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‘Lockdown an opportunity to reinvent India’s top literature awards’ (IANS Interview)

New Delhi, April 21 (IANS) In the midst of the gloom caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the countrywide lockdown, there is at least one bright sport, the administrators of Indias top two awards for literature – the DSC prize that has completed a decade and new entrant JCB Prize – say, adding it gives them an opportunity to re-think and re-invent to keep up with the changing times.

“COVID-19, along with its negativity has also provided a huge opportunity to rethink everything. It is a pause to think about the direction and speed of one’s journey through life, and literary prizes are no exception,” Surina Narula, co-founder of the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, told IANS in an email interview.

Literary prizes were once given as a gesture of appreciation from patrons of the art. They were not considered glamorous even a few years back; it was only after the popularity of the Jaipur Literature Festival that literature became fashionable and came closer to the masses. The mystery of the writer was shattered because one could meet them and becoming like them became a possibility.

To this end, the DSC Prize was initiated in 2010 to enhance the telling of South Asian literature to a global English reading audience.

The pandemic has severely affected publishing, and literary prizes depend on the publishing industry to enter the best books published by them and the DSC Prize, being open to authors and publishers from across the world as long as the writing is about South Asia, is “better insulated” against a country specific publishing downturn,

Narula pointed out.

The prize receives more than 30 percent of its entries from publishers beyond the subcontinent from countries like the USA, the UK, Canada, and Australia “and quite a few publishers from these countries have already written to us regarding entries that they wish to submit this year”, she added.

Elaborating on the aspect of re-invention, Narula said a Trust has been set up to do more than just administer the prize; it aims to take literature through its outreach programmes to a wider audience including the underprivileged and empower young men and women in the region through the reading of South Asian literature.

“There are inspiring stories of women overcoming patriarchal challenges as well as society battling poverty, war and displacement, and these stories need to be told and shared. After the tenth year we will see how the DSC Prize can be a beacon of such social initiatives through the activities of the Trust,” Narula said.

The virus might have halted people in their tracks and given them a lot of time to think but “I see literature becoming more important to remind people of the world before the pandemic, and perhaps show the inequalities that are further going to arise due to self serving governments around the world. Literary prizes will always exist

because patrons will find ways of contributing to society and also furthering their marketing and philanthropic needs,” Narula noted.

Mita Kapur, Literary Director of the JCB Prize, that has entered its third year, said the pandemic and the lockdown, had provided “an opportunity to re-invent several aspects of our year-long calendar”.

“The lockdown has given us an opportunity to build on the JCB Prize’s vision of creating new readership, building on inclusivity within the writers’ community and the publishing industry to reach out to the rest of the world. The faith in literature being a bridge, story telling that makes us survive makes the JCB Prize carry on its work in the right spirit, being socially conscious and sensitive towards the times we are all facing,” Kapur added.

(Vishnu Makhijani can be reached at [email protected])

–IANS

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