Manu Joseph’s controversial tale of caste wins Indian literary prize

From The Guardian:

Manu-Joseph-winner-of-the-006 Manu Joseph has won the Hindu Best Fiction award 2010 with his first novel, Serious Men, a groundbreaking examination of caste in contemporary India. Speaking from Chennai after he was awarded the 500,000-rupee prize at a ceremony last night, Joseph said he was “really happy” to have won the award, although the book has divided opinions. While the reception of the novel within India has generally been very good, Joseph confessed that some readers “tell me they hate it”. “Indian writers in English usually take a very sympathetic and compassionate view of the poor, and I find that fake and condescending,” he explained.

Serious Men tells the story of Ayyan Mani, a middle-aged Dalit (someone of a lower caste), who works as an assistant to a brilliant Brahmin (upper-caste) astronomer at a scientific institute in Mumbai. Furious at his humble situation in life, Ayyan develops an outrageous story that his 10-year-old son is a mathematical genius – a lie which becomes increasingly elaborate and out of control. According to the author, some readers have found the morally nuanced figure of Ayyan “offensive”. “It's a class thing,” he suggested. “Most Indians readers of literary fiction written in English are of a certain class, and one of the recreations of the Indian upper class is compassion for the poor. I think the poor in India are increasingly very empowered, and the time has come when the novel can portray them in a more realistic way. Ayyan is still an underdog but that is due to his circumstances, not due to his intellect or aspirations.”

More here.