At Crossword Book Awards


When Salman Rushdie came calling…

It says a lot about an awards function when the performers — called to take on the role of fillers between announcements — manage to be a lot more interesting than the awards themselves.

But that is precisely what the Hutch Crossword Book Award 2005 managed to do: give us an evening of more credible performances than winners.

Seema Anil Sehgal, the ghazal singer from Jammu and Kashmir, and Rehaan Engineer, theatre personality from Mumbai, were the ones who deserved the applause. Seema Anil Sehgal, for her moving rendition of works by Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Bulleh Shah; Engineer, for his powerful reading from Salman Rushdie’s novel, Shalimar the Clown.

Seema began her recital with a haunting Dogri folksong aptly titled “wails from the mountains” in which she sang the agony of a newlywed whose husband is far away earning livelihood by working in the king’s army. Her in-laws burden her with the taxing chores and neglect her health and comforts.

“Let the mountains be burnt. I no longer wish ti live there,” she laments addressing her mother. This haunting melody in “raag Pahari” left many an eyes wet in the auditorium.

She next sang a poignant nazm (free verse) by legendary Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, titled Lahoo Ka Surag (Trace of blood). It aptly describes a situation where the murders take place in broad daylight and yet there is no trace of blood to nab the culprits! The obvious reference is to the murders of Priyadarshini Mattoo and Jessica Lall.

Most writers didn’t show up, of course. After all, this was an award initiated to honour ‘Indian writers in English’. Which meant most nominees weren’t in the country.

Text: Lindsay Pereira. Photograph: Jewella