West indian literature

Assam poet and Konkani novelist receive Jnanpith Prize

Assamese poet Nilmani Phookan Jr won the 56th Jnanpith Prize and Konkani novelist Damodar Mauzo won the 57th Jnanpith Prize.

The country’s highest literary honor, the Jnanpith is awarded to writers for “their outstanding contribution to literature.”

Mauzo, 77, is based in Majorda, Goa, and has previously won the Sahitya Akademi award. He is known for his novels such as Karmelin, and Tsunami Simon, and short stories Teresa’s man and Other stories from Goa.

His books have been translated into several Indian languages. The author said he was delighted to receive the Jnanpith, but also realized that there were many writers of the same caliber or better than him who deserved the award.

“Maybe the jury’s problem is considering a name, so I’m lucky. I humbly accept this award on behalf of my fellow writers, who also deserve it,” he said.

Mauzo’s feat comes during the 60th year of Goa’s liberation from the Portuguese Estado da India in 1961. “I am happy for my tongue, which suffered at the hands of the colonizers,” he said, adding that it was a dark time for Konkani as Portuguese barely tolerated Indian languages.

It was only after 1961 that Konkani literature could find a place in the country. This is the second Jnanpith Prize for a Konkani Writer, the first being Ravindra Kelekar in 2006.

Phookan, 90, is the Sahitya Akademi and Padma Shri Award winner. Based in Guwahati, he is a renowned poet and has written Surya Henu Nami Ahe Ei Nodiyedi, Gulapi Jamur Lagna, and Kobita.

The poet was unavailable for comment for age-related reasons. His son Jyotirmoy said: “My father is first and foremost a poet, but he also wrote prose. He was one of the pioneers of Assam art criticism and worked on folklore and folk art.

Phookan is the third Assamese writer to receive the Jnanpith. Previous winners were Birendra Kumar Bhattacharya in 1979 and Mamoni Raisom Goswami in 2000.

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