Kritika Pandey, from the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand and studying at the?University of Massachusetts Amherst in the US, has bagged the prestigious 2020 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for her story The Great Indian Tee and Snakes?.
The award was presented by the Chair of the 2020 judging panel, acclaimed Ghanaian writer and editor Nii Ayikwei Parkes, in the first-ever ceremony recently, held virtually due to the coronavirus lockdown.
Pandey, 29, a Master of Fine Arts for Poets and Writers student, said: I've experienced every possible emotion ever since I received the news. At times, I'm overwhelmed with joy, gratitude, and a sense of fulfillment or reeling with disbelief. At other times, I?m devastated by the fate of my fictional characters who seem all too real to me, a feeling compounded by the tragedies presently unfolding around us.
However, more than anything else, this prize strengthens my will to write. It tells me that all those days when I lock myself in my room to stare into a computer screen, unsettled and unsure, might just be a worthwhile way of engaging with the world. It reminds me that I must, therefore, continue to inquire into the human condition, to make sense of existence, to listen carefully, to resist, and to hope.
Pandey's winning story, tells of an unlikely friendship which reaches across religious divides, set against the background of a tea seller's stall. She writes of two young people trying to solve an age-old riddle of human existence: how can love overcome the forces of hatred and prejudice?
She says: I created a strong-willed character of a Hindu girl who chooses to love a Muslim boy, even though she knows that she is not 'supposed to?.
An extract from the story was read at the ceremony by award-winning Bollywood actress Swara Bhasker.
The Great India Tee and Snakes? is a gut-punch of a story, remarkable because, in spite of its fraught subject matter, it never neglects the beauty of the world in which the story unfolds, said Nii Ayikwei Parkes, in reference to the winning entry.
Kritika Pandey infuses the tale with empathy and balance, allowing the characters to inhabit themselves fully, while dragging the narrative to its inevitable end. It's a story that asks important questions about identity, prejudice and nationhood, using metaphors with devastating effect, while still brimming with its author's revelry in the possibilities of language, she said.
The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is awarded for the best piece of unpublished short fiction (2,000-5,000 words) in English. Each year the judges select five winning writers who share a total prize money of 15,000. The overall winner receives 5,000 and the regional winners each receive 2,500 pounds, the statement said.
The 2020 regional winners are: Africa winner Innocent Chizaram Ilo (Nigeria), Canada and Europe winner Reyah Martin?(UK), Caribbean winner Brian S. Heap?(Jamaica), and Pacific winner Andrea E. Macleod?(Australia).
In partnership with Commonwealth Writers, the literary magazine Granta? publishes online all the regional winners of the 2020 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, including The Great Indian Tee and Snakes.
The 2020 Prize attracted over 5,000 entries from 49 countries and the 2021 Prize will be open for online entries from September.