Perumal Murugan’s Fire Birdwins the 6th JCB Prize for Literature

Perumal Murugan's Fire Birdwins the 6th JCB Prize for LiteratureNew Delhi, November 20, 2023: Fire Birdby Perumal Murugan, translated from the Tamil by Janani Kannan published by Penguin Random House India, has been announced as the winner of the 2023 JCB Prize for Literature, and awarded the 25-lakh Rupee Prize.The translator has received an additional 10-lakh Rupee Prize. In an event held at the Taj Mahal, New Delhi, the prestigious literary award was announced by Lord Bamford, Chairman of JCB Group, virtually. The coveted trophy, which is a sculpture by Delhi artist duo, Thukral and Tagra, titled ‘Mirror Melting,’ was awarded by Deepak Shetty, CEO and Managing Director, JCB India Limited on behalf of Lord Bamford, Chairman JCB, to Sundaram Kannan, and Manasi Subramaniam,  the Tamil publisher and the Editor of the English translation as author Perumal Murugan and Translator Janani Kannan were unable to join the event.

Talking about the award, Deepak Shetty said: 

“The JCB Prize for Literature was institutionalised by Lord Bamford as a symbol of the Bamford family’s commitment and affection for India. In a period of just six years, it has made a place for itself because of its unique structure, which awards and celebrates writing in Indian languages, representing different cultures.”

He added: “The Indian-ness of this award is reflective of the diversity of our Country. We are privileged to meet Authors and Translators from different parts of India every year and this year has been no different. We are delighted that the Indian and Global audiences, especially the youth, are now getting an opportunity to experience Indian writing through this award. We hope to make this community of readers around us, stronger each year with the best of contemporary Indian fiction”

In this transcendental novel, Perumal Murugan draws from his own life experiences of displacement and movement and explores the fragility of our fundamental attraction to permanence and our ultimately futile efforts to attain it. Translated from Aalandapatchi, which alludes to a mystical bird in Tamil, the titular fire bird perfectly encapsulates the illusory and migratory nature of this pursuit. Fire Bird is a thought-provoking and beautifully written exploration of the human desire for stability in an ever-changing world.

The event was graced by distinguished members of the literary and cultural community of the city. To set the tone of the evening, the ceremony started with a Dastangoi performance ‘Dastaan-e-Attila’, conceptualized from R.K. Narayan’s Malgudi Days by Dr. Bakul Dev, written by Vineeta Dixit and Sayeed Alam, performed and directed by Fouzia Dastango, before Literary Director, Mita Kapur took the stage.

Fire Birdby Perumal Muruganwas selected from the JCB Prize’s diverse shortlist by a panel of five judges, including Srinath Perur (Jury Chair), Mahesh Dattani, Somak Ghoshal, Kavery Nambisan, and Swati Thiyagarajan.

 The Jury said:

Srinath Perur:

“In Fire Bird Perumal Murugan takes a universal story of lives that are tied to land and tells it with astonishing particularity. Janani Kannan’s translation carries into English the rhythms not only of Tamil but of an entire way of being in the world.”

Mahesh Dattani:

“The protagonist’s quest for new fertile land and the familial conflict compelling Muthannan to take this arduous journey is brilliantly juxtaposed with the character’s determined effort to overcome his passive nature. The story doesn’t wallow in sentimentality or solicit sympathy for the protagonist. The two women possess significant dramatic purpose and a will force strong enough to affect the outcome. Paati is one of the finest grandmother figures written, reminding me of Pather Panchali.”

Somak Ghoshal:

“Intense and absorbing from the very first sentence, Perumal Murugan’s Firebird is a masterpiece of its kind. A story of displacement and migration, it captures a way of life that has long receded from our modern consciousness, values that have dimmed from our minds, and a visceral sense of belonging to land that we can perhaps no longer experience. With its tender attention to the ordinary poetry of life, the nuances of human-animal symbiosis, and rebellion against tradition, it stands out in his remarkably rich oeuvre as a great and memorable novel, deftly brought to life in English by Janani Kannan.”

Kavery  Nambisan:

“In the heart of the rural south,  a young man sets out in his bullock cart to find land where he can build a new future, away from his own family. The reasons for his breaking away, and the hardships during the journey resonate with the slow rhythm of the cart and the diurnal challenges of survival. The novel is a simple yet eloquent portrayal of a life that is already fading from our collective memory, and needs to be preserved.”

Swati Thiyagarajan:

“It’s a powerful evocative story of the ordinary life. A quest for land, belonging and home after leaving family, community and the familiar. For readers in English, and not from rural Tamil Nadu, it’s an immersion into a world , a time , a place that will enrich your understanding of a part of our country in a way that you will carry it with you long after you turn the last page.”

Talking about the journey of the Prize, Literary Director Mita Kapur, said:

“The JCB Prize continues to uphold excellence and celebrates books that make us lose ourselves in their interior worlds, variegated realities, memorable characters, books that encompass the gamut of our country in unique and incomparable ways.”