Saturday, October 18, 2008


A young Indian first timer wins the Man Booker....People and Events - Nan

Great! The Man Booker Prize (40th) has been won by an Indian author – Aravind Adiga, 33, for his novel The White Tiger. And mark you, it is Adiga’s debut novel. He is the fourth Indian to win the Booker Prize, if one counts Salman Rushdie who is Bombay born but British now. The other Indians are Arundathi Roy and Kiran Desai. Roy won her Booker for her first novel The God of Small Things and Desai hers for her second novel which prize eluded her mother, Anita Desai. Kiran too does not live in India; she lives in the States and most probably is a citizen of that country. Roy lives in India and continues agitating for this and that right of deprived Indians. Adiga too is born, bred and domiciled in India – Mumbai to be exact. He lived in New Delhi when he wrote the novel and dedicated it to that city.

The award

The Man Booker Prize, as I am sure you know, is Britain’s best-known and most generous literary award, given annually to a novel written by an author from Britain, Ireland or a Commonwealth nation. It is considered above the American Pulitzer in prestige. It was just Booker some time ago when Booker McConnel awarded it in 1968. In 2002 it was taken over by the Booker Prize Foundation and now the word Man is added since the prize is sponsored by the British investment firm, the Man Group. The award carries with the honour conferred, a cheque for pounds sterling 50,000. Added benefits are the winner gets known worldwide, his/her books are much bought and for very many, like first novel writers two of whom have won, they get shot from insignificance to popular recognition. It has already happened to Adiga as reports on recent sales.

Salman Rushdie won the Booker of Bookers named Best of Booker for the 40 years of the prize with his novel Midnight’s Children which won him the annual prize in 1981. He is now Distinguished Writer in Residence at Emory College, Atlanta, in the southern state of Georgia. He started a five year term at Emory in 2007. In May 2008 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Perhaps a greater honour was conferred on him by the Queen when he was made a Knight Bachelor for service to literature in June 2007. The Iranian fatwa has evaporated or gone up in smoke, we suppose.

India and the Booker

India seems to be the country most featured in Booker winners. To cite three recent winning books: Roy’s controversial novel is backgrounded in Kerala and Kiran Desai set her 2006 winner, The Loss of Inheritance, in the foothills of the Himalayas, in Darjeeling; while Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children is about people in Bombay. Yann Martel, who won the Man Booker in 2002 with his Life of Pi had its first setting in India where the writer fictitiously meets a man who tells him Pi’s story. Pi is of Indian descent. The ship in which he and his family are migrating to North America sinks and Pi, the boy, finds himself in a lifeboat with a 450 pound Bengal Tiger. The book was fascinating reading. I could not put it down once started.

I was sent an article written by Victoria Young and titled Novel About India Wins the Man Booker Prize and found it very interesting since the Booker, like our own Gratiean Award and Wimbledon (tennis of course) are time markers and landmarks in one’s year of living.

The 2008 winner

The awards were announced on Tuesday 13 October in London. Michael Portillo, a former cabinet minister and the chairman of this year’s panel of judges, praised Mr. Adiga’s novel, saying that the short list had contained a series of "extraordinarily readable page-turners." but this young Indian’s had been the best, with a vivid exploration of India’s class struggle told through the story of a village boy who becomes the chauffeur to a rich man. The chauffer promoted the themes of class and race, inequalities and angst probably, through the crudely cynical narration of his -Balram Halwai’s - criminal past. Mr. Adiga’s book had prevailed against initial odds of one to five. Portillo said, "I think what set this book apart was its originality; for many of us this is entirely new territory –India the dark side. It was in many ways perfect. The judges felt that it shocked and entertained in equal measure."

On Oct. 15, Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India, sent Adiga a glowing congratulatory message.

Mr. Adiga, who lives in Mumbai, was born in India and brought up partly in Australia. He studied at Columbia and Oxford universities and is a former correspondent for Time magazine in India. He is the second youngest writer to win the award; Ben Okri was 32 when he won for "The Famished Road" in 1991.

Mr. Adiga said his book was an "attempt to catch the voice of the men you meet as you travel through India — the voice of the colossal underclass. This voice was not captured, and I wanted to do so without sentimentality or portraying them as mirthless humorless weaklings as they are usually."

When he accepted the award, Mr. Adiga dedicated it to "the people of New Delhi where I lived and where I wrote this book." When asked what he would do with the money, Mr. Adiga joked, "The first thing I am going to do is to find a bank that I can actually put it in."

This year’s list of finalists, as reported, was one of the least star-studded in recent years. It included two first-time novelists, and several of the favorites were snubbed by judges. Joseph O’Neill’s critically acclaimed "Netherland" was omitted from the short list, as was "The Enchantress of Florence" by Salman Rushdie.

An aside is imperative here. Past winners are permitted to submit their books and try to win another Man Booker. Personally to me, this seems unfair to struggling newcomers, though it actually need not be. See what happened this year. The almighty Rushdie was eliminated; that means not even short listed. I remember reading a review of the Enchantress of Florence as being a masterly piece of fiction writing, with a good story which would catch a reader and keep him caught. It is even said Rushdie is the best story teller in print. I have to whisper that I just could not complete reading Midnight’s Children. Maybe large books put me off!

This question of prize winners re-submitting entries came up at the first Galle Literary Festival in 2007, when Carl Muller, a panelist at one of the sessions, groused that his second submission to the Gratiaen was ignored and not short listed. I applauded the fact, silently to myself, though.

Bookmakers in England were divided over the likely winner, oscillating later between Mr. Adiga and the Irish writer Sebastian Barry, 53, whose book "The Secret Scripture" is the story of an Irish patient in a mental hospital sharing her shocking family history with her psychiatrist.

The other books on the shortlist were "Sea of Poppies" by Amitav Ghosh; "The Clothes on Their Backs" by Linda Grant; "The Northern Clemency" by Philip Hensher; and "A Fraction of the Whole" by Steve Toltz.


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