The Languishing State of Literary Awards in India

The Languishing State of Literary Awards in India
Nitish Raj is the Co-Founder of Literia Insight and Editor-in-Chief at The Literary Mirror

The Languishing State of Literary Awards in India

How much the mere mortals crave for appreciation, the assumption would be a meager shadow that we could fathom even after an intense brainstorming! No matter what our current state is, we love to get appreciated, honored, praised, and God knows what else to not only boost up our confidence but also to help us generate a warm feeling towards ourselves.

The appreciation and honor also stamp the authority of our good deeds which we seem to have imparted towards society. And who could better understand the value of such honor than the literary figures who spend ages staring considerably at their blank papers even before they can scribble a single syllable?

Every word, every letter which perhaps denotes the tiniest minuscule of a masterpiece, reflects the emotions and sentiments of the author. Agony, pain, smile, imagination, fantasy, sleepless nights, talking to oneself for endless hours, and a lot of other similar aspects have culminated in a single masterpiece, and no author in this mortal world would deny these sacrifices done before completing a manuscript. Leave aside the pains and perils before the manuscript takes a tangible form and makes way into the mind of readers which could prompt them to appreciate the work.

After all the hardships, being honored and awarded not just acts as a soothing balm for the authors but also helps them to fasten their seatbelts to work on their next dream creation. But whenever we look at the current state of literary awards in our country, authors feel themselves hanging in the fire. Undoubtedly, our country has a rich heritage of literature and literary figures being adorned with the utmost respect.

We have been quite lucky in this aspect as various kings were themselves ‘man of letters’ and they used to honor the wordsmiths of their times. From Aśvaghoṣa to Kālidāsa who received patronage under the great Kanishka and Chandragupta II, who were noted poets and dramatists from ancient India to Bāṇabhaṭṭa known for his legendary masterpiece ‘Kadambari’, got patronage under the great Harsh Vardhana. We have a very rich history of kings and rulers like Samudragupta and Simhavishnu who were acclaimed authors themselves. Not just the Indian poets and authors were highly regarded but foreign authors like Megasthenes, Al-Biruni have received the patronage of Indian rulers.

It seems quite ironic that today authors of our country feel privileged and lucky once they get appreciation from foreign countries in the form of literary awards which have made a mark in the literary fraternity. Indeed! There is nothing wrong with it as literature has always taught us about humanity and global appeal rather than restricting ourselves to the pre-conceived notions of geographical boundaries.

A literary figure is read and appreciated by people from all over the world but isn’t it a thing of dipping ourselves in hot water that we are not able to coin such an award which could put us on the global literary map. It’s not that we lack in the tradition of awarding our literary figures in modern India, but it is mostly restricted in a great sense.

The most prestigious award in our country is Sahitya Akademi Award which was started in 1954 by the Indian government. The Sahitya Akademi not only presents the award but also confers Yuva Puraskar and Sahitya Akademi Fellowship. The Sahitya Akademi Award being a government initiative has its state verticals and a lot of states in our country provide individual awards in the name of promoting their regional language.

Are we still stuck in the conundrum of regional language, or have we evolved enough to consider literature above the discrepancies of languages in the same country? And adding to the woes, some of the state verticals also provide the same cash prize of ₹1,00,000 as the Sahitya Akademi Award, undermining the value of the National Award.

The story doesn’t end here as we have a long tradition of returning the Sahitya Akademi Award starting from G. A. Kulkarni in 1973 to 38 authors returning their award in 2015 as a mark of protest owing to political and intellectual turmoil.

How much it feels weird that the highest honor of the country in literature has been a victim of propaganda and is used as a tool of political diplomacy? Protests and freedom of expression are an integral part of the modern-day democracy, but how much it is justifiable to devalue the honor of the highest degree of the country; this remains a debatable topic in the political and literary circuit?

Not only do we have a middling approach of the government towards promoting literature, but also the patrons of literature in our country are few and far. The oldest award by a non-government organization is Jnanpith Award conferred by the Bharatiya Jnanpith, a literary and research organization based in New Delhi, India.

The award was founded on February 18, 1944, by Sahu Shanti Prasad Jain of the Sahu Jain family and his wife Rama Jain. It is noteworthy to mention that Mr. Jain was an eminent industrialist and philanthropist having a keen interest in literature. Apart from that, today we have very few such awards which are notable and are the patronage of mighty business conglomerates.

Tata Literature Live Award by the Tata Group, The Hindu Literary Prize by The Hindu, Vyas Samman by K.K Birla Foundation, Crossword Book Award by Crossword Bookstores, Assam Valley Literary Award by Williamson Magor Group, Auther Award by Times of India and JK Papers, and The JCB Prize for Literature by JCB Group.

The thing worth mentioning is that most of the awards apart from the Jnanpith Award and The JCB Prize consist of a cash prize of a basic sum of around ₹1,00,000 which clearly indicates the lack of proactiveness by the business groups in literature. The changing sponsors of the leading Crossword Book Award show the reluctance and diminishing interest of sponsors in LIT Awards.

It’s not just the financial aspects that are making the literature awards hang through a loose thread, but also various other factors have played their part. The preference for books published traditionally in literary awards has also put self-published books at bay.

It is needless to point out that a major chunk of books in our country are self-published. The story gets grimmer as awards like The JCB Prize do not accept Short-Story Collections, whereas the prestigious The Hindu Literary Prize turns a cornered eye towards poetry.

It seems quite weird that the awards in our country are celebrating literature on one side, whereas they are segregating it on the other side. Aren’t self-published books worthy of any award? Does poetry not deserve any award? Should Short-Story Collections be kept at bay in award ceremonies? Are we just dependent on just a few business houses to promote literature?

Is the government going to announce a few more awards? When are we going to look at literary awards from a global perspective? These are just a few questions worthy of immediate attention and justifiable answers, otherwise, we will still be eyeing the foreign literary awards for the recognition of our work and will be mincing words about the languishing state of literary awards in India.

About the Columnist-

A Literary Critic turned Author, Nitish Raj is the Co-Founder of Literia Insight and Editor-in-Chief at The Literary Mirror. Through his incessant passion for literature, Mr. Raj has made a mark for himself in the field of literature in the past 8 years, during which he has portrayed multiple literary attributes in various capacities such as an Acclaimed Author of two books, a Literary Critic, an Opinion Editorial and a Columnist for modern and post-modern literature, a Feminist, and a Thinker.

Resonating his creativity with the common masses, he has contributed to both English and Hindi literature. Having been published and featured at multiple prominent media houses of both national and international repute, he has been an eminent speaker at prestigious institutions like IITs, IIM Lucknow, and NIT Silchar.

He has been invited as Host to International Conference on Multi-Disciplinary Research, Mumbai, and as Guest Poet at International Poetry Conference, Tunisia (Africa). Mr. Raj has crafted his art to become a guiding force for new and existing authors through Literia Insight.

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