Commonwealth Writers` Prize announced
By Peerzada Salman
KARACHI: Sabra Zoo by Mischa Hiller won the Regional Commonwealth Writers` Prize (South Asia and Europe) for best first book and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell won in the best book category at a ceremony held at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture on Thursday.
The awards were announced by Mohatta Palace Museum Director Nasreen Askari, who was the chief guest on the occasion. The event coincided with World Book and Copyright Day that was observed on March 3.
The evening began with a welcome address delivered by Samina R. Khan, executive director IVS.
Then regional chairperson (Europe and South Asia) of the Commonwealth Writers` Prize Muneeza Shamsie informed the audience about the procedure of judging the books. She said a panel of three judges – Dr Dennis Walder, Tehmima Anam and herself – went through no fewer than 120 books from countries such as Britain, Malta, India, Pakistan and Cyprus and judged them on the quality of language, strength, style, originality, innovation and vision.
She said the Commonwealth Prize was being announced in four regions of the world at a time and some of its previous winners were literary luminaries like Vikram Seth, Michael Ondaatje, and David Mitchell.
In her keynote address, Ms Askari said literature and art were the flip sides of the same coin. She said the duality between good and evil and the exigencies of survival were the prevalent themes of literature. She said literature and art illuminated human condition, and argued that each work of art was an individualistic manifestation which evolved, and so did we. She ended her address quoting Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “The only substitute for experience is art, and literature.”
Her speech was followed by a panel discussion on the links between literature and art in which Sameera Raja, Naiza Khan, Mohammad Hanif and Hussain Naqvi took part.
Sameera Raja said both art and literature were creative fields, as writers painted pictures with words.
Visual artist Naiza Khan talked about the relationship that artists had formed with texts, and the importance of drawing a parallel between texts and visuals. She also touched upon the notion of time and referred to writer Mohammad Hanif`s book A Case of Exploding Mangos in which, she said, at the end of the story the writer slowed down the pace of events to stretch out time.5
Writer Mohammad Hanif in a lighter vein said that writers were the poor cousins of artists; they happened to know a lot of words and rearrange them to imitate artists so that they could be more accessible. Referring to something he had read on a T-shirt, he said politics was the only real art, the rest was propaganda. Talking about contemporary times, he said we`re talking in a language that nobody understood, and the other side was winning because they spoke the language of the people, borrowed their images and language from what their life`s experience was.
Writer Hussain Naqvi started off by stating that he was still reeling from the gruesome assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti (a couple of minutes` silence was also observed at the beginning of the programme). He said while writing he sometimes began with an image which suggested a narrative. That image could be of a horizon, sunset, a gesture, a bony wrist, and while recreating that image he would get a sense of where the story was going. To elaborate on the point, he gave the example of Sadequain saying his words on paper had a certain resonance. He said he wasn`t convinced that there was a connection between art and literature because art`s turn from representation to idea had changed. In that context, he said he saw elephant`s excrement depicted as art at a famous gallery in London, which was not aesthetically appealing.
During the discussion Mohammad Hanif also mentioned that Pakistan was one of the few countries where illiteracy was increasing, and there was an abundance of books at bookstores on topics such as 100 ways of how to please your husband.
After the panel discussion, the winners were announced. Then Nimra Bucha read excerpts from Sabra Zoo and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet . She read them with great feeling and the correct intonation, receiving a generous applause from the audience.
In the end, Raza Noorani delivered the vote of thanks.
The programme was moderated by Ayesha Tammy Haq.
In conjunction with the awards ceremony, an exhibition titled, “ The Book as Art” also began at the IVS Gallery. It`s a display of artists` books by American artists, book publications by some known publishing houses, an art book written by Marjorie Hussain and a collection of artists` books by and from the collection of Naiza Khan.
The exhibition will continue till March 5.