New Delhi, Nov 14 (PTI) As he sat down with the people of the Naxal stronghold of Bastar, Hindi writer Manoj Rupda was compelled to pick up his pen and give words to their rigid silences that spoke of stories untold.
The result was “I Named My Sister Silence”, which paints a vivid and dark image of conflict, violence and human emotions centred around the Naxalite movement.
“Whenever there is a conflict there is so much dust and smoke that the reality is often blurred and hardly visible. Most Indians don’t know much because there is a difference between the realities of a conflict zone and what is reported by the media. That’s where the job of a fiction writer begins,” Rupda told PTI in an email interview.
The book, fitting into the literary genre of ‘bildungsroman’ that follows the narrator’s life from his childhood, was first published in Hindi as “Kaale Adhyaay” in 2015.
Translated into English by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, “I Named My Sister Silence” has been shortlisted for the JCB Prize for Literature. The winner of the award will be announced on November 18.
“A fiction writer’s work starts where that of media and social activists ends. A writer doesn’t go there to count the dead, or to cover the burned down and broken houses. He goes there to understand their sufferings who have experienced something truly terrible, something that silences them forever,” the 60-year-old writer said.
When he visited the conflict-affected areas, he added, people hardly spoke to him and stayed silent in response to his questions.
“It was their silence that motivated me to tell their stories. Those experiences were not close to my life, I went close to those experiences that compelled me to write this story,” Rupda said.
Set in Bastar among the Koitur (Gond) people, the novel follows the narrator’s life as he grows up and leaves his village to become an engineer. He goes on to sail the high seas on a cargo ship till it is scrapped due to global recession.
Coming back to his village, the protagonist hears about his sister’s involvement with the “dada log” (Naxalites). He retraces her steps, trying to connect with her, and in the process witnesses how the conflict has affected the villages, innumerable lives and livelihood.
Discussing a writer’s responsibility when working on projects around sensitive issues such as Naxalism, poverty, violence, and armed resistance, Rupda said “writing would become a mere art form if it didn’t demand the author to decide their accountability and approach”.
“I am only a witness of these circumstances, not a victim. Whenever there are socio-economical and political turmoil, and lakhs of people are uprooted and pushed to the margins, a writer doesn’t think about how the turmoil affects themselves, but they think about all of those who have been affected by it who have nothing left to live for,” he said.
The other books in the JCB Prize for Literature shortlist are ''The Nemesis'' by Manoranjan Byapari, translated from the Bengali by V Ramaswamy, "Fire Bird" by Perumal Murugan, translated from the Tamil by Janani Kannan, ''The Secret of More'' by Tejaswini Apte-Rahm and ''Mansur'' by Vikramajit Ram.
The prize carrying an amount of Rs 25 lakh is awarded each year to a distinguished work of fiction by an Indian writer.
If the winning entry is a translation, the translator will be presented with an additional cash prize of Rs 10 lakh. Each of the five authors on the shortlist are awarded Rs 1 lakh. If the shortlisted piece is a translation, the translator receives Rs 50,000. PTI MAH MIN MIN