2004 Hutch Crossword Book Award

Dust storms swirled and eddied on the street under a claustrophobic, tan-coloured sky. Rivulets of sweat crept like earthworms all over my body.

– Waiting for Rain, by Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay, translated by Nilanjan Bhattacharya; originally published in Bengali as Bristir Ghran.

“Somsundar”, the chapter of Waiting for Rain that was included in the Hutch Crossword Book Award 2004 publication of excerpts from the shortlist, contains some of the most evocative language I have read recently.

All in all, I looked and felt unclean and shabby, just like the city of Kolkata. The radiating sky, the dust-covered trees, the parks devoid of grass, the plague of homeless people on the streets – these were all signs that Kolkata was burning with fever, drowning in its own dust.

I was given a copy of the excerpts from the shortlisted books for the 2004 awards when I bought a copy of Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide, winner of the English Fiction category, at the Crossword bookstore on Residency Road in Bangalore earlier this year. The other shortlisted books in the English Fiction category were:

If You Are Afraid of Heights by Raj Kamal Jha,

Moving On by Shashi Deshpande, and

The Brainfever Bird by I. Allen Sealy.

The shortlist for Indian Language Fiction Translation included:

Astride the Wheel Yantrarudha by Chandrasekhar Rath, translated by J. Nayak (winner in this category),

Bait by Mahasweta Devi, translated by Sumanta Banerjee,

In the Name of the Mother by Mahasweta Devi, translated by Radha Chakravarty,

The Birth of the Maitreya by Bani Basu, translated by Sipra Bhattacharya,

The Outcaste Akkarmashi by Sharankumar Limbale, translated by Santosh Bhoomkar, and

Waiting for Rain by Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay, tranlsated by Nilanjan Bhattacharya

I found the excerpts from the translated fiction fascinating, not just for the images of village life and the insights into the caste system that we, as Westerners rarely get to see, but for the rhythms of the regional languages (primarily Bengali – I guess we have to give the Bengalis their due; where are the Tamil writers?) that come through in the translations.

If I were to cast my belated vote based on these excerpts, I would vote for Bait in the Translation category and The Brainfever Bird.

The Hungry Tide? A nice story, but lightweight.


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