Skip to main content

A Small Diamond

"How does a writer compete against the media's invasion of public discourse in all its chattering, hectoring, commercially packaged format?"

This is a challenging, but by the same token, very exciting time for the Indian novelist certainly the Indian novelist who writes in English. In an obvious and easily accessible sense, this has to do with the opening up of the global market. However, there are certain other aspects of this development that have a more direct bearing on the creative situation.

The problems of belonging and identity that played such a preponderant role in the first decades the terrain that was memorably identified by Meenakshi Mukherjee as the anxiety of Indianness - seem to have lost some of their fascination. It is remarkable, therefore, that two (and arguably, three) of the five novels on our shortlist are set outside India, set as far afield as Guyana and Morocco. This is, unquestionably, a welcome development Indianness is no longer a yoke that the Indian writer is forced to wear. However, this raises the matter of the complex relationship between locality and globality or universality in a very interesting way. Thus, we would argue, the global defines the horizon of aspiration, but the path to that horizon lies, and must lie, through some intimately experienced locality, some particularity.

Then again, and for immediately identifiable reasons, the first generation of writers felt compelled, in some sense, to imitate Stephen Dedalus's famous move, at the end of Portrait: to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race. Hence the urge, both declared and attributed, to write the great Indian novel. Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children is, of course,  a crucial landmark in this cultural trajectory. But it is also evident, now, that for a new generation of Indian novelists, Rushdie has already become a forebear, a respected ancestor. Thus, we have novels that seek to tell small lives, to explore the shifting identities that texture ordinary living.

Finally, we cannot help but remark the fact that two of the five novels on our shortlist are concerned with opium, albeit at opposite ends of a deeply significant historical arc.


Being a judge for contemporary Indian fiction is like being a prospector for gold. Or for those who have read Rahul Bhattacharya's splendid book set in Guyana, like a prospector panning the river for diamonds. That is to say it is both an arduous and an exhilarating task.

You sift through many layers looking for nuggets or shards of diamonds. As Rahul will tell you, when you first see a rough diamond, it looks quite ordinary.

For some, the thrill is in the seeking. For others, it is being able to possess that shining nugget. For a judge, it is being able to pick up and display this tiny fragment of stone.

In our case, we found many shining nuggets and by a process of elimination, discovered five such pieces. Each one was cut and polished in a different manner.

The final choice was a difficult one. Amongst the issues we discussed were those touched upon by Alok Rai thus, the hunt for the great Indian novel, the burden of the past colonial, feudal, or the affiliations of religion, caste and class, and the tensions these can create for the writer.

There is also the challenge of the present. How does a writer compete against the media's invasion of public discourse in all its chattering, hectoring, commercially packaged format.

One way could be by creating a small, inviolable space in which to observe and record all the subterranean upheavals to create those moments of clarity that we value as literature.

The small diamond that we have unearthed and enjoyed is called The Folded Earth. All the three of us are happy the Economist Crossword Prize for Indian Fiction for 2011 goes to Anuradha Roy.

Geeta Doctor                          Alok Rai                  Fiammetta Rocco 

Statement at the Economist Crossword Prize Award for Fiction 2012.

Popular posts from this blog


"...some people have the mountains in them while some have the sea. The ocean exerts an inexorable pull over sea-people wherever they are – in a bright-lit, inland city or the dead centre of a desert – and when they feel the tug there is no choice but somehow to reach it and stand at its immense, earth-dissolving edge, straightaway calmed. Hill-people, even if they are born in flatlands, cannot be parted for long from the mountains. Anywhere else is exile. Anywhere else, the ground is too flat, the air too dense, the trees too broad-leaved for beauty. The colour of the light is all wrong, the sounds nothing but noise." The Folded Earth For three days it had rained as if the sky had turned into a giant shower. It was my third trip to Ranikhet and yet again I was leaving without a glimpse of the high peaks. It didn’t matter. The sound of rain on a tin roof, the dry spells when the hills were honey-coloured in the newly-washed air: who needs more? Then someone sa

Language, Lost and Found

In France for a long spell earlier this year, everyone around me speaking in a language I didn’t speak or read, I began to think about the many streams of language I've swum in. My mother tongue, Bengali, was the language of home and of intimacy. Yet somewhere along those years, with a sigh drowned out by babel, the language had left me. I tried to find my way back to it through writers like Leela Majumdar and Bibhutibhushan. In "Language, Lost and Found" out now in Noema Magazine, I write of how I found it again, and of language in alien contexts. I'm not sure if this essay is travelogue or memoir or a bunch of stories. But here it is, and I hope you will read it.  It was a red paperback with a green, winking cat spread across its large front. Just a few taps pulls it up on my screen now, and I wonder if my mental image of the day my father came with it as a gift for my brother and me is the work of memory or imagination. He walks in as if he has a happy secret and l

All the Lives We Never Lived wins the Sahitya Akademi Award 2022

  Anuradha Roy bags coveted Sahitya Akademi Award, 22 others feted Anuradha Roy bagged the coveted Sahitya Akademi Award on Thursday. The author of 'All The Lives We Never Lived ' was felicitated along with 22 other authors for their exemplary contribution in the field of literature. This is the fourth book penned by the 40-something Roy. This book also won the prestigious Tata Book of the Year Award for Fiction in 2018. The book revolves around the life and times of a horticulturalist Myshkin, who narrates his life story, and his unending wait for letters from etters from the mother who abandoned him, for greener pastures in another country. Roy, who lives in Ranikhet, has previously written 'An Atlas of Impossible Longing', 'The Folded Earth' and 'Sleeping on Jupiter' which won the DSC Prize for Fiction 2016. It was also longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in the year 2015. Read more at: