In 2016, when Ram Lal Joshi’s self-published non-fiction book “Aina” received the Madan Puraskar, Nepal’s most respected Nepalese Book Award, Joshi’s life changed overnight.
Before the award, very few people knew Joshi, a resident of Dhangadhi, and his work. After winning the award, Joshi’s book began to stand on its own, and he found himself inundated with calls from editors to reprint “Aina”.
“I used to think that a writer out of nowhere and without any connection had no chance of winning the most prestigious literary award in the country. I was wrong, ”Joshi says. “This recognition has renewed my sense of responsibility as a writer. It also made those of us in semi-urban and rural Nepal realize that we are as capable as those in Kathmandu.
A month ago, when Madan Puraskar Guthi published this year’s shortlisted books, the list included “Ramite” by Jason Kunwar. Less than a week after the announcement, Sunil Maharjan, director of Patan Book Shop, sold more than 50 copies of ‘Ramite’.
“Before ‘Ramite’ was shortlisted, no one came to our store to ask for the book,” says Maharjan. “The demand for the book after the announcement is a testament to the influence of the price.”
Since Madan Puraskar was first awarded 65 years ago, the prize has played a very important role in promoting Nepalese literature, but the prize, which Madan Puraskar Guthi manages, has not been without criticism. . It has become an annual routine to attribute criticism to the courts for lack of transparency and fairness.
Madan Puraskar is the brainchild of Kamal Mani Dixit, an ambitious Nepalese literary man. He created the award with the vision of promoting Nepalese literature, recognizing exemplary works of Nepalese literature and encouraging people to write and publish books, said Kunda Dixit, editor and publisher of Nepali Times and one of Kamal Mani Dixit’s sons. .
“But before he even created the award, he created Jagadamba Press,” says Kunda.
But when senior Dixit realized that just setting up a press wasn’t going to do much to promote Nepalese literature, he decided to start Madan Puraskar, Kunda says.
The award was then created in memory of the late General Madan Shumsher Rana, husband of Jagadamba Kumari Devi for whom Kunda’s father and grandfather worked at the time. Devi was known for her philanthropic works and for supporting educational institutions.
Neelam Karki Niharika, who won the award in 2018 for his work of fiction “Yogmaya”, agrees that the award is always held in high regard and that receiving it changes the lives of writers.
“One of the biggest challenges Nepalese writers face is not being able to focus on writing alone. But I have seen many of the award winners being able to devote themselves solely to writing, ”says Niharika. “The award not only rewards writers, but also helps them create conditions in which they can write freely.”
Despite being so beloved by writers, Madan Puraskar continues to receive its fair share of criticism. For years, many members of the Nepalese literary circle and beyond have questioned the credibility of the selection process. Some have even accused the price of being biased.
One of the award’s most ardent critics is writer Shivani Singh Tharu, known for her political thriller, “Kathmanduma Ek Din”.
“I find it very problematic that the award does not publicize the members of the jury and the selection processes. It doesn’t even give any explanation for the attribution of a particular book, ”says Tharu. “I even wrote on Twitter once saying it’s almost like they’re announcing the winners out of their own pocket.”
Tharu has for years called on the guthi to reveal the identity of the jury members and to make public the selection criteria for the winners.
“When people know who the jurors are, people can decide whether they want to submit their work or not. It would be fairer, ”says Tharu. “Kunda Dixit and Kanak Mani Dixit, the two main leaders of the Guthi, have always championed transparency and fairness. But given the secrecy surrounding the prize that their family started, I get the impression that they are not very sincere about their own beliefs.
Writer Narayan Dhakal, one of the former jury members of the Padmashree Sahitya Puraskar (a literary award), also believes that the organizers of the award should always make the jury members public, to maintain objectivity.
“When you make the names of the judges public, it gives credibility. It also makes judges accountable for their decisions. Transparency also allows people to see if there has been a diverse representation among the judges, ”says Dhakal.
Another criticism that many have leveled against the award concerns its bidding process. Writers and publishers have to submit their work themselves, and many critics say this in itself is problematic.
“The current submission process has made the work of Madan Puraskar Guthi easier. But I think it’s the responsibility of the organizer to research and submit books instead of asking writers and publishers to submit their work, ”Dhakal explains.
This year, one of the criticisms of the award concerns the preselection of “Kalpa Grantha” by Kumar Nagarkoti.
“When the book was nominated, it wasn’t even commercially available,” Tharu explains. “All of these issues just show why the price needs more transparency.”
According to Tharu, many Nepalese writers are unhappy with the way the award is presented, but many choose to remain silent because of the power the award holds and the writers’ aspiration to one day receive the award.
“I also had the hope of getting this award,” says Tharu.
But unfazed by criticism, people associated with Madan Puraskar Guthi say the guthi has always been fair and discreet in his decisions.
“Many do not know the process of shortlisting, evaluating and selecting the award and that is why we receive a lot of criticism,” said Deepak Aryal, board member of Madan Puraskar Guthi. “To an outsider, it may seem like the Dixits are leading the way, but it’s not.”
According to Aryal, every two years the guthi appoints a committee to review the submitted books. And they make sure that even the identity of the committee members is not revealed, even among themselves. He adds that the committee is usually made up of at least seven members and each member chooses ten books from the year’s submissions.
Depending on the types of books selected, the guthi sets up another committee of qualified people to judge and revise the books that the first committee passes on. The role of the second committee is to preselect the best works of the year and then to designate the winner.
“Sometimes when the members of the second committee cannot reach a mutual consensus when preparing the shortlist, the books are eliminated by default. Alongside these two committees, the guthi also appoints an alternative committee of readers and experts to cross-check the shortlist, ”Aryal explains. “Then there are also the general members, who are the board members of the guthi. If the members of the second committee cannot nominate the winner, only then the general members intervene.
The process is rigorous, he assures us.
Responding to this year’s reviews of Nagarkoti’s works, Aryal said, “The guthi makes sure that the submitted books are available in the market, and at the time of the nominated books being reviewed, Nagarkoti’s book was available in the market. . As for the critique of the guthi submission process, we do not have the mechanism to review every book published in the country and that is why we are asking writers and editors to nominate themselves. If and when we have such a mechanism in place, we will make changes to the submission process. “
Kunda, who is considered by many to be the face of the award, is undisturbed by the relentless criticism that the award continues to receive each year.
“Arguments are just discussions. And this is happening everywhere, ”Kunda explains. “But you also need to understand that each institution has its own rules and practices that are put in place to ensure that they align with the goals of the organization. Some make the jury members public, others don’t. We believe that discretion is necessary to maintain objectivity and to avoid unnecessary interference in the selection process.
“We have a small community [of intellectuals], and when everyone knows each other, think about the pressure to which a member of the jury would be subjected, ”he adds. “In the past, we have offered a citation for the award-winning book for its contribution to Nepalese literature; we could do it again if the board members feel the need.
For 65-year-old Bhagiraj Ingnam, criticism of the award is the last thing he thinks of. His book The “Limbuwan Historical Records Collection” has been announced as this year’s Madan Puraskar winner.
“I am delighted that my book has received the Madan Puraskar Award. I have worked extremely hard for the book and the research work I have done is something the community and organizations in Limbuwan should have done ago. a long time, ”Ingnam said. “I’m sure this recognition will help me reach more readers.”
There is no doubt that Madan Puraskar is one of the most famous book awards in the country, say Joshi and Karki.
“It would definitely be nice if the guthi could solve some of the issues that people bring up,” Joshi says.
Karki, who interviewed the late Kamal Mani Dixit a few years ago to respond to criticism of the award, says she wants to believe the price is fair. “It’s not just because I won the award. But because I can see their efforts in creating eminent works of Nepalese literature, ”says Karki.
“Everyone has their own opinion on which book should win, so it’s impossible to have a perfect vote for a work. Some great authors are not rewarded. You see, the recognitions are there to move the industry forward, ”says Karki. “And awards like Madan Puraskar become monumental because they inspire and motivate people to do more. For people, that kind of honor changes everything. This allows us to continue.