Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize 2020 Winner

Delighted to announce winner of Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize 2020

 The City and the Sea, a literary fiction by Raj Kamal Jha.

Raj Kamal Jha

Members of the jury and Literary Director of Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize Maja Markunovic remark:

A woman finds herself in a hotel next to the sea and far away from home. It is a place she had long dreamed of visiting, yet, overwhelmed by amnesiac confusion, she senses something is terribly amiss. On the other side of the world, in a city where the home is, a child sets out on a surreal journey in an attempt to retrace the steps of his missing mother and find her. Along the way appears December, a youth who seems to know where to go and who, despite himself, uncovers the devastating truth and his burden of guilt.

The winner of Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize 2020 is The City and the Sea by Raj Kamal Jha, a novel based on the atrocious (Nirbhaya) case of sexual assault and murder, that brought India together in a moral frenzy. From this starting point of factual framework, Raj Kamal Jha takes a leap of imagination and twines a story of love and loss around the bond between a mother and a child that breaks away into realms of phantasmagoria and supernatural where suffering becomes multidimensional, and allusions that mirror our underlying woes strike eerily home.

The City and the Sea is not about crude moralizing and in many ways defies preconceptions of how such an encumbered topic should be tackled. The core is about the aftermath of the most brutal gender based violence, yet the word rape is strategically absent from the entire body of text, as if it would fail to convey the substance of the experience. Instead, the abominable unsaid was brought to the fore via lyrical, allusive and disorienting narration that magically falls together to render it somehow more sincere and complex.

The same powerful delicacy is used to broach the difficult bigotry of how we perceive each other with prismatic approach to its repercussions, which makes the reading experience uniquely empathetic and eye opening.

When mother and what we come to know as her never to be born child reunite in the climactic scene that draws heavily on the allusion to the refugees floating on the open sea, these souls are revealed as exiles from their own bodies, holding onto each other as though that bond is what keeps them from cancelling each other’s existences, struggling to make sense of death, that final displacement and everything unresolved, unredeemed and makeshift that trails behind.

In this brilliant work of fiction Raj Kamal Jha succeeds in making us witnesses to the vastness of existences, possibilities, hopes and dreams annulled by an act of horrific violence rooted in inveterate biases in how malignant to each other we believe we have a right to be. Genuinely concerned with present day afflictions, this novel is a lament of the flawed society, evocation to all who perished in violation of their fundamental rights, but also a ray of hope for a different humankind, awake to our intrinsic unity, even in sorrow.

The first prize in the amount of USD $5 000 (unfortunately, due to the covid-19 global economic crisis, the prize money has been temporarily decreased from USD 10,000 and will be delivered in USD $1000 monthly installments) and a Rabindranath Tagore statuette will be awarded to the winner.

Raj Kamal Jha, the Chief Editor of The Indian Express on receiving the news on winning the Prize for his fifth novel: “Introducing Tagore’s Gitanjali, WB Yeats talked about how the poet’s work took the “immeasurably strange,” and moved us, not because of its strangeness but because we met in it our own image, heard in it our own voice. There couldn’t be a more powerful imperative of storytelling today than this humanism – this is what the Tagore Prize celebrates and it’s a privilege to be in the company of its extraordinary finalists.

He further added “My deepest thanks to the judges and organizers of the Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize 2020. The honour isn’t exactly mine, it belongs to the broken children, women and men in The City and the Sea. Who fall apart, pick up their pieces, and, in doing so, help us become whole again.”

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