Late afternoon this Saturday, at the India International Centre, Mark Collins, director of the Commonwealth Foundation, chaired a session of the 2010 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize on a cheery and self-deprecatory note. “My credentials are poor, I am not a famous author. I began my career as an ecologist. I scribble. I have written around 140 papers and it’s a whole new world of writing.”
What makes Collins a good man to have on the Foundation is that he has found his way there through his “work in diplomacy and international treaties”. If the passionate points of view of the judges of the prize (to be announced on Monday) are anything to go by, his skills and that of his colleague Nicholas Hasluck, a supreme court judge in Australia, who is chairing the prize, will come in handy.
Is the Commonwealth Games eclipsing the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize? Collins doesn’t seem to think so. “Even with the Games, the reason why you may be hearing less about the Commonwealth ‘spirit’ and more about what it can do for Delhi is because it involves taxpayers’ money,” says Collins.
How inclusive is the Writers’ Prize and in touch with new media? For 2010 India is the host country and it begs the question whether the translations into English of authors who write in regional languages could someday be part of the list? Collins agrees that while the prize is the “most inclusive of prizes and touches 54 of nearly 200 countries of the world, unfortunately we cannot take it very far. To count in translations would cost a great deal more in terms of budgets and logistics.”
About new media, the Foundation director, who helmed a session on the subject, said the fight has begun to “build the publishing industry” vis-à-vis the internet and to see how new media can play a supporting role in encouraging people to read and write.
“Even the newspaper industry is in a crisis, is it not?” he said. “People have started reading news on internet.”
What makes a book a Commonwealth Prize winner? Literary worth, one supposes. Collins clarifies: “Although the prize is not narrowing and there are no guidelines as such, the tendency has been to back ‘literary books’, those that deal with post-colonial issues and look at the area of the Commonwealth geographically.”
Collins has been to India several times. He has been to Ooty on work and holiday. He doesn’t mind Delhi’s summers “so long as the wind blows and it doesn’t get humid”.