The jurors for the Toto Awards 2013 for Creative Writing (English) were poet, writer and editor Anjum Katyal; poet and novelist Jerry Pinto; and literary and theatre critic and commentator Devina Dutt.
Below are their comments on the winning and shortlisted entries for these awards:
Swetanshu Bora (Winner) for his play ‘Pagdi’
- This is a powerful piece in its direct, understated tone. The choice of first person narrative to describe an emotional rite of passage works well. The language is simple, taut, very verbal in its rhythms and pauses, which suits the monologue form. Yet it is also descriptive, with sudden strong images. An emotional piece, without being sentimental or maudlin. The character of the protagonist is fully fleshed, believable, very human.
- Pagdi, starts off with a tremendous visual of an open suitcase with several neatly folded turbans. Serving as predominant image and metaphor, the turbans become a point of convergence as well as silent backdrop for the many painfully delicate, emotional cross currents that rush through this deceptively spare play. This is a narrative of change which spans generations, cities and even different times of recent Indian history all of which are told with sensitivity but without ever hitting a false note or lapsing into everyday sentimentality. The depictions of change in small towns are peppered with the minutiae of a specific community, a device which is not overused and therefore the story is completely universal in the telling. Since nothing seems forced or manipulated there is no question of compassion fatigue setting in either even when we begin to sense what the play is really about. I was also struck by the way in which the narrator alternates between alienation and empathy while talking about his father and even in his description of the politics of the genocide. The portrait of the father demonstrates the measure of the writer. Balancing contradictory and competing emotions in a style where hyper naturalism is delicately inflected with surrealism, this is an impressive piece of writing.
- Pagdi has the potential to become an intriguing and interesting play. It has a relentless honesty, and is the theatrical version of a bildungsroman in which growth is telescoped through political tragedy.
Aditi Rao (Winner) for her series of poems
- Poignant and yet controlled, full of loss and yearning, full of powerful images, unexpected word combinations. There is a maturity and confidence in the use of language, repetition, desi words, whimsy. The poems here are quite varied in terms of subject matter, from what read like love poems to political comment.”
- The poems have been crafted with a sense of travel, places, identity and shifting interior landscapes which emerge from a well judged idea for each poem. This is poetry which is dense enough to carry the weight of many worlds and many disciplines and also resonant enough to give us an experience and nature of what it is to travel through those worlds. The poems are fluid and often seem to me to be describing a point of departure for the poet who is sometimes a survivor and sometimes a traveller, with the gift of observation and a knowledge of stillness that can turn sharply from the outside to a study of his inner world. I enjoyed the poet’s surprising turns and use of language. There are worlds within worlds in these poems and a very natural out flowing quality to the descriptive capacities of the poet and her instinct for making poetry.
- The poetry here is assured but is also adventurous. The author is capable of transmuting the intensely personal into the public and the universal. It is an interesting voice and we should like to hear more of it.
Kaushik Viswanath (Jury Commendation) for his short stories
- Interestingly tongue-in-cheek both in style and content. Stories that spin into the surreal. A good ear for the spoken word, leading to authentic sounding dialogue. Whacky humour. Holds your attention. Stories are paced well, with a tight structure.
- The writing is assured with a particularly developed ability to sustain a very acute sense of satire and a barely contained very observant eye for the ludicrous. The fact that the writer is able to maintain this approach and use the devices available to such writing through quite disparate forms of fiction is commendable.
- The voice here is an extraordinary one: by turns lyrical and bawdy, angry and surreal.
Afrah Shafiq (Jury Commendation) for her poems
- Direct, emotional, vulnerable. The triptych prose poem is painfully stark and raw. The language is tight, muscular.
- Confessional, sensitive and open, these pieces use surface simplicity to alert us to the fragile but irrefutable truthfulness of experiences that the writer has made his or her business. There is also a fine, distilled quality about the poems, especially Today was a Sunday with nothing to do. The emotional ache and its setting is instantly recognised as a real experience. I think this is writing where the writer decides to abandon the usual safety measures and I see that as a plus point. Although this means that the poems sometimes come dangerously close to wallowing in what seems like an unstoppable and elaborate emotional feast, they pull back just in time too. It is a well judged excursion therefore and brings us close to emotional strains we might not have experienced otherwise.
- The local, the specific, the indigenous, the homemade, the savage, the bizarre all find space in this sampler.
Dion D’Souza (Jury Commendation) for his poems
- Many of the poems are responses to, or inspired by, works of literature, art, which is unusual and interesting. Sensitive, thoughtful, thought-out. Others are on ordinary, unremarkable occurences, but written with a sense of rhythm and perceptiveness that find a depth in them, that give them meaning beyond the banal.
- A poet with a developed sense of the craft, capable of finding his or her reasons for making poetry and constructing meaning from diverse influences which include other works of art. There is a very clear sense of an individual identity and slightly remote involvement in these poems which keeps changing in each poem.
- The inspirations here are diverse: mythology, history, the news, all transformed through a gaze that is ironic and engaged at the same time.