Commonwealth short story prize goes to writer’s first tale
Cow and Company by Indian academic Parashar Kulkarni beats 4,000 other contestants to 5,000 prize
Academic Parashar Kulkarni has become the first Indian author to win the Commonwealth short story prize, beating almost 4,000 entries to take the 5,000 award with the first short story he has ever written.
Kulkarni, an assistant professor in social sciences at Yale NUS College Singapore, focuses on religion and violence in colonial India in his academic work. His winning story, Cow and Company, is set in India in the early 1900s, and follows four men looking for a cow to feature in advertisements for chewing gum.
And the caption? asks their managing director. Go Mata Ko Bhata the chewing gum the cow mother loves. It still sounds a bit out of place to me. You can trust me on this, sir. I have spent quite a bit of time on the subject. What better way to get the natives to love our chewing gum than to link it to the cow? … The cow chews all day long. All Hindus love cows. If we use her on our posters they will love our chewing gum.
I watch a lot of archival material for my academic work, and theres a lot remaining that I dont use, with interesting stories in there, said Kulkarni. This particular story is set in 1905 in Bombay, or Mumbai, which is going through a transition.
The short story is the first he has ever written, although he has also completed a novella and is working on a second. In my academic work I think of myself as a mainstream political scientist. Often academic work can end up being ideological. But I feel that in literature, or in fiction, the defences are down and you can explore specific stories, which might not be particularly empirical but are important They are at the margins, whereas in academia, you explore the mean, he said.
Kulkarni has previously won the British Academy Brian Barry prize in political science for his research on religion, property rights and violence against women in colonial India. I began using fiction therapeutically, but it has taken on a life of its own, he said.
Nearly 4,000 entries from 47 different countries were received for this years award, for the best piece of unpublished short fiction in English by a writer from a Commonwealth country. Twenty-six stories were shortlisted. Gillian Slovo, chair of the judging panel, said that in his short story, Parashar has conjured up a large cast and their way of life, and at the same time he has succeeded in exploring serious issues in a way that can make us laugh. And all of this in a few thousand words.
Kulkarnis award was presented to him at the Calabash international literary festival in Jamaica on Sunday by Man Booker prizewinner and former judge of the prize, Marlon James.