Saturday, June 25, 2005


Italian honour for Indian authors
Roopinder Singh

Rupa Bajwa, Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi and Anita Desai win the XXIV Grinzane Cavour awards

"It was only after coming to Italy that I learnt that the book had not only been selected by a jury, but it had also been voted upon by school and university students. I am grateful that a book set in Amritsar had connected with Italian readers. That really made me very happy," said Rupa Bajwa.

Rupa Bajwa

Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi

Anita Desai
WINNING TRIO: Bajwa, Shanghvi and Desai.
— Photos: Premio Grinzane Cavour 

Her novel, The Sari Shop has won acclaim in India and abroad. Its Italian translation Il negozio di sari, published by Feltrinelli, was among the books for foreign fiction that were voted upon by school juries of 12 Italian high schools with that country and by students in Italian high schools in Belgrade, Berlin, Brussels, Buenos Aires, Fiume, Il Cairo, Paris, Prague and the University of Moscow, Salamanca, Stockholm and Tokyo.

Making literary history, this year, three Indians bagged the XXIV Grinzane Cavour awards. The celebrated veteran Anita Desai was honoured for her lifetime of literary achievement, while Bajwa and Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi were awarded for their first books. The coveted prize is Italy’s major literary recognition and till now, V. S. Naipaul had been the only ‘Indian’ to have received the award.

The €5,000 Debutant Author Prize category was swept by the two young Indian writers, Bajwa and Shanghvi, the former for The Sari Shop the latter for his book, L’ultima canzone (The Last Song of Dusk), which has been published in Italy by Garzanti.

Both the authors’ works have been well recognised. The Sari Shop has been published in the UK, the USA and India in English. Besides Italian, it has been published in Dutch and is being translated into other European languages, including Greek, Portuguese, French, Serbian and Spanish. It was also selected for the Best First Book Award, 2005, in the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Eurasia.

Shanghvi’s book too has been published in the UK, the USA and India in English, and translated into Italian. He also won the coveted Betty Trask Award in Britain.

It was only fitting that the international Una Vita Per La Letterature (A life for literature) prize went to the veteran novelist, short-story writer and children’s author Anita Desai. Her novels include Fire on the Mountain (1977), Clear Light of Day (1980), In Custody (1984) and Fasting, Feasting (1999). All of them were shortlisted for the Booker Prize. The Village by the Sea (1982) has won The Guardian Children’s Fiction Award. She has also won the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize. Anita Desai lives in the US, where she is the John E. Burchard Professor of Writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.

The €6,000 superwinners this year are Italy’s Alessandro Perissinotto, To My Judge (Al mio giudice, Rizzoli) and Rosa Montero (Spain) The Mad of the House (La pazza di casa, Frassinelli). While the other prizewinners had been announced in January, the two superwinners were declared on Saturday, June 18, during a prize giving ceremony at the Grinzane Cavour Castle, Cuneo, Piedmont, Italy. Eminent Italian and foreign authors attended the event.

The foreign novel winners were Thomas Hettche (Germany), Rosa Montero (Spain), Duong Thu Huong (Vietnam). The Italian novel winners include Eraldo Affinati, Maria Pace Ottieri and Alessandro Perissinotto.

Speaking exclusively to The Tribune after the prize-distribution ceremony, Rupa Bajwa said: "It was very nice to meet writers from other countries, of different backgrounds, writing in different languages."

Asked to describe the event, she said she was happy to have met so many people engaged in diverse literary pursuits. "It was like a Punjabi wedding, a lot of eating and drinking and celebrations that lasted for four days," Bajwa said.

"With reading taking a backseat among most people, the aim of the award is to take the younger generation closer to literature and particularly to contemporary fiction," a spokesperson of the Premio Grinzane Cavour said.