Since both Murugan and Kannan were unable to attend the literary event in the national capital, the coveted trophy was awarded by Deepak Shetty- CEO and Managing Director, JCB India Limited on behalf of Lord Bamford, to Sundaram Kannan, and Manasi Subramaniam, the Tamil publisher and the Editor of the English translation, respectively. The trophy titled ‘Mirror Melting’ is a sculpture by Delhi artist duo, Thukral and Tagra.
Originally written in Tamil as ‘Aalanda Patchi’, ‘Fire Bird’ is a thought-provoking and profound exploration of the innate human desire for stability in a world that is ever-changing. Talking about the book and commenting on winning the award, Murugan said in a video message which was played at the event, “Vanakkam. Humans have been migrating for a long time in search of food. It has always been the will of the human being to live in one place. Almost all living beings would have nurtured such desire. Which life would like a constant wandering? Today, human beings largely live a constant life. Yet migration is not over. Many reasons such as natural changes, politics, power, war, work, and family lead to migration. To move away from one place is suffering; it is also suffering to migrate to some other place and live there. Compulsions of life lead to such suffering.
“‘Aalanda Patchi’ was about the forced migration of an agrarian family that happened six decades ago. The tragedy of being alienated from one’s native place, land and family; (and move to a) new town, new landscapes, new people, new environment. They have to accept it and make it constant. I wrote the novel driven by a desire to write about the capability of a family to handle both challenges. I have heard many migration stories of my ancestors. In my youth, I experienced firsthand the migration of our family away from the land where we have lived for generations. I have also been aware of many stories of migration of the families of my relatives. The characters of Muthu, Perumayi, and Kuppan were drawn from the essence of such stories. The suffering of migration and the experience of travels from this novel. This is not merely the story of my ancestors. This doesn’t merely show the life of a family or my own family. I believe the novel will emotionally connect with every person displaced, small or big. The novel will also provide an experience of understanding the agrarian life, the old times when there were not as many modern amenities, and the family relationships that characterize feudal life. Translated into English as ‘Fire Bird’, the novel has reached a wider readership after its publication. It has also become a novel liked by the readers.
“I feel happy that everyone is associating themselves with this novel. That the novel has won the prestigious JCB Prize is an important recognition. I am grateful to everyone including my ancestors who were the reason behind my writing this novel, my family which helped me in writing this, Kalachuvadu Kannan who published it in Tamil, Penguin which published it in English, translator Janani Kannan, the jury of the JCB Prize and JCB institute.”
Left to Right: Sundaram Kannan- Tamil Publisher, Manasi Subramaniam- Editor-in-Chief, Penguin Random House India, and Deepak Shetty- CEO and Managing Director, JCB India Limited.
Meanwhile, translator Janani Kannan too shared her surprise and gratitude in a short video message. “This is quite surreal of me to be recording this video. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I will be sharing the stage with such literary talent, let alone win this award. This would not have been possible without a group of people that I have backing me,” she said.
Perumal Murugan’s ‘Fire Bird’ was one of the five books that were shortlisted for the JCB Prize for Literature 2023. Click here to know more about the other shortlisted books for 2023 JCB Prize.
‘Fire Bird’ was chosen as the winner by a jury of five judges, including Srinath Perur (Jury Chair), Mahesh Dattani, Somak Ghoshal, Kavery Nambisan, and Swati Thiyagarajan.
Praising the winning-book, Srinath Perur- Jury Chair, said in a statement, “In ‘Fire Bird’ Perumal Murugan takes a universal story of lives that are tied to land and tells it with astonishing particularity. Janani Kannan’s translation carries into English the rhythms not only of Tamil but of an entire way of being in the world.”
This is the 6th year of the JCB Prize for Literature. Talking about the award, Deepak Shetty said in a statement, “The JCB Prize for Literature was institutionalised by Lord Bamford as a symbol of the Bamford family’s commitment and affection for India. In a period of just six years, it has made a place for itself because of its unique structure, which awards and celebrates writing in Indian languages, representing different cultures.”
Meanwhile, talking about the journey of the Prize, Mita Kapur- Literary Director, said, “The JCB Prize continues to uphold excellence and celebrates books that make us lose ourselves in their interior worlds, variegated realities, memorable characters, books that encompass the gamut of our country in unique and incomparable ways.”
Previous winners of JCB Prize include: Khalid Jawed and translator Baran Farooqi for ‘The Paradise of Food’ in 2022; author M. Mukundan and translators Fathima E.V. and Nandakumar K for ‘Delhi: A Soliloquy’ in 2021; S. Hareesh and translator Jayasree Kalathil for ‘Moustache’ in 2020; Madhuri Vijay for ‘The Far Field’ in 2019; and Benyamin and translator Shahnaz Habib for ‘Jasmine Days’ in 2018.
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