The spirit of India, myths, the lives of common people, tales of diverse cultures triumphed in the world of Commonwealth literature on Monday, when Delhi-based writer Rana Dasgupta won the Commonwealth Writer's prize for the best book, Solo.
Solo is the tale of a Bulgarian centenarian, Ulrich a recluse who embarks on an epic armchair journey through a century of violent politics, forbidden music, lost love and failed chemistry.
Glenda Guest of Australia won the prize for the best first book Siddon Rock, known for its rich cast of characters and a wonderful blend of everyday with fantasy. The prizes were given away by Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor at a ceremony in the capital's India International Centre. Addressing the ceremony, Tharoor said he was delighted that Delhi played host to the Commonwealth awards this year.
This is the first time the Commonwealth Writers' awards ceremony was being held in India, which will also host the Commonwealth Games in October. The awards carry a purse of 10,000 pounds and 5,000 pounds respectively.
"The awards are not a celebration of colonisation but a celebration of English as a language that binds us together," said the minister, a recipient of the Commonwealth best book prize 20 years ago.
Addressing the packed gathering that comprised writers, think tanks, media personnel and invited guests, Tharoor recapitulated his heydays in St Stephen's College quoting from Winston Churchill and describing literary brainstorms at the writers' forum.
"Prizes are important because just as writers need to be read, they aslo need to be fed," he said.The winner had to compete with seven regional winners of the best first book and the best book from Africa, the Carribbean and Canada, South Asia-Europe, South East Asia-Pacific regions.
The list of regional winners included Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani (Nigeria), Marie Heese (South Africa), Shandi Mitchell (Canada), Daniyal Mueenuddin (Pakistan), Rana Dasgupta (India), Glenda Guest (Australia) and Albert Wendt (Samoa).
Commenting on the nature of the entries this year, Mark Collins, director of the Commonwealth Foundation, said: "The level of entries this year has been absolutely outstanding and the competition fierce. Taken as a whole, the eight winning books - from Australia, Canada, Nigeria, Pakistan, Samoa, South Africa and the UK - are reaching out to readers across all cultures. These compelling works offer strong insight, spirit and voice about the incredible diversity, history and life of the Commonwealth."
The 2010 pan-Commonwealth panel of judges to decide the overall winners included Justice Nicholas Hasluck (chair of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize), Elinor Sisulu (Africa), Antonia MacDonald Smythe, Muneeza Shamsie and Anne Brewster and Delhi-based makarand Paranjpaye.
The 10,000 pound best book prize in 2009 was awarded to Australian writer Christos Tsiolkas for The Slap and Pakistani writer Mohammed Hanif won the best first book prize for A Case of Exploding Mangoes in the awards ceremony in New Zealand. The Commonwealth writers this year is working to promote literacy and "building of community libraries to promote the culture of reading," Mark Collins, the director of Commonwealth Foundation said.
Speaking on the occasion, Commonwealth secretary-general Kamlesh Sharma said eight former Commonwealth winners in an open letter in The Guardian appealed to the Commonwealth Foundation to promote young authors and enhance cross-cultural dialogue.