At a ceremony at the Jaipur Literature Festival on Thursday, US-based writer Jhumpa Lahiri turned out to be the unexpected winner of the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2015 for her novel The Lowland. She was also the only one of the five authors shortlisted for the award who wasn’t present at the event, due to a prior commitment. The others shortlisted from among 75 entries were: Bilal Tanweer for The Scatter Here is Too Great, Kamila Shamsie for A God in Every Stone, Romesh Gunesekera for Noontide Toll, and Shamsur Rahman Faruqi for The Mirror of Beauty.
Jury chair Keki N. Daruwalla, said,“The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri is a superb novel written in restrained prose with moments of true lyricism. It starts with a sense of loss and trauma due to the death and then the ongoing presence of a key character. The novel is partly political and partly familial, starting with an unromanticised account of the Indian Naxalite movement and ending with a series of individual emotional resolutions. The Lowland is a novel about the difficulty of love in complex personal and societal circumstances, inhabited by characters which are finely drawn and where the lowland itself is a metaphor running through their entire lives. This is a fine novel written by a writer at the height of her powers.”
While her publishers Penguin Random House received the prize on her behalf from the chief guest, Pulitzer Prize winner Vijay Seshadri, the organisers did manage, with some difficulty, to connect with Lahiri on Skype. Lahiri said, “I started writing the story of The Lowland 20 years ago, and in a way this is the first book I tried to write. It was inspired by real life events of what was happening in Calcutta that I heard about as a young girl in America in the 1970s… I had published this book with the apprehension that I had not done justice to the time and events that inspired the story. I am, therefore, particularly proud of this prize.” She also said that the novel grew not only out of curiosity about a historical time but a desire to feel closer to India, its history and day-to-day life.
The DSC Prize, which was instituted in 2010 and, at $50,000, is the richest prize for South Asian writers, will move out of the Jaipur Literature Festival from next year, said DSC chairman H.S. Narula. Recalling that eight years ago he had been approached by JLF co-founder Namita Gokhale to “help with the difficult birth of the JLF”, now that the festival had grown to such heights, he didn’t want to “be the nurse who overmothers the child (JLF)”. “This is the last year of the award at the festival,” he declared. Co-founder of the prize Surina Narula clarified later that the prize would henceforth travel to different locations within South Asia.
Previous winners of the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature have included H.M. Naqvi for Homeboy, Shehan Karunatilaka for Chinaman, Jeet Thayil for Narcopolis, and Cyrus Mistry for Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer. The jury members this time were, besides Daruwalla, John Freeman, author and former editor of Granta, Maithree Wickramasinghe, an expert on gender studies, Michael Worton, who has written extensively on modern literature and art, and Razi Ahmed, founding director of the annual Lahore Literary Festival.