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Look ma, no desis!

No Indians on the Booker Prize long-list. Does this mean that it’s only about the books then?

india Updated: Jul 28, 2011 22:54 IST

The long-list for the Man Booker Prize was announced in London on Tuesday and the desi literati is already whining about not a single Indian writer making it to the list of 13 writers. The disappointment was reflected in opinions, floating around as tweets, which moaned and moaned about two strong contenders, Amitav Ghosh’s River of Smoke and Aravind Adiga’s Last Man in Tower, not making the list.

No matter how anachronistic the ambit of the Man Booker Prize — it awards books written by the citizens of the Commonwealth member countries and Ireland — it has come to be seen as an indicator of critical judgement, especially if one is not following the English language literary scene very closely. Coupled with the fact that India has had considerable Booker triumphs in the recent past (Arundhati Roy in 1997, Kiran Desai in 2006 and Aravind Adiga in 2008), as well as Salman Rushdie’s ‘Indian’ success in 1981, it is hard to miss that sense of nationalistic achievement in a category somewhat more cerebral than a global beauty pageant. The sense of pride is not unanimous though and Booker success can provoke extreme reactions: Desai’s take on the Gorkha agitation was slammed as an outsider’s perspective, while Adiga’s tale of the vaulting amoral ambition of a man caught in the darker realities of India’s neo-liberal success was described as inauthentic.

The subcontinent’s writers may not be testing their literary mettles at the Booker club this year, but certain other normals have been breached by the long-list, which has been generous to small and independent publishers otherwise dwarfed by conglomerates. The winner, to be announced on October 18 from a short-list of six, receives £50,000 (around R36 lakh). And a guarantee that the sales of her book will shoot through the roof.