Celebrating India’s literary heritage with news Man Booker International Prize 2013 is to travel to Jaipur
26 September 2012
India and literature have very deep roots indeed. The region's first written works date from 1500-1200 BC and its oral tradition is even older. This long engagement has continued down the centuries with a flourishing literary culture embracing both writers and readers.
India's links with the Man Booker go back to deep-prize time too. Initially they involved the diaspora and Indiaphiles: V.S. Naipaul, the Indo-Trinidadian writer, won the prize in its third year, 1971, with Subcontinental tales from J.G. Farrell (The Siege of Krishnapur, 1973), Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (Heat and Dust, 1975), and Paul Scott (Staying On, 1977) keeping the theme going through to Anglo-Indian Salman Rushdie's win in 1981 with Midnight's Children (a book which also went on the scoop the Booker of Bookers and the Best of the Booker prizes).
Despite shortlist nominations for Anita Desai and Rohinton Mistry, India had to wait until 1997 for its first outright winner, Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things. One victory quickly brought more, Kiran Desai (The Inheritance of Loss, 2006) and Aravind Adiga (The White Tiger, 2008). This year the flame has been kept burning by Jeet Thayil and Narcopolis.
This literary heritage is being recognised by the Booker Prize Foundation with its decision that the list of contenders for the 2013 Man Booker International Prize will be announced at the Jaipur Literature Festival on 24th January. The match is an appropriate one: the festival has both an established world-wide reputation and is the largest such event in the Asia-Pacific region. In earlier years the announcements have taken place around the globe, from Oxford to Toronto, the New York Public Library to Sydney, and often at universities. When the Foundation was looking for somewhere “world class and well organised” for 2013 the Jaipur festival was the obvious choice even though it meant bringing the announcement forward by two months.
The names on the judges' selection are sure to be of great interest to the local audience. Indian readers are avid followers of the Man Booker Prize and are appreciative of all the contenders but not unnaturally reserve their warmest feelings for home-grown writers. That the Jaipur Literature Festival is free to attend makes it a perfect fit with the Booker Prize Foundation's brief of spreading high-quality literature as widely as possible. The festival will also see the naming of the winners of both the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature and the Economist Crossword Award for Non-Fiction.
The 2013 Prize is likely to be rather different from its four previous incarnations. There are now five judges rather than three and what Sir Christopher Ricks, Elif Batuman, Aminatta Forna, Yiyun Li and Tim Parks will reveal is a list of contenders drawn from a far wider range than before. Each individual judge will have presented a selection of names they felt worthy of the prize and once in the communal pot the discussions and/or arguments will have begun in earnest. The idea was to give the prize even greater depth and increase the possibility that names unfamiliar even to regular readers of fiction might emerge.
What is certain is that those names will include some of the most distinguished writers currently at work around the world. Some might even be Indian.