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What the JCB Prize for Literature longlist reveals, and what it leaves out, about India today

Arguments over history, and who gets to narrate it. A continuing conundrum in Kashmir. Raised voices from the North East, as well as from others outside the designated mainstream. Dealing with the tragic fallout of the pandemic. A feeling of time compressed, and then accelerated.

For many, an uneasy amalgam of the above aspects is what has defined India in the recent past. It’s only fitting, then, that the novels on this year’s JCB Prize for Literature longlist reflect these themes, sometimes directly, often by implication. It’s a stack of books teeming with issues of contemporary significance.

Some things old, many things new

Refreshingly, more than half of the ten are debut novels. In no particular order, these are Lindsay Pereira’s Gods and Ends, Keerthik Sasidharan’s The Dharma Forest, Krupa Ge’s What We Know About Her, Rijula Das’s A Death in Shonagachhi, Daribha Lyndem’s Name Place Animal Thing, and Shabir Ahmed Mir’s The Plague Upon Us. The wide variety of narrative styles and subjects in these first novels is fitting testimony to an expanding literary spirit.

Moving on to the others on the list, there are three novels in translation: VJ James’s Anti-Clock, M. Mukundan’s Delhi: A Soliloquy, and Thachom Poyil Rajeevan’s The Man Who Learnt to Fly But Could Not Land. Finally, there’s veteran I Allan Sealy’s Asoca, which happens to be his first book…

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