Assamese poet Nilmani Phookan Jr has won the 56th Jnanpith Award, and Konkani novelist Damodar Mauzo has won the 57th Jnanpith Award.
India’s highest literary award, the annual Jnanpith is bestowed on writers for “their outstanding contribution towards literature”.
Mauzo, 77, is based out of Majorda, Goa. He is notable for his novels, such as Karmelin, and Tsunami Simon, and short stories, such as Teresa’s Man and Other Stories from Goa. His books have been translated into several Indian languages. His first collection of short stories was Ganthon, published in 1971.
He won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1983 for his novel Karmelin, which revolves around the lives of domestic workers in the Middle East. It has been translated into 12 languages.
Mauzo also won the Vimala V. Pai Vishwa Konkani Sahitya Puraskar award for his novel Tsunami Simon in 2011.
Mauzo is the co-founder of the Goa Arts and Literature Festival. He is also an activist and worked towards the inclusion of Konkani as a language in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India in the 1980s, in a movement called Konkani Porjecho Avaz.
Speaking about the Jnanpith Award, Mauzo said, “I am very happy for my language, which suffered at the hands of the colonisers.” He added that it was a dark period for Konkani as the Portuguese barely tolerated Indian languages. It was only after 1961 that Konkani literature was able to find a place in India.
This is the second Jnanpith Award for a Konkani writer, the first being Ravindra Kelekar in 2006. “Two is a matter of pride for us,” Mauzo said.
Mauzo is also known to be a fierce critic of right-wing Hindutva groups. In 2018, his life was under threat. He was on the hit-list of a right-wing organisation that was allegedly connected to the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh.
Phookan, 90, is based out of Guwahati. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1990 and received the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship in 2002.
Phookan is a poet of renown, having written Surya Henu Nami Ahe Ei Nodiyedi, Gulapi Jamur Lagna, and Kobita. Primarily a poet, he also writes prose and is a pioneering art critic from Assam, with a focus on folklore and folk art.
Phookan is the third Assamese writer to receive the Jnanpith. Previous awardees were Birendra Kumar Bhattacharya in 1979 and Mamoni Raisom Goswami in 2000.
Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma tweeted, “Phukan has equally enhanced the intellectual field of Assam with equal etymology and expertise in all aspects of teaching, poetry, art and criticism. Congratulations to poet Phukandev. I wish him good health and long life.”
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