Accepting Sahitya Akademi award with mixed feelings: K.R. Meera (Interview)

New Delhi, Dec 18 (IANS) Though it’s an honour, it’s painful to accept a Sahitya Akademi award at a time when country is witnessing increasing attacks on the right to dissent, said noted writer K.R. Meera, who has been cited this year for Malayalam novel ‘Aarachar’ (Hangwoman).

“It gives me immense pleasure that my novel, which questions the establishment and is chronicled from the view point of a woman got recognition. However, it also pains me that the honour comes at a time when my fellow writers are returning awards against the rising intolerance and against the institution’s silence on the murder of rationalists,” Meera told IANS over the phone from Kottayam, adding she wouldn’t turn down the award as it’s a recognition of her work.

The writer said she won’t let her protest wane even after receiving the honour. “I plan to register my protest even during the award ceremony,” she said.

Meera’s award winning novel is the poignant story of a 22-year-old girl, Chetna Grddha Mullick, the world’s first female executioner. The 2013 Malayalam bestseller was last year translated into English by J. Devika and also shortlisted for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature in 2015.

The former journalist, who took to full-time writing in 2006, said that she was in a double mind about accepting the award. However, it was after talking to Kannada writer K.S. Bhagvan Thursday night that she decided to accept it.

Co-incidentally, Meera has recently written a short story, “Bhagavan’s death”, based on the death threats received by the writer from Hindu fringe elements.

“I wasn’t able to make up my mind on whether to accept the award or not. It was Bhagvan who told me that I must accept it. He said one could give away an award only if it’s accepted in the first place,” said Meera, whose novel has won many accolades, including the Kerala Sahitya Akademi award. Set in Kolkata, the fictional work also addresses the contentious issue of capital punishment.

The author said that she never expected the Akademi to honour her work as she has been in the forefront of the protests since it broke out. Admitting that ‘award wapsi’ has marked a new inflection point, Meera felt that writers need to do more than giving away awards.

“I have lent full support to the writers’ protest through writings and by participating in protests. However, we need to do more than just give away awards. The prime minister is still silent after 39 writers have returned their awards,” she said, adding that writers are above politics.

The author also said that writing the novel has been a challenging task as she had to conjure up the way of life of a Bengali woman. “I am not very fluent in Bengali or Hindi, which made my work even more difficult. The novel is a mix of history and fiction. I was working outside my comfort zone so it took me nearly 53 weeks to finish the book, not to mention the numerous personal commitments I had,” said Meera.

Meanwhile, the Akademi award for English went to playwright and novelist Cyrus Mistry for “Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer” on the khandhias, the ‘untouchables’ of the Parsi community.

The award, comprising an engraved plaque, shawl and a cheque of Rs.1 lakh will be presented to the writers at a function on February 16, 2016 during the Akademi’s annual Festival of Letters.

(Preetha Nair can be reached at preetha.n@ians.in)

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