Jayant Kaikini’s No Presents Please, a collection of stories won the DSC prize for South Asian literature 2019. Kaikini’s engaging and insightful storytelling looks at the many corners of the city of Mumbai and the many voices that are embedded in those corners. The original work was written in the Kannada language and it has been beautifully translated by the award-winning translator Tejaswini Niranjana who has maintained the soul and the magic of narrative in the translated edition.
The DSC Prize for South Asian Literature encourages fiction writing on the South Asian region and the trajectories of untold stories and the social, political and cultural collision that each of these landscapes share. The DSC Prize has always supported and encouraged works in regional languages and translations, and this is the first time ever when a translated work has won this prize. Kaikini’s storyline gives us characters that are unpredictable, strong yet full of disagreements and denial. The spirit of the city and its people, the lingering loneliness, the existential anxiety and the distant dreams all come together in this powerful holdall.
Some excerpts from an exclusive interview
You look at relationships, voices, the anxious mind and the unsaid emotions in terms of your characters? What drives you to focus on these elements?
We have to dive deep in to the sea to realise that islands are basically connected. We must get drenched and lost in this absorbing absurd human world where face is a window for a story. Ongoing life is non-literary and doesn’t have structure. We try to create our own structures only to make sense of it for ourselves. It’s a journey where a “said” evokes the unsayable along with the unsaid. You have to get lost to see something new.
What are you passionate about the most as a writer?
“I don’t write what I know. I write to know”, says fine Kannada writer Yashwant Chittal about himself. I belong to the same school. Literature and medical science are similar. Both are trying to understand plights and pains of man and trying to heal and reduce it. The essential purpose of any art or literature is to become anonymous! It has nothing to do with name or fame. For me, the unknown next line or the image, the metaphor or the scene is the most exciting thing about the writing process.
What are you currently reading?
I am reading Ruskin Bond’s autobiography which I got autographed by him in Kolkata recently.
You favourite writers and why?
Thankfully there are countless. Even if I like one poem or a story or any bit of any writer, he is my favorite forever. It stays with me. It’s very difficult and unfair to pick few. But I must tell the ones who nurtured my sensibility deeply. They are senior Kannada writers Kuvempu, K. Shivaram Karanth, Dattatreya Ramachandra Bendre, Yashwant Chittal, A. K. Ramanujan , Shantinath Desai, Poornachandra Tejaswi, U. R. Ananthamurthy, P. Lankesh, Khaasnis, and K. V. Tirumalesh.
Are you working on something right now?
I am working towards my next collection of poetry in Kannada. And along with Tejaswini, my translator, I want to plan my next book of translated stories in English.