Subramanian`s debut novel wins prize

New Delhi: Journalist-turned-novelist Samanth Subramanian`s debut book "Following Fish", which explores food and cultures associated with fish along the country`s coastline, has won the 2010 Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize.

Subramanian, currently a deputy editor at The Mint, a New Delhi-based business newspaper, has an undergraduate degree from the Penn State University and a masters degree from Columbia University in international relations.

"Following Fish" is a fascinating exploration of one of the world`s oldest aqua species and the lores, gastronomy and cultures associated with the humble fish along the country`s extensive coastline - from Bengal to Kerala to Goa.

The prize has been instituted in the memory of Shakti Bhatt, daughter of Sheela Bhatt, editorial director of Shakti Bhatt, a publisher and writer, was the wife of well-known poet Jeet Thayil. She died in 2007 in her mid-twenties after a sudden illness.

The prize carries a purse of Rs.100,000 and a citation. It is awarded to a debut work of fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction (travel writing, autobiography, biography and narrative journalism) and drama. Writers from the sub-continent are eligible for the prize, but their books have to be published in India. The medium of language has to be English or translated in English from a regional language.

The three-member panel of judges comprising playwright Mahesh Dattani, writer and surgeon Kalpana Swaminathan and novelist Ruchir Joshi selected Subramaniam`s book from a short-list of five books.

The short-list included "Homeboy" by H.M. Naqvi, "House on Mall Road" by Mohyna Srinivasan; "Songs of Blood and Sword", "A Daughter`s Memoir" by Fatima Bhutto; "The Wish Maker" by Ali Sethi, and "Delhi Calm" by Vishwajyoti Ghosh.

The judges described the book as a "delightful read, adventurous and unabashedly fun". They said the writer`s "instinct for the apt word, telling phrases, colourful personalities and the comic element" kept the narrative taut.

The book has been described by writer Ramachandra Guha as a "stunning debut by a hugely gifted writer".

The writer begins his fishing odyssey in Kolkata where he pursued the prized hilsa with "single-minded intensity".

"The fish has such a unique place in Bengali society. It is reflective of the Bengali obsession that they like to do certain things in a certain way," Subramanian told IANS.

The young writer subsequently trawled the waters down south to Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, where he even drove an autorickshaw "rather poorly, on an empty Kerala highway to chase his muse".

Subramanian said he was "very very happy" to win the prize. The award was presented to him at the British Council auditorium Friday.