Kannada writer Jayant Kaikini on Friday won the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2019 for No Presents Please (HarperCollins), a collection of his Mumbai stories that offers a fine-grained, ground-up view of arguably India’s greatest metropolis. The stories were translated by Tejaswini Niranjana, who shared the prize and the generous purse of USD 25,000. The award was announced at the Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet.
Kaikini’s book was the dark horse in a power-packed shortlist, which included Pakistani-British novelist Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire, Pakistani novelist’s Mohsin Hamid: Exit West, Neel Mukherjee’s A State Of Freedom, Sujit Saraf’s Harilal & Sons and Manu Joseph’s Miss Laila Armed And Dangerous.
“This is great and heartening because it acknowledges a translation and the short story as a genre. Usually, most acclaim is reserved for the big book, the big novel. I am very happy that the jury has decided to recognise Tejaswini equally,” said Kaikini, who in his acceptance speech said he disliked calling a literary prize a “race” because all writers were in it together.
This is the second big literary prize, after the JCB Literature Prize (won by Malayalam writer Benyamin’s Jasmine Days), that has recently been awarded to a translation. In its announcement, the jury said “it was deeply impressed by the quiet voice of the author through which he presented vignettes of life in Mumbai and made the city the protagonist of a coherent narrative. The Mumbai that came across through the pen of Kaikini was the city of ordinary people. It is a view from the margins and all the more poignant because of it. This is the first time that this award is being given to a translated work.”
Kaikini is one of a new crop of Kannada writers to move away from older concerns social realism and rural life. He lived in Mumbai for 24 years from 1976. The stories in No Presents Please were not written as Mumbai stories, and it was Niranjana who chose that lens while choosing them.
“I especially loved his Bombay stories. There have been other Kannada writers who have written on the city but they are looking at it through the lens of moral philosophy. With Jayant, he was trying to capture a sense of Bombay and what it enables,” Niranjana said. She dedicated her award to translators around the world. “I have been translating for 40 years now, but this is new. It has to do with the publishing machine. You can only tap so many Indian writers, who begin to sound the same,” she said.
Kaikini said he hoped the award led to more translations of his work. “I have been writing stories for years. Even in Kannada, it is difficult for short stories to run into multiple editions—which it had. So it would be good to find more readers.”