was announced today. A coveted prize given to encourage authors from the subcontinent, it was instituted in the memory of Shakti Bhatt, a young editor-writer, who died suddenly in 2007.
Since then, the Shakti Bhatt Foundation has chosen several writers, including Mohammed Hanif (2008), Samanth Subramanian (2010) and the late Jamil Ahmad (2011), for the honour. Of the six shortlisted this year, four live and work outside India.
According to writer Arshia Sattar, who, along with poet Jeet Thayil, selected the six titles, the shortlist "reminds us that the diaspora is writing hard and writing well". She wrote in the announcement, "All the books this year should make us reconsider what we think we know but have either forgotten or not acknowledged: the long (and often sinister) shadows of particular events and people, the individual lives nestled inside large histories, lives that shimmer on the margins of our vision and as always, the darkness hidden inside families."
Here's what you should know about these six writers and their books:
- Manu S Pillai, who is currently chief of staff at Congress MP Shashi Tharoor's office, is the author of The Ivory Throne, an ambitious retelling of history, based on archival research. The book revisits the life of Sethu Lakshmi Bai, the last and forgotten queen of the House of Travancore.
- Madhu Gurung's The Keeper of Memories is a novel that brings alive "the remembered lives, legends, rites and rituals" of the Gorkhas, and tells the story of their historical migration to north-eastern India through a family saga.
- Pakistani writer Sophia Khan's novel, Yasmeen, also takes a look at the "darker corners" within a family. It tells the story of a young girl grappling with the fact of her mother's disappearance and the trail of painful truths that emerges in the wake of it.
- Journalist Nisid Hajari's Midnight's Furies "reveals the underbelly of India's cataclysmic Partition through private letters, official communiques, personal relationships and bureaucratic inertia", relating it all to the emergence of global terrorism and the threat of nuclear proliferation we face today.
- Journalist Akshay Mukul's Gita Press and the Making of Hindu India tells the story of how a small regional press and a determined individual ideologue succeeded in influencing a nation and sowed the seeds of religious intolerance and separatism.
- Kanishk Tharoor, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor's son, is the author of Swimmer Among the Stars. Story traditions, languages, histories and memories from every corner of the globe are distilled into the stories that appear in this first collection.
- The winner will be announced in November, in New Delhi, picked by a panel of three judges: writers Mahesh Rao, Janice Pariat and Samanth Subramanian.
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