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Furore over award to Kalpanakumari - Sahitya Akademi member resigns, authors claim better novels have been ignored

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  • Published 31.12.11
Kalpanakumari Devi. Telegraph picture

Bhubaneswar, Dec. 30: A controversy has hit the Kendriya Sahitya Akademi Awards for Odia literature. Odia author Kalpanakumari Devi has been chosen for the award among other litterateurs and this has evoked protests from many writers of the state. A member of the Odia advisory board of the Sahitya Akademi has even tendered his resignation in protest.

The Akademi, on December 21, announced awards for eight books of poetry, seven novels, three of essays and a book each of short stories, narrative history, biography and a play. The nominated compositions were written in more than 20 languages.

Kalpanakumari Devi has been awarded under the genre of “Odia novels” for Achinha Basabhumi, her autobiography in Odia published in 2009. The jury for the Odia author award included noted writers such as Devdas Chhotray, Shrinibas Mishra and Chandrasekhar Rath.

The 1936-born author, who has been living in Calcutta since 1958, wrote her first book, Kabi, in 1954. One of her best-known works is Srushti O Pralaya.

“When I was informed about the award over phone, I was initially surprised since I did not expect to be honoured at this age. But obviously, I am happy about it. I feel the recognition has come very late,” said Kalpanakumari, who prefers writing on women issues. However, the book that has won the coveted award is based on her memories from her village in Kendrapara.

However, many authors in the state have criticised the jury for selecting Kalpanakumari’s name for the award.

“I am not against anyone receiving the award. But there were six other eminent writers such as Achyutananda Pati, Satakadi Hota and Dasarathi Das in the running. I feel they were completely ignored,” said writer Barendra Krushna Dhal, who resigned as member of the Akademi on December 24 in protest.

“This is not the first time. On many occasions, works that are not very popular or creative, have been given awards while eminent names were ignored. Moreover, this year, the three jury members were given seven books to read in a about a week’s time to select for the awards. It is obvious that they must not have got enough time to go through the books properly,” said Dhal.

Publisher and writer Saroj Bal said he had never come across books of Kalpanakumari Devi.

“When a book is not circulated enough and does not have the readers’ approval, it is surprising that it is receiving such a prestigious award,” he said.

However, both the author in question and the jury members feel otherwise.

“What has a literary work’s quality got to do with the age or seniority of a writer?” exclaimed the author.

Jury member Chandrasekhar Rath said: “At times, many factors for the selection of a work for an award remain unknown to the public. But, since the Akademi has entrusted us with the responsibility, we carried out the job to the best of our ability. We are not answerable to anyone.”

The award will be conferred at a function in New Delhi on February 14.