Renowned author Jerry Pinto has bagged himself a biggie—Yale University’s $150,000 Windham-Campbell Prize for his debut novel Em and the Big Hoom. An impressive feat which has the desi literary community applauding him on every social networking platform there is and rightfully so.
Pinto was humble in victory, making it a point to stress that the prize was not the result of individual genius but “…many forces and factors that conspired in the most wonderful way to bring me here”. It has to be admitted that the man is really sweet in addition to being talented and probably deserved the win.
He goes on to say that the prize left him gobsmacked because, “When one writes literary fiction one knows it is not going to sell a tremendous amount…” Now that is a munch-worthy point and entirely heart-breaking, simply because it is the hard truth that paints a dismal picture of our country and its readers. Why is it that we have trouble celebrating or even identifying the best and brightest minds here?
It is not as if this is the first time Pinto has received recognition for his work. Previously, he won the Hindu Literary Prize as well as the Crossword Book Award, but even so, it is highly unlikely that these translated into massive book sales and got him anything more than hearty backslapping in a limited circle whereas Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Aravind Adiga, Kiran Desai and the rest of the Booker Prize winning brigade command so much more respect here. Now my grouse is not with the aforementioned literary heavy weights but the fact that we refuse to take anyone seriously unless they have been endorsed and feted by the West. It is scary that we have lost faith in everything that makes us awesome as a nation unless someone fair-complexioned points it out for us from across the globe.
On the one hand we have critics dipping their quills in acid every time a certain much reviled bestselling author comes out with his latest offering because a sesquipedalian he is not and on the other, most authors with a penchant for polysyllabic propensity are told to dumb it down because the average ADHD-afflicted Indian reader can’t be bothered with grandiloquent prose. Naturally this explains why Indian writing has been unable to find the sweet spot between readable swill and unreadable brilliance.
It is to be hoped that Jerry Pinto’s big win will inspire readers and authors alike to take it up a notch and become pursuers of literary excellence. On that note, here’s hoping the Pulitzer Prize Committee is smitten with my brilliant column, otherwise the only people who are going to be enriched by its scintillating points are my editor and Dad!
Chandramouli is the bestselling author of Arjuna, Kamadeva and Shakti