Kiran Desai has won the Man Booker Prize, an award that consistently eluded her novelist-mother Anita Desai, who was short-listed three times for the same prize, but never bagged it. Kiran Desai scored with just her second novel The Inheritance of Loss. The irony could not have been keener.
On Tuesday night, at London's Guildhall, Desai accepted the award, beating the bookies' favourite Sarah Waters. The bookmakers had earlier dismissed Desai as a 7:1 outsider.
“I look at everything from an India point of view,” said the 35-year-old writer who left India when she was 14. She is the third writer originally from India, along with Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy, to win the Booker.
Wearing an elegant black dress and a pearl necklace, Desai received the award to thundering applause. The judges hailed her book as "a magnificent novel of humane breadth and wisdom, comic tenderness and powerful political acuteness".
On her part Desai acknowledged her mother's contribution to her creative efforts. "I owe her a debt so profound and so great that this book feels as much hers as it is does mine. It was written in her company and in her wisdom and kindness in cold winters in her house... One minute isn't enough to convey it." But Anita Desai was not at Guildhall to watch her daughter's truimphant moment.
"I think she was so terrified on my behalf that she retreated as far as she could. She gave me lots of advice, and now she is without a phone or a television in a village in India."
Accepting her award, Desai said, "I didn't expect to win. I don't have a speech. My mother told me I must wear a sari, a family heirloom, but it's completely transparent!"
Hermione Lee, chairperson of the panel which chose the winner, and Goldsmiths' Professor of English Literature at Oxford, endorsed Desai's homage to her mother. "It is clear to those of us who have read Anita Desai that Kiran Desai has learned from her mother's work.
Both write not just about India but about Indian communities in the world." Working on the novel for almost eight years, Kiran Desai travelled to India in between. "It was seven, almost eight years of work, writing half stories, quarter stories, stories in eighths, of broken people, difficult lives and I picked the novel out of it. It was quite a difficult, emotional experience for me. I think I was devastated and sad by the end of the book."
In a BBC interview immediately after the award ceremony, Desai said, "I went back to write the Indian bits in India, so it wasn't entirely from a distance. It was an emotional journey. I was devastated with emotion." Desai said that she would surely write another novel.