Mumbai-based novelist Jerry Pinto was one of the 24 recipients of the 2016 Sahitya Akademi Award on 22 February. Pinto received the award for his English language novel Em and the Big Hoom, a telling narrative about a dysfunctional family which was published in 2012. The book had been awarded the Windham-Campbell Prize in 2016.
However, the author was not present when he was conferred with one of India's most prestigious literary award on Wednesday. His acceptance speech which had to be read out in absentia touches upon the role of writers in the society and how they have been bestowed the responsibility of handling the "torch of truth".
Seeking to know whether authors are supposed to hold a mirror to the society or whether their political beliefs comes in the way of doing so, Pinto recalled Marathi author Daya Pawar's novel Baluta in his speech. The author said that the books that Pawar read did not reflect his life at all, and that might have been the reason why he enjoyed them.
However, Pinto said that if an author only writes about himself he runs the twin risks of solipsism and narcissism.
Pinto claims that each time he opens a file or picks up a pen, he has an implicit risk of offending someone. Is "this risk implicit in reflection or is the problem refraction? Is it because I cut too close to the bone or is it because I allow my imagination to run wild?", he asked.
Talking about the role of the state in his life, Pinto also said that while as a citizen of India, he enjoys a certain degree of freedom of speech, it is limited by laws. Pinto urged authors to break out of the laws made by "reasonable man" and take inspiration from the "unreasonable man of letters" such as Jesus, Rabindranath Tagore and acclaimed Urudu novelist Ismat Chughtai towards. The author called them his gurus for breaking the pattern of conventional thinking.
While Jesus urged his followers to denounce the idea of "an eye for an eye", Tagore interrogated the idea of nationalism when the country was in the midst of a nationalist movement. On the other hand, Chughtai shattered the literary world by bringing up the issue of feudalism and child abuse.
"They teach me reason and they urge me to the unreasonable space of creation; they teach me to dream but they remind me that the dream is paid for in work; they teach me to think but they ask of me that I leaven reason with intuition; they demand that I write from a place deep within, a place where I make no calculations about what is acceptable and what is offensive," he said.
To conclude his speech, the author said that the responsibility of protecting truth now rests on them (authors) and that he would try upholding it just like his gurus.
Updated Date: Feb 27, 2017 17:13 PM