The BS Column: Crossword shortlists 2009

(Published in the Business Standard, 29 June 2009)

In the eleven years since the first Crossword award was instituted, several groups of people have benefited. The awards have been handed out for nine years—it took a three-year break from 2000 to 2004—and the categories have expanded from just English fiction by Indian writers to include non-fiction, Indian language fiction in translation, and a new award for popular writing. Authors, translators and publishers value an Indian prize; reviewers like me welcome the overview of the year’s writing that the Crossword gives you. But does it work for readers?

The Vodafone Crossword shortlists were announced last week and after a decade, it’s easy to see the challenges in the award’s path. The biggest practical problem the Vodafone Crossword faces today is a lack of support from other booksellers; Crossword is a bookstore chain, and many booksellers won’t give prominence to the awards, arguing that it’s free publicity for a rival. The second biggest problem is that while the awards are anticipated, discussed and debated by a small group of readers and industry insiders, it hasn’t been able to draw in the average reader. Looking at the shortlists by category gives you a better sense of the issues involved in running an “Indian” book award.

English fiction shortlist:
Salman Rushdie’s ‘The Enchantress of Florence’ (Random House)
Amitav Ghosh’s ‘Sea of Poppies’ (Penguin India)
Jhumpa Lahiri’s ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ (Random House)
Neel Mukherjee’s ‘Past Continuous’ (Picador India)
Manjula Padmanabhan’s ‘Escape’ (Picador India)
Anuradha Roy’s ‘An Atlas of Impossible Longings’ (Picador India)
Preeta Samarasan’s ‘Evening is the Whole Day’ (HarperCollins India)

At seven books, this is a larger-than-normal shortlist, making it glaringly obvious that Crossword’s judges this year were underwhelmed by Aravind Adiga’s Booker-winning The White Tiger. Picador’s hat-trick is of special interest because its three authors are “home-grown”—ie, first published in India. Opening the list up to authors of Indian origin has allowed the inclusion of Jhumpa Lahiri—her first two books were eligible for US prizes, but not for the Crossword because it was open only to resident Indians/ Indian passport holders at the time.

The debate over who qualifies as an Indian writer will continue—currently, the prize is open to anyone who qualifies under the Person of Indian Origin guidelines. Being more inclusive allows more wide-ranging and high quality fiction—which is better for readers—but also creates concerns over whether this might not become too broad in scope. It’s also interesting to see how many writers on this list live for part or most of the year outside India, reflecting the wider shift in the lives of the urban Indian elite.

English non-fiction shortlist:
Pallavi Aiyer’s Smoke and Mirrors: An Experience of China (HarperCollins India)
Basharat Peer’s Curfewed Nights (Random House)
Sudeep Chakravarti’s Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country (Penguin)
Edna Fernandes’ The Last Jews of Kerala (Penguin)
Chaturvedi Badrinath’s The Women of the Mahabharata (Orient Blackswan)

From the average reader’s perspective, the non-fiction shortlist usually delivers the most interesting list of books. It’s also the most demanding to judge—it’s harder to set standards for different kinds of non-fiction writing (travelogues versus biographies, memoirs versus criticism). Sudeep Chakravarti and Basharat Peer would be the favourites this year, but keep an eye on Edna Fernandes’ fascinating history of a vanishing community. The list excludes several popular bestsellers, including business biographies, in favour of more stylish and presumably more lasting writing.

Indian language fiction in translation shortlist:

Jayakantan’s Dissonance and Other Stories
translated by K.S. Subramanian (Katha)

Manto’s Selected Stories
translated by Aatish Taseer (Random House)

Manohar Shyam Joshi’s T’TA Professor”
translated by Ira Pande (Penguin)

M S Sethu’s The Wind from the Hills
translated by Prema Jayakumar (Tranquebar)

The longlist for this year’s award promised some interesting work, but translations remain invisible—it’s hard to find many of the books in the stores. Perhaps one of the most significant achievements of the VC award has been that it’s brought the translator into far more prominence. The best translation of 2008 was probably the Blaft anthology of Tamil pulp fiction, but anthologies are seldom eligible for mainstream literary prizes anywhere in the world. I can’t see an easy way for the VC award, or any award, to get around this.

The big debate for the last decade was whether to include works by dead authors. Sriram, who helped to run the award for several years, got into a bit of a tangle during the shortlist discussion in Delhi, first defending the decision to limit the list to living authors before he realised that the rules had changed this year. The current rules now require the translator to be among the living, and opening it up to past (and often previously untranslated) classics might help attract more readers.

That still leaves the question we started with. The shortlists offer a wide range of interesting and very diverse books— but until readers queue up in the hundreds to buy them, there’s a missing piece in this Crossword puzzle.





34 responses to “The BS Column: Crossword shortlists 2009”

  1. Marginalien Avatar

    Last year, when I was a jury member for the Crossword award, I was delighted that we awarded the prize to an author whose book seemed to have received very little attention pre-award — USHA K R for A Girl and a River. I felt sure that the book would immediately be re-issued in a more attractive package and experience a spurt in sales. But met the author about five months AFTER the award, and she smiled as she shook her head: no such luck. Your point about other bookstores not wanting to offer a competitor (Crossword) the edge is a good one — but sad for Indian readers and publishers alike. As an initiative, VC's is a good one — the prize is a sum that's actually worth winning and as an author whose book is on this year's short list, I can vouch for the fact that it really feels very good to be validated in this way, by a local prize.But a publisher friend tells me that the Indian market responds to only one goad: the Booker Prize list. Even the Nobel, he says, doesn't crack Indian wallets open in the same way as the Booker. Odd. What does it mean? Of course this doesn't include easy-reading books which won't win literary prizes but become big time best-sellers.

  2. Nilanjana Avatar

    I wish other bookstores would support the Crossword–they're missing out on potentially higher sales. I understand the reasoning, but after a point it's self-defeating, a bit like saying Oxford and Landmark have an unfair edge because they also host book readings.Why the Booker? I've often wondered about this (only the Bongs respond to the Nobel list, btw, another bizarre cultural stat). Perhaps if we have enough diasporic Indians cluttering up the Pulitzer, there'll be an equal interest in that prize… perhaps there's still an unconscious attitude that the White Sahib's prize is much more important than the Homegrown Brown Sahib's prize.I'd still say give it time; perhaps if the Crossword starts linking up with Jaipur, for instance, so that the final prize announcement happens at the festival? Perhaps if publishers do start repackaging and stickering their books?

  3. Marginalien Avatar

    The reason why the Booker not the Nobel — I believe — is that too few Indians have won the Nobel. AND that explains why Bongs are the exception in this (as in so many other!) regard …And the Booker rather than the Crossword because of course it is yields so much more money and it results in foreign readers and applause. I think it really is a combination of both those effects — the money as WELL as the applause — because the one ennobles the other (both ways! For those people who aren't impressed by foreign applause, there's the forring munny; and for those who aren't impressed by money, there's the bouquets and raised wine glasses).I continue to think that writing is a precarious way of making a living in the subcontinent. Of course, it would be very helpful if publishers did consider stickering their books … and if booksellers agreed to champion the cause of Crossword awardees … but it's almost like asking for too much. The heat, the dust, the dust-mites … ach! Lie back, enjoy the tennis and forget dem bleddy boox.

  4. kaveri Avatar

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. kaveri Avatar

    Sorry both, but you obviously have no idea about bookselling. Having worked in the trade for many years, I can tell you this: we will stock what sells. Never mind if the promotional work is done by a rival. Simple, shopkeeper logic, very far away from ivory tower theorizing. The problem is that Crossword does not advertise the shortlist and prize enough. Also that the prize comes too late in the year, after all the big foreign prizes, so it seems to be giving prizes to has beens. People have already moved on to a newer crop– if they read at all that is.

  6. Nilanjana Avatar

    Kaveri, thanks for your comment, and for pointing out the timing issue–very relevant, since most buyers don't want to read "stale" books.The observation about bookstores not wanting to stock shortlisted books because of the Crossword connection wasn't an ivory tower theory, though. It was based on interviews with 5 booksellers in Delhi and 3 each in Bombay/ Bangalore; 2 in Chennai. Not a huge sample, but a representative one.

  7. kaveri Avatar

    Ok Nilanjana, accepted that you did your homework. But just answer me this one question: Did bookshops stop selling The Hungry Tide year before last because Crossword gave it a prize? Bookshops really will stock and push what sells. They weren't interested in A Girl and a River because it had not caught on for all those months before the Crossword either, it just wasn't saleable enough despite all the good reviews. The Crossword doesn't matter. It's as simple as that. It matters to authors, but not to booksellers and not to book buyers.Reissuing books in better packaging, Marginalien, can only do so much. Amit Chaudhuri's The Immortals came out this year in great packaging. But sources say it has sold no more than 420 copies in the West so far, and on Amazon is sitting at rank 36000. Will its ranking improve however much Crossword pushes it next year? I don't think so.The Crossword is not publicised well enough to matter. Period. Ask any guy browsing in a bookshop if they even know there is a shortlist out there.

  8. Nilanjana Avatar

    Big difference between blacklisting the prize–I don't think any booksellers do that–and not supporting it. I agree with you that the prize needs to be publicised far more widely and more effectively; currently, only a very narrow band of critics, publishers and authors discuss the shortlists in any detail.Look at this another way, as a bookseller: why is it that India's biggest literary prize *doesn't* matter to you? I get this sense that everyone's waiting for everyone else to take responsibility: the media wants Crossword to do more to publicise the prize, the publishers expect booksellers to use the prize more effectively, the booksellers expect the media to do a better job of making the prize count. Then again, the Booker didn't gain its authority overnight; it had limited impact on book sales until its second decade, and only made a serious difference to book sales in its third decade.What I find saddening is that many booksellers won't take the trouble to put up the Xword shortlists, or to create a special display for shortlisted books–in other words, they won't even help to spread word of the prize in the small ways that they can. How does that help anyone?There's a different question lurking behind this; is the success of a book prize measured only in terms of the increased sales it generates? It's not a small thing that the Crossword matters to authors–many of whom are not published abroad and who are automatically ineligible for prizes like the Booker. It's not a small thing that it forces critics to look more closely at the definition of good writing, or to look more closely at translations. It's not a small thing that publishers are glad to be able to offer authors the promise that their books will be submitted for an Indian prize.If you had a wishlist for the Crossword committee, what would you want them to do? What concrete steps could they take that would make the prize more valuable for booksellers?

  9. kaveri Avatar

    I totally accept that all of this takes time to catch on and if Crossword survives and establishes a convincing tradition of giving prizes to books that continued to matter years after the prize, people will take it more seriously. For eg, the Sahitya Akademi awards are not taken remotely seriously because everyone knows it's a bunch of babus nominating favourites.The most important thing, as I see it, is for an Indian prize such as Crossword to establish that it is capable of clear, fearless thinking and individualism. If it's too scared to turn away west-certified A-listers it'll remain largely uninteresting locally. If it consistently gives prizes to books that not many other literary people think well of, it will also be up shit creek very very soon.Of course the prize animates at least literary alley-cats, gets them discussing things on (great) blogs such as this one, for a few weeks. But the media on the whole ignores it (but for dutifully trotting out the press releases re the shortlist). Right now the media should be jumping in, doing profiles, interviews, writeups, excerpts etc. But do the Sunday supplements today give us even a hint that the prize announcement happens next week? Booksellers? Pan India we are mostly small operators. If Crossword handed out pretty posters with the authors' pics on them, most likely they would be put up. Few booksellers have the time, money or initiative to CREATE publicity material for lit prizes.Books get stocked and displayed when there is a buzz about them. Individual, exceptional booksellers do work to create a buzz. But mostly booksellers are small time businesspeople who happen to be selling books–and that goes up the line: publishers' marketing and sales people very often come from frozen food companies and sold chicken nuggets before.It is You, Nilanjana (apart from Crossword, who is the crucial link the chain, darling. Go for it.

  10. Marginalien Avatar

    DARN! I had just about completed a LONG response, only to lose it to this computer's little quirks!To retrace my (now utterly scattered) thoughts — I think both of you raise excellent points. Nilroy — yes, it's good to recall that the Booker took time to build up steam. Kaveri, I hope Crossword Prize committee reads this post and recognizes that it can afford to be more pro-active about its lists. And of course, it would be very nice if the media would bother to pay more attention too — but we all know that everyone in media who can already IS doing their bit. Publishers could also pay a little more attention, maybe? Last year, Usha K R, author of A GIRL AND A RIVER, said that it was as difficult to find copies of her book in stores after the prize as before. On my part, though I made the effort to buy ten copies of the book to give away as gifts to friends who might otherwise have not either heard about it or read it, I found it difficult to (a) get copies, (b) convince friends that it was worth reading a book they'd not heard anything about except through me.My second point is about this issue of "worth". What exactly IS it that makes a book "worth reading"? Yes, yes — the story, the ideas, the information — but I believe there's another issue too: access to a global arena. When reading a book — watching a movie — enjoying a particular viral video on the web — confers membership to a global club of with-fanciers, it immediately raises the worth of that activity. Reading Indian books which are only known on the Indian circuit or on some other circuit which also remains parochial to that place confers no social advantage. So one is stuck having to appreciate something JUST FOR ITSELF. That's a whole different game to the Global Club Membership sweepstakes. On top of this, there is, I believe, a powerful resistance to believing that any Indian competition can be truly free and fair. On the one hand — yes, there are all-pervasive old-boy/old-girl networks. But on the other hand, I think Crossword has tried to break through them — by recruiting people like me (for instance) to the jury! I don't belong to any network — it's one of my handicaps, I am a loner, with no team of loyal and committed supporters behind or beside me — but it's also amongst the reasons that I have no commitment to any language group, school/college fraternity or any other batch-file community. If Crossword could approach an Outsider like me, then I take it as a genuine sign that they're trying to break away from the established names and networks. And: the foreign networks are no less parochial — just that their clusters are different to ours. Not only that but they typically include only one person from "exotic" cultures such as India, which means that only that person's friends/relatives will ever be seen on any lists.So: to return to the theme — all power to Crossword. May their prize survive and prosper.

  11. Arunava Avatar

    This is a terrific discussion, and I do hope the Crossword folks are reading this.Here are my suggestions, for what they're worth:1. To attract the media, you need a GOOD STORY. Newspapers, magazines and TV channels that have hundreds of thousands of consumers following them will not do stories on book awards simply out of idealism. So, how to turn this into a good story? For starters, raise the prize money to a level where everyone WANTS to know who wins. Give out a crore, for instance, and everyone will be thrilled if Manjula, for instance, were to beat Amitav Ghosh to it 🙂 2. Give the jury a face too. Give them credibility. Keeping them anonymous right now is of no use. And as soon as you have that, you will have to pick NAMES. Put a Rushdie on the jury panel and the whole ball-game changes.3. Co-opt television and the Web. Nothing in India works without TV getting the word out. The Web is perfect because it's used more by people likely to buy and read books. Get a TV channel into the awards process and they'll spin it for TRPs they way no one can.4. The publishers – ah, the publishers. Wake them up to the possibilities. 5. The Bongs buy books anyway. Focus on the rest of India 🙂

  12. kaveri Avatar

    You're absolutely right, Arunava, that the judges need a public face. Last years' three judges all had star value should have made news on their own. I think though that people are so wary of networks and nepotism here, that Crossword feels the need to keep the judges anonymous. Of course it is true that cronyism exists everywhere, as Marginalien says.)But a one crore prize? Happy thought–but we need Crossword to be around to give away prizes every year, right, and not be bankrupted in one??Ok here's a serious suggestion re How to Get the Press. Since it is only interested in Boobs and Pectorals, I suggest all contestants be taken for a nude photoshoot at Amitav Ghosh's Goa mansion. Could any newspaper resist? Each shortlistee could hold her/ his book to cover her/ his vital parts. I'd put up a 5 metre poster of that in my booksop like a shot.

  13. Marginalien Avatar

    Kaveri, great idea — just so long as the authors get to choose body doubles!! Yikes. I would REALLY not want my book on any shortlist that required me to pose in the — and so would most of your customers, Kaveri … LOL.

  14. Marginalien Avatar

    … ummm … "NUDE" is the missing word there ..

  15. Anonymous Avatar

    Good morning sweet ladies, good morning, good morning (as Omlette would have said if it had been morning and the play enacted in Bongland, where one day I aspire to leave my ill paid teaching job and become a humble bookshop owner)I think all you sweet ladies (I assume you are all sweet ladies, no sour gentlemen needed here) are not thinking of one other vital aspect: you are all literary ladies keen on high literature and literary writing of the kind written by your own tribe; whereas the reading and writing universe, as I know from the students I teach, has changed totally. Their attention spans are too short for your long and laden and so gloriously allusive sentences, sweet ladies, more and more they respond to sms and twitter prose. Literary cultures of the sort you value and want to preserve via these hi fi prizes are crumbling before my eyes, sweet ladies, crumbling while you are grumbling. In Scandinavia and Holland and the other rich nations, where the English speaking populations are massively lower than ours (our rich all speak English), by contrast, the old literary cultures that you value are still alive and well. Migrate there, sweet ladies, and leave our sweet land for Chetan Bhagat and Meenakshi Madhavan Reddy and their ilk, who have inherited the literary earth in our nation and are the salt of it now, and ask Crossword to institute prizes for what people read in large numbers in our devastated land which once had Bankimchandra and Rabindranath and Sarat and Sukumar Ray and His Son Satyajit. For, sweet ladies, you are all passe, and perhaps too exalted and noble in your certitudes that the literary universe must continue in the directions you desire. And so good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night!

  16. kaveri Avatar

    Absolutely,Sweet Anonymous. No doubt you witnessed how the said Meenakshi R Madhavan posed flashed the bad-girl-who-smokes-and-shows-cleavage look all over the papers when her You Are Here came out. And who did not want to be There? The papers did.Did you see any photos of K R Usha even AFTER she won the prize? With that kanjeevaram sari and long sleeve blouse??? The colour pages are for only one colour: skin.Aaah, Marginalien, put away that prudishness and do what it takes to sell something to the media now. High culture? No. Low necklines, yes, yes yes, yes, yessss!!!

  17. Marginalien Avatar

    … and I say, there's place enough for everyone. I don't resent the SMSers and they don't know I exist. I believe that your certitudes, dear Anonymouse — coz only a mouse posts comments namelessly even when at the safe distance of a quarter-planet away (a guess based on your "morning") — are what are passe. I celebrate the Madhavan Reddys and Bhagats ALONGSIDE the Omelettes of the past and future and I bet bookshop owners would agree that it's the middle ground that supports both the peaks and the troughs. What Indian literature needs is MORE not less middle- and low-brow lit.

  18. Anonymous Avatar

    But sweet lady bhy you are calling me Mouse bhen you yourself are hiding under some nom de ploome like Marginalien? That is not real name of any lady, I am habbing certitutude of that. I am Bengal Tiger, sweet lady, in fact I am Royal Bengal Tiger. I hab got the big roar. And you are making me roar (bheeth laphter, howebhaar).But you are Right, sweet lady — in phront of sweet ladies like your goodself who are so full of literary bhaartues and noble shentiments, like our Lady Rani Mukherjee some years back, even we Bong Tigaars are becoming le Mouses, so aphraid we bekomNow you are asking why I am writing thees demotic low language bhen this blog is phor High and Mighty Ladies, bhy I am lowaaring High Quality of thees blog? But I am saying again, sweet ladies, that in this lies the future, middle ground you are bhalorizing haj phollen through the plate tectonic phault that runs through the Indian literary earthquake jone. It is not Being Theeyer. It haj gone to its Heavenly Abode in West. Not it ij libhing theeyer. In India, maharaja ij Chetan Bhagat, maharani is chiklit. Your liberal bhalues, dejire for inclusiveness, all are bhery good. Bhee need ladies like you, dephinitely! But in your own haart oph haarts, dear hart (as Edmund Spenser, or our Great Phather Mallory oph Morte d'Arthur, bhould hab sade) you know bhery bhale that you hab only contempt (as do I) phor these new maharajas and maharanis, and inside our haart bhee hope they bheel pholl into the plate tectonic phault in near future

  19. Marginalien Avatar

    Dear Mouse, amusing as your phony pleb-speak is … on two counts I believe you have misread moi: first, my pseudonym is a mere two clicks deep — one click leads to my blog and another reveals my ID.Second, as to my literary tastes: I am NOT of the BongLit sisterhood (and of course, I am not Bong at all). I have not read the classics. I did not do a degree in Eng Lit. If I happen to have caught a couple of your lit references it is only due to an elder sister and HER M.Lit.Indeed, I would say one of the millstones around my neck is that my age (56) and long surname instantly communicate a fusty dusty persona which is not, I believe, reflected in what I write about (= sex n drugs n rock'n'roll … haha. Not really. But close). If I had my way, I'd write under a hot pseudonym and aim my books at the under-twentweeters. But alas, the publishing trade is a great deal fustier and dustier than me and I am held back from these amusements(I DID try … not here but in the UK. No luck).Meanwhile: isn't this fun? I still have no idea who you are. I would urge you to keep it that way now. I far prefer to imagine you as a mouse.

  20. kaveri Avatar

    Anonymous is a scream. I'm going to read her/ his comment everyday whenever I need a hysterical bout of laughing. Thank you, Anon, come back anon! As mouse, man or woman!Why so serious, Marginalien? Loosen up! Is only a bloody prize nobody knows about or cares about. You've said yourself it does nothing for the sales. We are agreed it's nowhere in the media (I just googled and still it's only the press release). So what does it matter? Just cheer up and prepare to clap when… ok, how about some bets now? Jumper Lawhiri? Hot Air Balloon !Gosh? Salmon the Rue?

  21. Marginalien Avatar

    Ouch! Low blow, Mouse. When I point to my costume at a masked ball I don't expect to have it suddenly ripped off …Kaveri, I am not convinced that your marketing ideas would work equally well for middle-aged authors as for twenty-tweeties!And as for who will win the Xword … I was going to propose a wee betting game here … then wondered if that would be a bit gross for me to propose such an enterprise — then wondered if the Akhond would be find a way to post results of bids made AnonyMouse-ly — and not for money, of course. Minor amusement. Returning to a point made earlier, I agree with you Kaveri — increasing the prize money would not be a great idea. Besides which it IS a tasty amount: I think anyone except extreme platinum-heads would be very happy to pull in 3 lakhs suddenly in the middle of the year.I DON'T agree however about revealing the IDs of the jury. It's hard enough, in the extremely small and incestuous Indo-Lit pool, to avoid being influenced by the presence of friends, relatives and known superstars on the list; how much harder when everyone KNOWS whose fingers are poised above the buttons? As for the idea that NAMES would be less open to manipulation … well, Arunava … I wouldn't be willing to bet on THAT.

  22. Nilanjana Avatar

    Take a break for dinner, return to find the mouse that roared.The NYT bestseller lists and the UK sales charts rarely feature High Literature; their function is to point out what's popular, while the Pulitzer, the Booker and the IMPAC serve a different function, which is (we hope) to look at good writing. (The two overlap on occasion, but that's another story.)Over time, the Crossword will have done its job if it's managed to create a record of the most interesting and the best work done by Indian writers. That's the point of a prize. A bookseller might argue for more saleable works to show up on the shortlist, a publisher might argue for a bias in favour of first-time writers or other endangered species–but that's not what a good prize is about. The really interesting prizes don't create reputations so much as reading lists, and sometimes the impact of those reading lists only becomes clear in retrospect. In that sense, the Crossword is doing its job; the question is how to do that job better.I'm with Marginalien on not revealing the IDs of the jury and keeping the prize money to the current level. But "co-opt TV" and radio makes a lot of sense. So might running a more focused print media campaign, and utilising the Net far more than has been done.And… at the risk of sounding whiny, better books would help. If you had a Pakistani Crossword in 2010, that shortlist would sizzle, given what Hanif, Muenuddin and co have done. So far, the fiction shortlist has been improving over the years, the non-fiction is often wildly uneven but always provides one or two interesting reads and the translation lists have ranged from solidly venerable to dire. I've sometimes come across a Booker or Pulitzer shortlist (definitely the Samuel Johnson and Aventis shortlists) where every book is worth buying, reading and keeping. I haven't yet had that with any Indian prize, but I live in hope.

  23. Nilanjana Avatar

    P.S. About Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan–blame the media for paying more attention to a Meenakshi than a K R Usha; Meenakshi didn't change her style at all for the sake of publicity, just dressed and behaved the way she'd do with friends. Anonymouse, you're welcome to join in the discussion, and thanks for the Chetan Bhagat point–very valid. I've deleted your third comment, however. While this is a public blog, I treat it as an extension of my living room in many ways and will delete any comments that seem too personal–whether they're aimed at me, or another contributor/ commentator.

  24. kaveri Avatar

    Arunava, a minor PS to your "Bongs buy books anyway". I know Bongs like to think they are culture's last bastion. But in fact books' sales figures are lowest in eastern India, highest in Delhi. Partly because Delhi hands out a lot of government orders –but only partly.OK: Bets! I think it will !Gosh again. And if the judges are going for variety, then Jumpah.And hey Nilanjana, censorship even a blog? What a bore. Dull, dull, dull.

  25. Marginalien Avatar

    … but what stakes are you offering Kaveri??My bet: Anuradha Roy.

  26. kaveri Avatar

    Stakes. Um. Any ideas for non-monetary virtual stakes?? What non-real loss would pinch?You're the creative one, come up with something!

  27. Marginalien Avatar

    Interesting challenge! Here's my suggestion: in order to place a bet, we pick ONE author out of the 7 fiction shortlist — for instance, I've chosen Anuradha Roy, Kaveri's chosen Amitav Ghosh. If Ghosh wins, then my forfeit is to e-mail a notice about the winner's book to at least 20 friends, including Kaveri PLUS a virtual amusement in the form of a favourite link/interesting quote/funny joke (but NO attachments, for fear of nasti viri); vice versa if Roy wins. Assuming there are more than two players in this game, then all those who choose the winner will be treated to a shower of virtual amusements from all the non-winners.There is, of course, no way of enforcing these conditions.

  28. anubhav Avatar

    Interesting discussion.I'll just make two points here;I absolutely agree with marignalien that there is space here for both Amitav Gosh and Chetan Bhagat.I hardly find Anonymouse amusing,yes we use twitter and we often discuss Dostoevsky and Amitav Gosh there.IMHO,VC hardly has any web presence twitter,blogs(except this one)etc.It doesn't even have an official blog where the shortlist could be displayed and discussed with a short introductory text to each.As for bets,mine is on Sea Of Poppies.

  29. kaveri Avatar

    Dostoevsky on Twitter! Impressive! With only 134 characters, his name would finish most of the Tweet, no?Now that you mention Dostoevsky, why are we even discussing the Crossword? Every book on that list is no more than worth a paragraph from The Idiot.

  30. anubhav Avatar

    First two lines of your comment obviously tell me that you have never used twitter.Anyways,i never intended to influence your views on what young India reads.I haven't read 'The Idiot' by Dostoevsky, may be i am not as voracious a reader as you are, so i can't comment on the comparison made by you.Sea Of Poppies was just my favorite from the shortlist.

  31. kaveri Avatar

    Twitter: you mean because I typed 134 instead of 140? True: six characters are pretty vital, especially when discussing Dostoevsky. But your bet is a good one, I am betting Ghosh too, because people are impressed by learning and by an international name with Indian credentials, even if the fiction is creaky.

  32. Marginalien Avatar

    — so Kaveri and Anubhav were correct and … I will send out 20 messages announcing the winners of this years VC prize — but of course your choice wasn't ENTIRELY accurate, since there were two winners this year, and NEEL MUKHERJEE shared the prize with Amitav Ghosh. If I can extract e-mail addresses from your blogs I will send you both the promised amusements … and if not, then I will ask permission from our hostess and post 'em here!

  33. saikat Avatar

    Too bad that Chakrabarti lost to Peer. BTW, unlike most other English dailies, the Sunday edition of Telegraph (Cal) reported the XWord prize and the winners, wondering what made Bongs such good writers. Neel tells them, "it's eating fish head and fish eyes." Gorge on them, Nilanjana, if you aren't already. And did I hear somebody say 'culture's last bastion'? Yup, I'm afraid, the last bastion always was, is and will be in the jeans. Just kidding.

  34. yasho Avatar

    HiMallus buy a huge number of books too… in fact any Nobel winner is translated into Malayalam as soon as the publishers can bag the rights… and they SELL… and you cant even imagine the cross-section of people who read them… Did you know Malayalam was the first language Marquez was translated into after English?

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