What to expect from the three winning books in English

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The Sahitya Akademi Awards for 2021 were announced on December 30, 2021. a burning by Megha Majumdar (Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar), Things to leave behind by Namita Gokhale (Sahitya Akademi Prize), and Amrita Sher-Gil: Rebel with a brush by Anita Vachharajani (Bal Sahitya Puraskar), were the winners in English.

a burning, Megha Majumdar, laureate of Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar, English

One of the most admired books of 2020, that of Megha Majumdar a burning is a magnificent start with endless possibilities. Jivan, a young Muslim, is determined to rise through the ranks despite her class and religious shackles.

Things take a brutal turn when Jivan is accused of committing a terrorist attack on a train over a Facebook post. An opportunistic gym teacher ties his aspirations to a right-wing party and discovers that his own rise to power is linked to Jivan’s fall. Jivan’s alibi, Lovely, can free her, but at great personal cost. a burning shows contemporary India for what it is – an endless struggle between class, fate, corruption, justice and the quest for personal freedom in a country rapidly evolving towards extremism.

“You smell like smoke,” my mother told me.

So I rubbed an oval of soap into my hair and poured a whole bucket of water on myself before a neighbor complained that I was wasting the morning supply. There was a curfew that day. On the main street, a police jeep passed every half hour. The day laborers, forced to work, returned home with their arms raised to show that they had no weapons.

In bed, my wet hair spread out on the pillow, I picked up my new phone – bought with my own pay, screen protector still attached.

On Facebook, there was only one conversation. These terrorists attacked the wrong neighborhood #KolabaganTrainAttack #Undefeated

Friends, if you have fifty rupees skip your samosas today and donate to –

The more I scrolled, the more Facebook unfolded.

This 24 Hours exclusive news clip shows how –

Candlelight vigil at –

The day before, I was at the station, less than a quarter of an hour on foot from home. I should have seen the men flying up to the open windows and throwing flaming torches into the stopped train. But I only saw cars on fire, their doors closed from the outside and dangerously hot. The fire spread to the barracks bordering the station, with smoke filling the chests of those who lived there. Over a hundred people died. The government has promised compensation to the families of the dead – eighty thousand rupees! – which, well, the government promises a lot.

In a video, with a dozen microphones planted under his chin, the chief minister said: “Let the authorities investigate. Someone had espoused this comment with a video of police officers scratching their heads. That made me laugh.

I admired those strangers on Facebook who said whatever they wanted. They weren’t afraid to make jokes. Whether it was the police or the ministers, they were having fun, and wasn’t that freedom?

– Opening lines: ‘A Burning’, Megha Majumdar.


Things to leave behind Namita Gokhale, Sahitya Akademi Prize Laureate, English

Namita Gokhale’s historical fiction reinvents Kumaon and the Raj like never before. It is 1856, the proud Kumaonis are reluctant to cede the reins to Europeans and women are worried about new threatening influences on their beloved Lake Naineetal.

Not one to resign themselves to their fate, the fiery young Tilottama Dutt and her daughter, Deoki, courageously face their new reality as Indians and as women. Things to leave behind brings to life the fascinating story of Naineetal its usual confusion of caste and culture, and its reluctant entry into Indian history.

First the sky, a pure and clear blue, with clouds in the shape of elephants and sheep and small birds encircling the canvas. Then the low hills surrounding Panna Tal, in a gray-green haze, the trees motionless and impatient, waiting for the breeze to ruffle them. The lake, somewhere blue, sometimes green, the waves flashing in the sun. I am sitting in the grass, part of the picture in the foreground, while he paints me. I watch myself being studied, by her observant gaze, by the intensity of the brush that strokes the canvas.

The brush strokes the canvas, while his hand touches my skin. My pale skin, my hair in the wind, the absence of my being, my waiting self, everything is restored by his gaze. A dragonfly hovers over a rock by the lake, but it does not look at me, it seeks its reflection in the water. I am one of those flapping wings, the translucent gauze of this flight.

I see myself in the sky and the clouds. I can feel the grass on my bare skin. I forgot my clothes, they are lying next to me in a pile of heavy fabrics.

My body is like the earth: it’s mud, it’s wet, it seeks, it clings.

It is the month of Chaitra. The spring breeze carries the scent of flowers, the scent of Krishnakali flowers. On a distant hill, a woman sings a nyoli. I imagine him, one hand resting on one ear, silencing the sound, the other stretched out to listen to the wind, to let it carry its song. It is a plaintive song, a sad song, as are the nyoli – an ode to the passing breeze which sighs from hill to valley, with only the crows, in their permanent wisdom, listening, or a passing egret.

– Opening lines: ‘Things to Leave Behind’, Namita Gokhale.

Amrita Sher-Gil: Rebel with a brush, Anita Vachharajani, winner of the Bal Sahitya Puraskar

Amrita Sher-Gil wore many hats – she was an artist, a dreamer, and a rebel. She grew up in Budapest, Hungary and the colonial settlement of Shimla, defying expectations to prepare to become one of the most accomplished painters of the 20th century.

With lucid writing and beautiful illustrations, Amrita Sher-Gil: Rebel with a brush is a wonderful exploration of the painter’s fascinating life through ups and downs. Perhaps the book’s greatest achievement is to encourage children to never fear being themselves.

In a village called Dunaharaszti in Hungary, a little girl listened intently as her mother told her a folk story.

As she listened, her large black eyes widened and rounded with excitement. She had heard the story before, but loved to hear it over and over again. The story continued, and the little girl’s mind was filled with exciting images – of trees with changing colors, of fairies wearing dresses with peacock feathers on them.

And when the story finally ended, she sat down with her sketchbook and drew pictures in it with her colored pencils. The sketchbook was filled, page after page, with poems and stories that she had written and illustrated. The little girl was Amrita Dalma Sher-Gil. Amrita was born in Budapest on January 30, 1913, over a hundred years ago. She grew up to be an important, adventurous and exciting modern painter.

Amrita’s story is fascinating as it takes place in the early 1900s. It was a time when people from different parts of the world started to travel more freely. They crossed the oceans; meet and work together in a way that has never been done before. They shared wisdom, ideas, technology, culture, art, and sometimes their lives with each other.

– Opening lines: “Amrita Sher-Gil: Rebel with a Paintbrush”, Anita Vachharajani.


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