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7 Indian Women Sahitya Akademi Award Winners For You To Explore

Posted: November 24, 2017

There are many outstanding Indian women writers, who have made a positive impact in Indian literature through their work, of which here are a few women Sahitya Akademi award winners in English.

The Sahitya Akademi was set up on 12th March, 1954, inaugurated by the Government of India. The GOI Resolution described it as an organisation which is to work actively for the development of Indian languages and to set up high standards in the field of literature. Its aim is to foster and coordinate literary activities in Indian languages.

The Sahitya Akademi is the only institution which undertakes literary activities in 24 Indian languages, including English, giving 24 awards annually to writers whose works are exemplary. The purpose is to recognise and promote excellence in Indian writing.

Very recently, Paro Anand, known for her work for children and young adults – both books and with NGOs that work with displaced children due to terrorism in Kashmir, won the Sahitya Akademi award for her book Like Smoke, which was originally published as Wild Child and Other Stories. Her most celebrated book has been No Guns At My Son’s Funeral, which explores the story of a young boy in Kashmir who is seduced into being a terrorist. This book was nominated as the best book for young people from India and translated to Spanish and German. It is also now being adapted into a film.

Here are a few women Sahitya Akademi award winners whose contributions to Indian literature in English has been notable.

Anita Nair

Idris Keeper Of The Light, 2013

Born in Mundakottakurissi, near Shornur in Kerala, Anita Nair is an Indian author of numerous novels, short stories, poems, essays, plays and travelogues. Her fiction work has been translated to 21 languages. Her first book, a collection of short stories called Satyr of the Subway, won her  a fellowship from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

She has been awarded the Central Sahitya Akademi award for her contribution to Children’s Literature in 2013.

This book while retaining the essential poetry of the ballad, is set in the time period of  the 17th century India. The story is woven around Idris, a restless Somalian trader who visits Malabar.

She was chosen as one of the 30 Power Women in India by India Today magazine in their roll call of honour, in the year 2006. She has been honoured by MontBlanc in 2009 , as a part of their Signature for Good initiative with UNICEF, with the launch of the Special Edition writing instrument in India for her contribution to literature, enforcing cross cultural endeavours.

She has also been awarded Women of Substance award, 2010, by the Times Group for her outstanding contribution in the field of literature. Her book, Idris Keeper Of The Light was shortlisted for The Hindu Literary Prize in 2014. She was also the Global ambassador for Women for Expo May 2015.

Malathi Rao

Disorderly Women, 2007

Born in April 1930, in Bangalore, Karnataka, she was inspired by the works of Jane Austen in her early years. She has written three novels and three collection of short stories.

After her novel Disorderly Women got published in 2007, she won the Sahitya Akademi award presented to her by the Honorable President of India. This novel is based on the story of four Brahmin women in India who struggle to break the barriers which are built around them, during the pre-independence period.

Rupa Bajwa

The Sari Shop, 2006

Rupa Bajwa was born in Amritsar, Punjab. Her first novel, The Sari Shop is set in her hometown, and won her flattering reviews. It was longlisted for the Orange Prize for fiction in 2004. It also won the XX1V Grinzane Cavour Prize for the best first novel in June 2005, the Commonwealth Award in 2005, and India’s Sahitya Akademi award in 2006.

This book narrates the story of Ramchand, a shop assistant in Sevak Sari House in Amritsar, spends his days patiently showing yards of fabric to the women of high status families. One day, he is jolted out of the rhythm of his narrow daily life and makes an  attempt to recapture the hope that his childhood had promised, but his efforts are turned upside down in a short time, and he is confronted with the cruelities on which his very existence depends.

This has also been translated to various languages, including French ( Le vendeur de saris), Dutch (De Sariwinkel) and Serbian (Prodavnica Sarija).

Arundhati Roy

The Algebra of Infinite Justice (Essays), 2005

Born on 24th November, 1961 in Shillong, Meghalaya, Suzanna Arundhati Roy is an Indian author and an activist involved with issues of human rights and environmental issues.

During the initial stages of her career, Arundhati Roy worked for television and wrote screenplays. Her experiences of being an architecture student, was made into a movie, In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones for which she wrote the screenplay. This won her the National Film Award for the best screenplay in 1988.

Arundhati Roy began with her first novel, The God of Small Things (1992). This book is a semi autobiography and it is based on her childhood experiences in Aymanam. Her debut novel won her international fame. In 1997, it received the Booker Prize for Fiction and was also listed as one of the New York Times Notable Books of the Year for 1997. It was on the fourth position on the New York Times BestSellers List for Independent Fiction. The book was sold in eighteen countries in a span of 2 months, from  the date of publication.

She actively supports the causes she believes in, even if it has put her at odds with the Indian legal authorities. She gave her vocal support of Maoist-supported Naxalite insurgency groups and took an active lead to prevent the construction of dams in Narmada. She donated her Booker prize money and loyalties on the project to the Narmada Bachao Andolan, to advocate her cause.

In recognition of her outspoken advocacy of human rights, Roy was awarded the Lannan Cultural Freedom Award in 2002, the Sydney Peace Prize in 2004, and the Sahitya Akademi Award from the Indian Academy of Letters in 2006.

Her work, The Algebra of Infinite Justice is a collection of essays. It was published by Penguin Books India and discuses several global and local concerns.

The Hindi translation of the book is also available – Nyaay Ka Ganit.

Meenakshi Mukherjee

The Perishable Empire: Essays on Indian Writing in English, 2003

Born in 1937, Meenakshi Mukherjee was a litterateur and the chairperson of the Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies from 2001-2004 and chairperson of its Indian Chapter from 1993-2005. She taught in a number of colleges in Patna, Pune, Delhi and Hyderabad. She was the Professor of English in the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She was a visiting professor in several universities outside India, including University of Texas at Austin, University of Chicago, University of California at Berkeley, Macquarie University (Sydney), University of Canberra and Flinders University (Adelaide).

She is the author of The Twice Born Fiction, Realism and Reality: Novel and Society in India, Re-reading Jane Austen, and The Perishable Empire, and had also edited many collections of essays. In The Perishable Empire, the first section of the book is devoted to novels written in the 19th century, and the second section to an analysis of contemporary work.

According to India Today, “One of the most valuable things about Mukherjee’s reading of these texts and authors is the sensitivity with which she perceives and interprets their different cadences and tones and the compassion with which she interrogates the anxieties displayed by them in terms of region, nation, culture, imperialism, class, language and gender.”

She passed away just before the launch of her other book An Indian For All Seasons, a biography of historian R.C. Dutt published by Penguin, India.

Sunetra Gupta

Memories of Rain, 1996

Born on 15th March 1965 in Kolkata, Sunetra Gupta is a novelist and a Professor of Theoretical Epidemiology at Oxford University. She wrote her first work of fiction in Bengali. She translated the works of Rabindranath Tagore. She has published several English novels, as well.

Her novel, So Good in Black was long listed for DSC Prize in South Asian Literature, Oct 2012. She has also won the Southern Arts Literature Prize, shortlisted for Crossword Award and also long listed for the Orange Prize.

Her book Memories of Rain, is a meeting on the East-West divide through the marriage of a beautiful Indian girl with an Englishman. Through a series of reflections and memories, the protagonist in the story illustrates the difference between her native motherland and her adopted country.

Kamala Das

Collection of Short Poems, 1985

Kamala Das is one of the most prominent feminist who wrote in both Malayalam and English. She was labelled in India as , ‘The Mother of Modern Indian English Poetry’.

Born in 1934, in Kerala, she started writing as early as when she was six years . She was married off at the age of 15 to a much elder man when she moved to Mumbai.

In 1973, her autobiography Ente Kadha (My Story) was released in Malayalam. It consisted of a compilation of her weekly columns in Malayalanadu which was already  a sensation across the state. Fifteen years later, it was translated into English with more text added, many parts rewritten and published with the title My Story. She was appreciated for her honest voice, and for being unapologetic in voicing her true opinion on sensitive issues such as love, lust, lesbian encounters, child marriage, infidelity and physical intimacy, which was totally unthinkable about back in those times. She was both applauded and criticised for her writings.

In English, her other popular works were Alphabet of Lust (1977), the collection of short stories Padmavati the Harlot and Other Stories (1992) , and a compilation of her poetry Summer in Calcutta (1973). In Malayalam, her well known works include Balyakalasmaranakal (The Memories of Childhood), Chandanamarangal (Sandalwood Trees) amongst many others.

Her literature work won her a lot of recognition and accolades. She won the P.E.N. Asian Poetry Prize in 1963, the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award in 1969 for the short story Thanuppu (Cold) and the National Sahitya Akademi Award for her Collection of Short Poems in 1985. She was also shortlisted for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1984. Her work has been translated into various foreign languages including French and German.

Kamala Das was a feminist and always created a space within her to pursue what she wanted with regards to her work. In her later years, she took up painting as well which created a controversy in her hometown. But she never let the outside controvercies dictate her decisions. She was a fierce advocate for human rights, especially women and children. She inspired women struggling against domestic abuse and sexual oppression with her honest opinion in more than 15 books.  She later converted to Islam and changed her name to Kamala Surayya.

Image source: pixabay and Amazon

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