The 2008 Booker award has been awarded to an Indian author – Arvind Adiga.
As soon as Aravind Adiga’s novel The White Tiger the honours, the whole literary world, bloggers, critics have rushed to write about the author – some applauding his while a few questioning his deservingness to this overnight fame.
Just look at title of a few blogs:
“Aravind Adiga wins Booker prize: a worthy winner?”, “Arvind shines at the booker”,
“How did The White Tiger capture the Booker?”,
“All that you wanted to know about Arvind Adiga”, “The Dark Horse” etc.
But very few of them have actually commented on the plot of the book, the literary merits and demerits. All the attention is being given to the person – not the book; which has actually won the award. And this is probably because very few of them (including some notable names) have actually read the book. In fact when Arvind’s name was short-listed along with Amitav Ghosh – another Indian name – few notable Indian writers, such as Shobha De and Chetan Bhagat, were asked their views on the nominees, the books and the award.
None of them had actually read the book; none of them talked highly of the authors (considering this as an achievement by ‘Indians’) and none of them seemed to rate Booker as a true measure of being a highclass writer…it could probably be because of none of these Indian writers who commented on the nominations have won awards themselves. So it could partyly be a jealousy in their part, reluctance to accept achievement of these ‘new kids on the block’ or a partyly because of genuinely not having read the books and hence not choosing to comment.
Whatever the case might be – it aroused some interest in me to check history of Booker awards.
“The Man Booker Prize for fiction, also known as the Booker Prize, is a literary prize awarded each year for the best original full-length novel, written in the English language, by a citizen of either the Commonwealth of Nations or Ireland.” (from Wiki)
The keywords for me are ‘by a citizen of either the Commonwealth of Nations or Ireland.’ So Booker is NOT a worldwide award – excluding the writers from US and European nations from this awards.
Secondly, if we look at the winners of these awards (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man_Booker_Prize). In the first 29-30 years India did not produce any winner despite of having some well-established English writers such as Nirad Chaudhari, R. K. Narayan, Khushwant Singh, Gurcharan Das, Shobha De etc. But since 1997 three Indians have won this award. A booker award is a sure way to catapult the sales of that book and take author straight into the top league overnight. Couple it with the fact that India has largest number of English-speaking people, its burgeoning middle-class, that has seen tremendous growth during last one decade or so. The middle class who is the natural buyer of these award winning books.
So is it just a coincidence that suddenly lot of Indian writers are winning (or getting nominated) for Booker awards? Or has it something to do with ‘economics of book publishing and sales’?
One can draw parallels with what happened with beauty pageants. Till 1990s, when India was a closed economy, not a single Indian won the pageant. But Indian economy began to open in 1991 and with that opened access to a vast market for beauty care products and a great opportunity for well-known forgeign brands to capture part of it. And then suddenly India won 2 pageants in form of Aishwarya Rai and Sushmita Sen – when nobody had even thought of it in their wildest dreams. And since then winning beauty pageants has become habitual for Indian beauties and has almost lost its ‘sensation’. So did these beauty care product and cosmetic companies have any hand in making Indian beauties win thos pageants (keepin an eye on the Indian market)? Well, perhaps I am stretching it a bit too far (undermining ‘beauty’ of our contestants – but it is not as simple as plain black and white…there are lots of grey areas…and same can be felt about the Booker awards.
I would have never read (rather had not tried to read) ‘The God of Small Things’ by Arundhati Roy. But when it won Booker prize in 1997, I borrowed it from a British Council – just out of curiosity to see why it won the award. To be honest I found that book pathetic, completely undeserving of the accolade it got. But still it became bestseller (and continues to be one) just because it won Booker prize. None of Arundhati Roy’s previous works or the books that followed ‘The God…’ have been able to claim the of success that ‘The God…’ enjoyed. So was it a fluke, a coincidence or a well-thought arithmetic of economics (by book publishers and other who benefit from book sales)?
Immediately after getting any award you get to see pirated copies of that book on the streets – as if they anticipated the outcome and had the pirated copies ready!
I am not against people who try to manipulate results of an award or sales of their books. I consider these just as any ‘marketing gimmicks’ to up the sales of a book. What I do not agree with is judging a person’s skills only by the yardstick of the number of copies sold or number of awards won…and more annoyingly, this success not only gives them recognition as great authors – but also authority to talk on other social topics!!?? Just as Arundhati Roy has been projecting herself as ‘social activist’ and has been expressing her ‘expert’ oponion on every other social issue.
Comparitively the other Indian Booker winner, Kiran Desai has (thankfully!) been ‘quiet’ in such matters…
Let’s see how Arvind changes post his Booker success.
Right now he has every right to be proud of his Booker success!
BTW, I would still like to read the award winning book…I don’t form undue opinion about any book without having read it (just by reading reviews…)