A Nobel Journey


As I write this, the Facebook Wall of Koyamparambath Satchidanandan, the Indian poet, almost runs out of space with congratulatory messages. The Guardian newspaper has reported today morning that he and a Nepalese poet Rajendra Bhandari are tipped at 20/1 odds to win the Nobel Prize for Literature this year. K. Satchidanandan is from my part of the world, the tropical, green Kerala on the South West coast of India, and he writes in Malayalam, my mother-tongue, as well as in English. In fact, he is a scholar too and his bi-lingual articles on literature are very well respected in the academic circles world wide.
Its twenty seven years since India had even a mention of a Nobel ‘consideration’ and it’s only a coincidence that the previous ‘consideration’ was another bi-lingual writer from Kerala, Kamala Das. That was in 1984, and still contested by some nay-folk as a rumour initiated by the poet herself. But Kamala did write incredible poetry in English, as also a very controversial autobiography titled ‘My Story’, which she wrote in both English and Malayalam ( and denied many of the incidents mentioned in it in her later years), and incomparable fiction in Malayalam. But it was her poetry which won her international attention.
Coming to the rumours, it’s the Syrian poet Adonis who stands the ‘best odds’ for the prize this year. Yeah, the whole news comes forth not from any official ‘nominated people list’ from Stockholm, but the bookmaker Ladbrokes of London. The Swedish Academy releases no short lists any year. It just announces the name/s one fine evening. The suppositions every year largely originates at the betting list at Ladbrokes, says newspaper reports. The Businessweek says that “the Ladbrokes list has become a guide to a notoriously wide field, at the same time hinting at how the prize is perceived.” And how does Ladbrokes make this list? There is this person called Magnus Puke, says the same Businessweek report, who creates the list for Ladbrokes in his official capacity, by keeping his senses alert, even hanging round on online forums and peeps in at Twitter.
And do you know why Adonis leads the list? Two factors; one is that this year is strongly leaning to poetry. The other is that Adonis writes in Arabic, a language which has not been represented on the Nobel chart as yet. I hope the fact that Adonis won the prestigious Goethe Prize from Germany this year also counts for his Nobel contender value. The 2011 list at Ladbrokes (not the Academy) is hyped to be a long one this year at 77 names. And although the names are gathered from far and wide and includes writers from Algeria, Korea, Australia, Japan (it’s a known name Murakami), Hungary, Romania and also a Kenyan writer, but “the vibe is that it’s not Africa’s year’.
Of course the writers who pen in English and are from the non-US English-speaking countries are definitely on the list, like John Banville, A S Byatt, Ian McEwan and Salman Rushdie to mention a few. One might remember the controversy here when a Nobel jury member Horace Engdahl opined that the America’s writers are ignorant and insular but Pynchon, Philip Roth, Cormac McCarthy, Don DeLillo or Joyce Carol Oates are on the Ladbrokes list too.
K. Satchidanandan’s name on the Nobel grapevine has raised a lot of pride among us from Kerala, and there are a lot of proud comments floating round. People from Kerala flaunt his Kerala pedigree but the non-Keralite Indians know him and appreciate him as an eminent Indian poet. He had after all been at the helm of the Indian Academy of Letters for many years. He still continues to write prolific and brilliant verse and represent Indian poesy across the globe. In fact when the news broke, Satchi Mash, as we call him affectionately, is at Kochi in Kerala, at a workshop held to translate the poetry of a stalwart Malayalam poet, Vyloppilly Sreedhara Menon, into English. Here’s wishing Satchi Mash the very best luck. Sir, you have already climbed the Nobel tower with your excellent poetry, as far as we are concerned. 

Suneetha is a writer by passion, profession and hobby. She writes fiction in English, poetry in her native tongue Malayalam and journalistic features in both. She can be contacted at yashovathi@gmail.com

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