On a coldcold December night, the library at Delhi’s Max Mueller Bhavan gleamed like a warm jewel amid the frosty gardens. The event was the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize presentation.
This year’s shortlist comprised Indra Das (The Devourers), Saskya Jain (Fire Under Ash), Raghu Karnad (The Farthest Field), Bharath Murthy (The Vanished Path) and Shahid Siddiqui (The Golden Pigeon), apart from the winner Rohini Mohan who wrote The Seasons of Trouble, a re-telling of Sri Lanka’s civil war through the viewpoint of three real-life protagonists, recalling the tumultuous events of the conflict once it had ended. Perhaps the most interesting view was told through the viewpoint of a female combatant.
Over a talk with journalist and author Aman Sethi, Mohan spoke about her experience in writing the novel, a process which took five years. She recalled how her narrators came to trust her only over time and after much persistence and how her love for fiction helped her write the non-fiction book. “I don’t think I can ever write fiction because I don’t think I have the kind of imagination needed. But yes, fiction helped me imagine the scenarios my narrators found themselves in and imagine myself in similar situations; this helped me frame the correct and most revealing questions to ask them,” said Mohan.
This year’s prize was perhaps the most inclusive, with categories ranging from fiction, non-fiction and even graphic novels. Jeet Thayil, while noting that three of the novels were based in Delhi, said, “India is still a nation in the making and we remain in a state of flux; a single narrative cannot transcribe our nation.”
The jury for this year’s prize comprised Pakistani author and journalist Mohammed Hanif, South Korean-American writer Krys Lee and graphic novelist Samhita Arni.