The prestigious Bharatiya Jnanpith Award for contemporary writing in Indian languages — instituted by Sahu Shanti Prasad Jain and first awarded in 1965 to Malayalam writer G. Shankara Kurup — has caught up on three years’ worth of awards this month. The awards for 2007-8 still await selection.
The Prime Minister presented the award for 2004 to Kashmiri poet Rahman Rahi on November 6 this year, while this Saturday, the awardees for 2005 (Hindi poet Kunwar Narain) and 2006 (joint award to Konkani writer Ravindra Kelekar and Sanskrit scholar Satyvavrat Shastri) were announced.
The award ceremony is scheduled for February 18, the Jnanpith’s founding anniversary.
Says lifetime trustee of the Jnanpith Selection Board, Alok P. Jain, “We have invited Dr Amartya Sen and Sir V.S. Naipaul to present the awards. We have yet to receive their confirmation.”
But why was there a backlog of five years in selecting awardees? “There were problems caused by the death of the former
Chairman of the Jnanpith board, the late Dr L.M. Singhvi,” says Jain.
However, the word in literary circles, where nobody wishes to be named, is that an unwell Dr Singhvi had let the matter lapse.
The selection process is reportedly rigorous, with four zonal committees submitting a list of names each culled from the north, south, east and west of India to the central committee in Delhi.
The present Chairman of the selection committee is eminent Oriya author Dr Sitakant Mahapatra, who is determined to clear the backlog and restore the Jnanpith to its former prestige.
Says Kunwar Narain, awardee of the 41st Jnanpith (for 2005), “I am naturally happy to receive this honour and especially happy that it was apparently a unanimous choice for Hindi.”
The award money has been increased to Rs 7 lakh from 5 lakh this year.