Kishwar Desai has got a great moment to begin her new year with. Her debut novel, Witness the Night, has won the 2010 Costa Book Awards, one of UK’s prestigious literary prizes that recognises great writings from writers based in the UK and Ireland. A thrilled Desai, talking to me over the phone from Goa, said: “It feels wonderful to have been recognised. It’s a huge
encouragement.” Desai has a reason to be thrilled as she is the only Indian woman writer so far who has got this award. Costa Book Awards, unlike the Man Asian Award, for which she was loglisted in 2009, is more open, with both Asians and non-Asians vying for the awards. But for any writer, any award spells recognition. So it is for Desai.
Published by HarperCollins, Witness the Night, which won in the First Novel Award category, is a mystery novel set in a small town and deals with the dark side of female foeticide in India. Desai will recieve the £5,000-prize at a ceremony in London on January 25.
The shortlist had a strong Asian flavour as also vying for the award in the same category were Nikesh Shukla (Coconut Unlimited), Aatish Taseer (The Temple-Goers) and Simon Thirsk (Not Quite White). The judges (Anita Rani, Anneka Rice and Mark Thornton) said of Witness the Night: “Desai pulls off a remarkable trick, transplanting a country house murder to modern-day India in a book that’s not afraid to tackle serious themes.”
“We are living in disturbing times. And we got to have books to do with social issues. While hey must engage the reader and grab their attention, they must engage more with the realities around,” said Desai, adding that she had a great sense of relief to use imagination while working on a book as she had dealt with objectivity all along as a journalist. “It was great to get into the emotional side of things. I felt a great sense of liberation as the characters could do anything. They were not restricted by anything,” said Desai, adding that the book had a huge resonance as deals with real issues.
Desai said she wrote the novel with great passion and anger. “Maybe some of that anger shows in the book with which a lot of people can relate to, ” she says. The novel has been a “process of learning” for Desai, who says she had a choice to write about something which was happening around. “There are many ways of killing a woman. You can kill a woman by taking away her confidence, her rights, her freedom. Having been a journalist, I feel a sense of responsibility towards the society. I couldn’t do a whodunit. One can’t write frivolous stuff and get away with it,” she says.
Desai, who has worked in print and broadcast media as journalist, scriptwriter, TV anchor and pr-oducer, is also an Asian Age columnist. Darlingji: The True Love Story of Nargis and Sunil Dutt, her first non-fiction book, was published in 2007. Kishwar shuttles between London, Delhi and Goa. The novel has been turned into a series by HarperCollins and will see Desai pen more titles on the themes of actual social inequities.