The NCPA looked large, grand and gorgeous. it was filling with people, celebrities, socialites, readers and passionate invitees. it was good to see the magic store of nu-cham-vu on the panels, and blown up and prominently displayed. i wished vinayak, my son, was there to see his illustrations being made so accessible.
It was, of course, a moment of happiness as well as nervousness.
when the book was nominated, i felt okay. when it was shortlisted, i was happy. but now, on the brink of it, i felt rather prickly! ruskin bond was the chief guest. he spoke beautifully and simply, and narrated events during a time when the book business was but a fraction of its present size and scope. he used to do exactly the sort of thing i did--- go to a book store and secretly place my book at an advantage! of course, your books are always behind someone else's. so this is a nice, neat trick to reinforce your concern for your own book. nowadays, because of media coverage, you might be noticed by people in the shop, and they'd say, look at this writer, he's moving his own book around to give it prominence!
there was violin playing by some wonderful little kids, and it kept up the dirty, rotten suspense in a nice sort of way. a string of kids would play, they'd be joined by another, then another, and finally the stage was almost filled with wonderful youngsters blessed with talent. the comperes for the evening were arundhati subramaniam and ranjit hoskote. arundhati is my friend and theatre-person the late bhagyam's niece, and i'd communicated with her when i was leaving for scotland for the charles wallace residency in 2004. arundhati had gone the previous year.
they'd said the children's prize would be announced first. actually, it was the last to be announced! you can imagine my condition. earlier, i'd met my competitors, young siddhartha sarma and rupa pai. before the event i'd had coffee and a nice, relaxed conversation with siddhartha, who's a gem of a guy.
only one of the children's judges had turned up in mumbai that evening. she climbed up on stage and smiled down at the audience and said breathlessly that it had been very difficult to judge this one because there were books for young adults as well as for little children in the reckoning. "but then we came to a solution, we decided we'd look at the best in each category and then make our choice."
which means, if she'd been given all the books in fiction, non-fiction, translation and children's books to judge, she'd still have looked for the best and made a choice.
"a little child's picture book" was being judged against "stories for young adults"--- in her own words. and she had chosen the best.
siddhartha sarma's the grasshopper's run got the children's prize, and later siddhartha told me: i needed that money for a project i've planned. he's a very earnest young chap with a talented pen. but his book is young adult fiction, not children's writing. the distinction should have been made much earlier in the competition.
later, when i thought about the lady's breathless admission on stage, and this multi-category aspect of the judging, i thought: why am i feeling this way? is it simply a case of sour grapes?
no, it wasn't. it was a case of wine and whisky being placed under one category. and judged as the same thing.