The story of Delhi and the millions who come to call it home.
It is the 1960s. Delhi is a city of refugees and dire poverty. The Malayali community is just beginning to lay down roots, and the government offices at Central Secretariat, as well as hospitals across the city, are infused with Malayali-ness. This is the Delhi young Sahadevan makes his home, with the help of Shreedharanunni, committed trade union leader and lover of all things Chinese.
Then, unexpectedly, China declares war on India. In a moment, all is split asunder, including Shreedharanunni’s family. Their battle to survive is mirrored in the lives of many others: firebrand journalist Kunhikrishnan and his wife Lalitha; maverick artist Vasu; call girl and inveterate romantic Rosily; JNU student and activist Janakikutty. As India tumbles from one crisis to another—the Indo-Pak War, the refugee influx of the 1970s, the Emergency and its excesses, the riots of 1984—Sahadevan is everywhere, walking, soliloquising and aching to capture it all, the adversities and the happiness.
Hailed as a contemporary classic in Malayalam, this is a masterful novel about ordinary people whose lives and stories have leached into the very soil and memories of Delhi.
M. Mukundan was born and brought up in Mahe. He rose to critical acclaim and popularity with Mayyazhippuzhayude Theerangalil (1974). His stories and novels have been widely translated into various Indian languages, English and French. He has been awarded Ezhuthachan Puraskaram, the highest literary honour given by the Government of Kerala, the Crossword Book Award twice, first in 1999 for On the Banks of the Mayyazhi and again in 2006 for Kesavan’s Lamentations, and the Sahitya Akademi award and N.V. Puraskaram for Daivathinte Vikrithikal (God’s Mischief). His other major works include Kesavante Vilapangal (2009) and Prasavam (2008). He was presented with the insignia of Chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government in 1998. He also served as the president of the Kerala Sahitya Akademi from 2006 to 2010. Four of his books have been adapted into award-winning films. Delhi Gathakal (2011), translated as Delhi: A Soliloquy, is based on his experiences of living and working in Delhi for forty years as a Cultural Attaché at the French embassy. In 2004, he retired from that position and returned to Mahe, his hometown.
Fathima E.V. is an award-winning writer and translator. Her translation of Subhash Chandran's Manushyanu Oru Amukham, translated as A Preface to Man, was awarded the Crossword Book Award (2017) and the V. Abdulla Translation Award (2017). She was the translator-editor of the Indian Ink Mag, and her poems and short fiction have appeared in international anthologies and journals. She holds an MA and a PhD from the University of Calicut, and completed the TESOL course from the University of Surrey. Currently, she heads the department of English at Krishna Menon Memorial Government Women's College, Kannur.
Nandakumar K. started his career as a sub-editor at Financial Express, after completing a master’s degree in Economics, followed by stints in international marketing and general management in India and abroad. Having travelled in over fifty countries, he claims he can speak enough German and French to save his life. Strangely, his tryst with translation started with a paper in French on the blood diseases of fishes for his sister-in-law, using a borrowed dictionary. He is now an empanelled copy editor with Indian publishers and IIM Ahmedabad. Delhi: A Soliloquy is his first published translation from Malayalam. He lives and works in Dubai. Nandakumar is the grandson of Mahakavi Vallathol Narayana Menon.
Entries for The JCB Prize for Literature can only be made by publishers.
Author and Translator
Srinath Perur (Chair) is the author of the travelogue If It's Monday It Must Be Madurai. He has translated from Kannada the novel Ghachar Ghochar (by Vivek Shanbhag) and the memoir This Life at Play (by Girish Karnad). He writes on a variety of subjects including science, travel and books.
Author, Critic and Learning Designer
Somak Ghoshal has worked in publishing and media with major Indian organizations for over 15 years, especially as a critic and book publisher. His work has appeared in Mint, HuffPost, The Telegraph, Open, The Hindu, The Voice of Fashion, Mekong Review, Index on Censorship, CNN Style, and other Indian and international publications. He is the author of two books for young readers, published by Penguin Random House and Pratham Books respectively. Currently, he works as a learning designer with an ed-tech organization.
Playwright and Stage Director
Mahesh Dattani is a playwright, stage director, and mentor. His works as a playwright have been translated and performed in many languages across India and abroad.
For his anthology Final Solutions and Other Plays, Dattani received the Sahitya Akademi Award. His works as a director include an adaptation in English of Tagore's story Chokher Bali for Barnard College, Columbia University, an adaptation of Lorca's Blood Wedding for ICS Theatre, New Jersey, Snapshots of a Fervid Sunrise, written and directed by him.
Recently he worked with This is Not a Theatre Company in New York to write and direct an audio piece, A Little Drape of Heaven, which was picked by The New York Times as among the top five things to catch in New York.His film work as a writer and director includes Mango Souffle (2000) and Morning Raga (2003). He is the Artistic Director of Playpen Performing Arts Trust, a group dedicated to mentoring and producing new works for the theatre. He lives in Mumbai, India.
Author and Surgeon
Kavery Nambisan started her writing career with children’s books. Her adult novels include The Scent of Pepper, A Story that Must Not be Told and A Town Like Ours. Her non-fiction book A Luxury Called Health is her most recent work. She also contributes articles and essays to national newspapers and international anthologies. She went to Iowa University on an international writing fellowship; to Pakistan on a Fullbright and Iowa sponsored literary progamme; to Shanghai as a writer in residence with her late husband and poet Vijay Nambisan.
Kavery graduated in medicine from St John’s Medical College, Bangalore, did her higher surgical training in the UK and obtained the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons, London. She has since built her career working as a surgeon in rural India including parts of Bihar, UP and Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
Kavery Nambisan lives and works in Kodagu.
Conservation Journalist and Filmmaker
Swati Thiyagarajan is a multi-award winning conservation journalist who pioneered conservation and wildlife reporting for television in India . She is the former Environment Editor of NDTV and helmed and created one of their flagship shows Born Wild. She authored the book Born Wild, Journeys into the wild hearts of India and Africa. She is also a documentary filmmaker, her film The Animal Communicator has racked up over 8 million views on YouTube since 2012 and is available on Amazon Prime in the US and UK. She was the Associate Producer on the Academy Award winning My Octopus Teacher and is at present working for the Sea Change Project in Cape Town.
Leela Samson is a virtuoso performer and a sensitive interpreter of the nuances of bharata natyam. Spanda, a body of work choreographed by her 20 yrs ago, is still celebrated for its innovations in bharatanatyam traditions. Leela is the author of Rhythm in Joy and Rukmini Devi – a life. In her many roles, she has been the director of Kalakshetra,the chairperson of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, and the chairperson of the Central Board of Film Certification. Leela has been the recipient of many awards for her work and contribution to the arts, including the Sanskriti Award, and the Padmashri Award.
Journalist and Editor
AS Panneerselvan (Chair) is an Indian journalist, editor and columnist. He heads the Centre for Study in Public Sphere, Roja Muthiah Research Library in Chennai. He is also the author of Karunanidhi : a life, his definitive biography of M. Karunanidhi, and editor of an anthology of essays produced by journalist fellows that include Uncertain Journeys. In 2022, the Government of Tamil Nadu has conferred him with the G.U. Pope Award for his literary contributions. In his extensive career in the media, he has worked with several prestigious media houses and networks, including the Sun Network, Outlook magazine, the Hindu, amongst others. His next book is the Periodic Table of Tamil Modernity: 1858 to 1968.
Amitabha Bagchi is the author of four novels. The first, Above Average, was a bestseller. His second novel, The Householder, was published to critical acclaim, the third, This Place, was shortlisted for the Raymond Crossword Book Award 2014, and the fourth, Half the Night is Gone, won the 2019 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature and was shortlisted for the 2018 JCB Prize for Literature. He has written and published several research papers over his extensive career as a researcher and professor, specialising in Computer Science.
Historian and Academician
Dr J. Devika is a historian, feminist, social critic and academician. She currently researches and teaches at the Centre for Development Studies. She has authored several books and articles on gender, politics, social reforms and development in Kerala on publications like Kafila, Economic and Political Weekly and The Wire. She has translated both fiction and non-fiction books between Malayalam and English, including the translation of Nalini Jameela's autobiography and the short stories of K. R. Meera and Sarah Joseph.
Janice Pariat is the author of The Nine Chambered-Heart , Boats on Land: A Collection of Short Stories and Seahorse: A Novel. She was awarded the Young Writer Award from the Sahitya Akademi and the Crossword Book Award for Fiction in 2013. In 2014, she was the Charles Wallace Creative Writing Fellow at the University of Kent, UK, and a Writer in Residence at the TOJI Residency in South Korea in 2019. Janice also teaches Creative Writing and Art History at Ashoka University. Her novel Everything the Light Touches is forthcoming.
Author and Academician
Rakhee Balaram is an Assistant Professor of Global Art & Art History at the University of Albany, State University of New York, where she specializes in modern and contemporary art. She is the author of Counterpractice: Psychoanalysis, Politics and the Art of French Feminism and 20th-Century Indian Art: Modern, Post-Independence, Contemporary. Her curatorial work includes Fragility, an exhibition of contemporary Indian art. Her research has been supported by the Art Histories Fellowship in Berlin, the ICI Berlin Institute of Cultural Inquiry, and the Tata SPEAR grant, among others. Balaram holds double doctorates in French Literature from Cambridge University and History of Art from The Courtauld Institute of Art.
Sara Rai (chair) is a writer and literary translator working with Hindi, Urdu, and English. She has published three collections of short stories in Hindi with her first novel, Cheelvali Kothi (The House of Kites) published in 2010. The German translation of her selected short fiction, Im Labyrinth (The Labyrinth) won the Coburg Rückert Prize 2019, and was also nominated for the Weltempfӓnger Prize, Frankfurt 2020. Her translation of Vinod Kumar Shukla’s Blue is Like Blue won the Atta Galatta Prize 2019 and the Matrubhumi Award 2020. Over the years her work has been translated into Urdu, German, French, Italian and English.
Dr. Annapurna Garimella is a designer and an art historian. Her latest book is a co-edited Marg volume titled The Contemporary Hindu Temple: Fragments for a History (2019) and her upcoming edited volume is titled The Long Arc of South Asian Art: A Reader in Honor of Vidya Dehejia (New Delhi: Women Unlimited, 2021). Annapurna is the Managing Trustee of Art, Resources and Teaching Trust, along with heading Jackfruit Research and Design.
Shahnaz Habib is the author of the nonfiction book Airplane Mode, and the translator of the novels Jasmine Days and Al-Arabian Novel Factory. She, along with the author Benyamin won the JCB Prize for Literature for Jasmine Days in 2018. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker online, Creative Non-fiction, Agni, Brevity, The Guardian, and Afar, among many others. She currently teaches writing at The New School and consults for the United Nations as well.
Prem Panicker is the editor of Peepli.org, an independent website dedicated to longform multimedia storytelling. He has worked as a journalist and editor for over 30 years across print and digital mediums. Prem was one of the team of journalists who helped start Rediff.com. and has also worked as the Managing Editor, for Yahoo! India. Prem conducts storytelling workshops, and consults various media houses from time to time.
Amit Varma is a writer and podcaster based in Mumbai. He writes The India Uncut Newsletter and hosts the longform conversation podcast, The Seen and the Unseen. He has been a journalist for over two decades, and won the Bastiat Prize for Journalism in 2007 and 2015. Amit also teaches the online course, The Art of Clear Writing.
ARUNI KASHYAP writes and translates in both English and Assamese. His books include His Father’s Disease and Other Stories, The House With a Thousand Stories, and Noikhon Etia Duroit. His poetry collection, There is No Good Time for Bad News, was a finalist for the 2018 Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize and the 2018 Four Way Books Levis Award in Poetry. Aruni won the Charles Wallace India Trust Scholarship for Creative Writing to the University of Edinburgh, and has penned short stories, poems, and essays for the Oxford Anthology of Writings from Northeast, The Kenyon Review, The New York Times, and The Guardian UK, amongst others.
Author & Professor
Tejaswini Niranjana is currently Professor and Head, Department of Cultural Studies, Lingnan University, Hong Kong, and Visiting Professor with the School of Arts and Sciences, Ahmedabad University, India. She is the author of Siting Translation: History, Post-structuralism and the Colonial Context, as well as Mobilizing India: Women, Music and Migration between India and Trinidad. Her collection of essays in Chinese, Nationalism Refigured, was re-issued in 2019. Tejaswini Niranjana's translation of Jayant Kaikini's No Presents Please was jointly awarded the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. Her translation of MK Indira's Phaniyamma won the Central Sahitya Akademi Award for best translation into English.
Playwright & Director
Ramu Ramanathan is a playwright and director based in Mumbai. He has scripted notable plays such as Cotton 56, Polyester 84; Comrade Kumbhakarna; and Mahadevbhai. Eight of his plays have been anthologised in the book 3, Sakina Manzil And Other Plays. He is also the author of the poetry collection My Encounters with a Peacock and co-editor of Babri Masjid, 25 Years On…
Ramanathan writes on theatre and culture in newspapers and periodicals. He has been associated with the printing industry for three decades as a journalist. He is the editor of PrintWeek and WhatPackaging? magazines.
Head of Arts & Culture Portfolio, Tata Trusts
Deepika Sorabjee heads the Arts & Culture portfolio at Tata Trusts, and serves as the Trusts representative on the Board of Trustees at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maha Vastru Sanghralaya, Mumbai. Deepika received her M.B.B.S. degree from Grant Medical College and the Sir J.J. Group of Hospitals before pursuing her passion for the arts She has been an independent writer on contemporary art and the city since 2009. In 2012-2014 she was a selector for the International Competition section for the Mumbai Film Festival (MAMI). Deepika is also one of the Founder Trustees of the Mumbai Art Room.
Author & critic
Anjum Hasan is the author of the novels The Cosmopolitans, Neti, Neti and Lunatic in my Head, the short story collections A Day in the Life and Difficult Pleasures, and the poetry collection Street on the Hill. Anjum was, until recently, Books Editor at The Caravan. She has been Charles Wallace Writer-in-Residence at the University of Canterbury and visiting professor of creative writing at Ashoka University. She is currently a Homi Bhabha Fellow. Her short stories, essays and poems have been published in Granta, Baffler, Five Dials, Wasafiri, Drawbridge, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Asia Literary Review, Caravan, and several anthologies.
Filmmaker & environmentalist
Pradip Krishen is a filmmaker who taught himself botany and became an ‘ecological gardener’, restoring degraded habitats with native plants, mostly in the desert regions of western India. He is currently Project Director of the Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park, Jodhpur, the Abha Mahal garden, Nagaur and Kishan Bagh, Jaipur, and he curates the garden of the Calico Museum, Ahmedabad. He has written The Trees of Delhi: A Field Guide and The Jungle Trees of Central India: A Field Guide For Tree-Spotters. His films include Massey Sahib (1986), In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones (1988) and Electric Moon (1991).
K R Meera writes fiction in Malayalam and essays in English, and has published four novels, five novellas, six collections of short fiction, two children’s novels and two collections of essays. She has won all the major Malayalam literary awards, including the Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award, Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award (for best novel and for best short fiction), the Vayalar Award and the Odakuzhal Award. Her works in translation include Hangwoman, The Poison of Love, The Unseeing Idol of Light, Yellow is the Colour of Longing and The Gospel of Yudas.
Parvati Sharma began her writing career with The Dead Camel and Other Stories of Love, which earned her praise for its depictions of love and sexuality in urban India. Her novella, Close to Home, was acclaimed as ‘tender, acute and pulsing with real Indian life’. She has also written a book for children, The Story of Babur, and, most recently, a historical biography, Jahangir: An Intimate Portrait of a Great Mughal. Sharma lives in New Delhi, where she has worked as a travel writer, editor and journalist.
Arvind Subramanian was Chief Economic Adviser to the Government of India and is now a Visiting Lecturer at Harvard University. His award-winning book Eclipse: Living in the Shadow of China's Economic Dominance was published in September 2011. In 2011 Foreign Policy named him one of the world's top 100 global thinkers. He has written on India, growth, trade, development, institutions, aid, climate change, oil, intellectual property, the WTO, China, and Africa. He has published widely in academic and other journals.
Amitav Ghosh was born in Calcutta and grew up in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. He is the author of two books of non-fiction, a collection of essays and eight novels. His most recent book is The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (2016). His books have won prizes in India, Europe and Myanmar and he has been awarded honorary degrees by the Sorbonne, Paris, and by Queens College, New York. He is married to the writer Deborah Baker and divides his time between Brooklyn, Goa and Kolkata.
Amitav Ghosh’s work has been translated into more than thirty languages and he has served on the Jury of the Locarno Film Festival and the Venice Film Festival. In 2007 he was awarded the Padma Shri, one of India’s highest honours, by the President of India.
Deepa Mehta is an Oscar-nominated filmmaker whose work is celebrated on an international scale. Her emotionally resonating, award-winning films have played every major film festival, and been sold and distributed around the globe. Her films include the Elemental Trilogy: Earth, Fire, Water, the final film of which received an Oscar nomination for best foreign language film, Bollywood/Hollywood, Heaven on Earth and the epic adaptation of Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie’s three-time Booker Prize winning novel. Her work challenges traditions and stereotypes and is always daring, fearless and provocative. It’s this spirit that saturated her latest work, Anatomy of Violence. Amongst her many honours, she has just received her star on Canada’s Walk of Fame and the Honorary Award for Lifetime Achievement in Cinema at the Reykjavík International Film Festival.
Entrepreneur and scholar
Rohan Murty is a technology entrepreneur. At Harvard University, he founded the Murty Classical Library of India, whose mission is to present the greatest literary works of India from the past two millennia to the largest readership in the world. He has a PhD in computer science from Harvard and an undergraduate degree from Cornell. His research work on white spaces networking was seminal in opening up a new area of inquiry and has won awards and fellowships from Microsoft Research, Siebel foundation, and the National Science Foundation (NSF). In 2012 he was selected as a Junior Fellow at the Society of Fellows at Harvard.
Theoretical astrophysicist and author
Priyamvada Natarajan is a theoretical astrophysicist at Yale. She is recognized for her seminal contributions to the study of dark matter and the formation and growth of black holes. She uses gravitational lensing observations, the deflection of light rays by matter in the universe, to map the detailed distribution of dark matter. Another abiding interest has been the study of the growth history of black holes over cosmic time and, in particular, the formation of the first seed black holes. She has proposed and worked on models for the formation of massive black hole seeds, direct collapse black holes and their observational signatures.
Recipient of many awards and honors for her work including the Guggenheim, Caroline Herschel and Radcliffe fellowships, she also holds the Sophie and Tycho Brahe Professorship at the Dark Cosmology Center at the University of Copenhagen, and an honorary professorship for life at the University of Delhi.
Aside from research, she is also deeply invested in the public dissemination of science. She is a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books and her first book, Mapping the Heavens: Radical Scientific Ideas that Reveal the Cosmos, was published in 2016
Novelist and playwright
Vivek Shanbhag is one of India’s leading novelists. He has published five short story collections, three novels and two plays. Several of his short stories have been adapted into plays and one has been made into a short film. Shanbhag was editor of the literary journal Desha Kaala from 2005 to 2012, and founding editor of the literary supplement of Prajavani, a leading Kannada newspaper. His short stories have been translated into English and other Indian languages. His critically-acclaimed novel Ghachar Ghochar was published in India, the US and UK in English translation; it is now translated into 16 other languages. He is the co-translator of U R Ananthamurthy’s book Hindutva or Hind Swaraj into English.
Shanbhag was a Fall 2016 Honorary Fellow at the International Writing Program, University of Iowa. He is an engineer by training, and lives in Bangalore.
Translator and expert in Indian classical languages
Arshia Sattar has a Ph.D. from the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. She has been a Fulbright Scholar (2010) and a Rockefeller Centre Fellow (2009). Arshia has translated Sanskrit Tales from the Kathasaritsagara and The Ramayana of Valmiki, both of which are published as Penguin Classics. Her most recent publications include Uttara: The Book of Answers (Penguin India, 2016) and The Ramayana for Children (Juggernaut, 2016). She continues to work with the Valmiki Ramayana and teaches courses on classical Indian literatures in India and abroad. She also writes on books and Hindu myths for various magazines and journals and over the last decade, has been a jury member for several literary awards.