The unintended consequences of our actions are often of greater interest to those who comment on human affairs. It gives them the innocent pleasure of observing and saying with the wisdom of hindsight, “Here you miss, or there exceed the mark”. But there must,
perforce, be those who act in the present with nothing but a few principles and some imagination, perhaps. They have to bear the weight of office and hope they will be judged fairly. And so it is with people who decide which writers should be given prizes for their books and which ones a polite compliment. The Neev Book Awards are decided by a jury who read and talk to each other in order to give four authors a prize each across four categories of writing.
Neev Book Award: Observations and Thoughts And while the reasons for this are large, enlightened and well intentioned, such as getting more people to read and write children’s literature about India, the prizes do become important factors in influencing who becomes established as an important or, dare I say, a good, writer. That’s what the word canon means—a list of writers or writings that have become established over time as being of the highest quality. This year the shortlist saw a significant range of themes and subject matter—God’s plenty: fish, tailors, soup from far away, barbers, friendship, a grandmother, a grandfather, boys, girls, government idiocy, Englishmen, Englishwomen and pee. And, all of them in the context of India. Clearly, all of them work
in their own way to help represent India and create a corpus of writing that builds more complexity into the idea of India—a fitting antidote to the idea of a colourless and unimaginative uniformity that some would seek to impose on this idea.I should like readers to see these awards as an opportunity to scrutinize the jury’s decisions, read the shortlist and consider what each book does as a literary work and as a document about India. The voice of the reader and the reader’s judgement is finally what matters and what determines the largeness of the canon of children’s literature in India as well as the liberal principles on which the canon is formed. It is an exciting time to be a reader, a time when one can exert a formative power in moulding literature and in moulding the idea of India.
Emerging Readers Junior Readers Young Adults
COLIN LESLIE KELMAN