The JCB Prize for literature is an Indian Literary award presented to the best work of fiction by an Indian author every year. The work should be in English or translated into English from a regional language. This award aims to celebrate the diversity in Indian literature and help readers across the world discover the very best of contemporary Indian literature.

JCB award was established in 2018. The winning author receives Rs 25-lakh and a trophy designed by artist duo Thukral & Tagra. The trophy looks like a melting mirror.

JCB prize trophy
Image credit: thejcbprize.org

The Literary Director appoints a jury of prominent individuals from various areas of Indian social and intellectual life. Jury members read every novel entered for the Prize. The jury announces the longlist of ten books in the month of September, a shortlist of five books in October and the final winner in November every year.

Authors shortlisted for the JCB Prize for Literature receive Rs 1 lakh, their translators (if any) Rs 50,000. The winning author receives Rs 25 lakh; if the winning work is a translation, an additional Rs 10 lakh is awarded to the translator.

The 2021 JCB prize for literature longlisted books

Here is the list of ten books that are longlisted for the JCB prize 2021. This list was announced by the jury on the 6th of September 2021. You can watch the announcement here.

ANTI – CLOCK by V J James

Anti-clock by V J Janes

Blurb as in Amazon :

Hendri, the coffin maker, has one goal in life: to see the dead body of his nemesis Satan Loppo being lowered into the coffin he has painstakingly carved. For it was Loppo who defiled his beloved Beatrice, and let loose his hellhound Hitler upon Hendri, giving him a permanent limp.

From inside his coffin shop, Hendri watches the world go by even as he prepares to deliver justice upon Loppo. He is confronted by the son of his best friend becoming enamoured with Loppo’s wealth, Loppo’s evil designs towards the hills of Aadi Nadu, and his own Christian guilt that regularly comes to haunt him. Until he meets Pundit, a 112-year-old watchmaker who was part of Bose’s Indian National Army and is building an ‘Anti-Clock‘, which can turn back time. When Loppo too hears of the Anti-Clock and desires to possess it, the inevitable battle becomes a reality.

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GODS AND ENDS by Lindsay Pereira

Gods and ends by Lindsay Pereira

Blurb as in Amazon :

Philomena Sequeira knows what she wants by the time she turns fourteen. Her father wants something else. Her neighbours deal with adultery, abandonment and abuse, by hoping for a place in heaven.

Life is unyielding for the tenants of the rundown Obrigado Mansion in Orlem, a Roman Catholic parish in suburban Bombay. They grapple with love, loss and sin, surrounded by abused wives and repressed widows, alcoholic husbands and dubious evangelists, angry teenagers and ambivalent priests, all struggling to make sense of circumstances they have no control over.

Gods and Ends takes up multiple threads of individual stories to create a larger picture of darkness beneath a seemingly placid surface. It is about intersecting lives struggling to accept change as homes turn into prisons. This is a book about invisible people in a city of millions, and the claustrophobia they rarely manage to escape from.

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DELHI – A Soliloquy by M Mukundan

Delhi A Soliloquy

Blurb as in Amazon :

It is the 1960s. Delhi is a city of refugees and dire poverty. The Malayali community is just beginning to lay down roots, and the government offices at Central Secretariat, as well as hospitals across the city, are infused with Malayali-ness. This is the Delhi young Sahadevan makes his home, with the help of Shreedharanunni, committed trade union leader and lover of all things Chinese.

Then, unexpectedly, China declares war on India. In a moment, all is split asunder, including Shreedharanunni’s family. Their battle to survive is mirrored in the lives of many others: firebrand journalist Kunhikrishnan and his wife Lalitha; maverick artist Vasu; call girl and inveterate romantic Rosily; JNU student and activist Janakikutty. As India tumbles from one crisis to another—the Indo-Pak War, the refugee influx of the 1970s, the Emergency and its excesses, the riots of 1984—Sahadevan is everywhere, walking, soliloquising and aching to capture it all, the adversities and the happiness.

Hailed as a contemporary classic in Malayalam, this is a masterful novel about ordinary people whose lives and stories have leached into the very soil and memories of Delhi.

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THE DHARMA FOREST by Keerthik Sasidharan

The Dharma Forest

Blurb as in Amazon :

As the Mahabharata war wages on, it shows no mercy and takes no prisoners. Death and destruction abound, and in the midst of a world rendered unrecognizable by a lust for power and malicious machinations designed to deliver an ultimate, godly win stand Bhishma, contemplating the immeasurable death he sees around himself as a man who cannot die; Draupadi, above and beyond the chaos and yet at the very centre of it, trying to protect her husbands at any cost as she manoeuvers turncoats and messengers, wondering who to trust; and Arjuna, beloved, powerful and lost in equal measure, uncertain of the ultimate cost of the war he is intent on winning.

The Dharma Forest is a grand debut filled with complex characters, conflicted loyalties and erotic jealousies from India’s most beloved epic that draws out an amoral canvas that is beyond good and evil.

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NAME PLACE ANIMAL THING by Daribha Lyndem

Name place animal thing by Daribha Lyndem

Blurb as in Amazon :

“There were no longer any signs of the house we stayed in, no doorway with its low entrance, no weeping willow or cryptomeria tree from which the caterpillars fell. The ramshackle cottage that housed my earliest friends and shaped my memories lay bare and forgotten. Only the flying termites remained, fluttering below the street lights outside the property.”

In this novella, Daribha Lyndem gently lifts the curtain on the coming of age of a young Khasi woman and the politically charged city of Shillong in which she lives. Like the beloved school game from which it takes its name, the book meanders through ages, lives and places. The interconnected stories build on each other to cover the breadth of a childhood and move into the precarious awareness of adulthood.

A shining debut, Name Place Animal Thing is an elegant examination of the porous boundaries between the adult world and that of a child’s.

DARIBHA LYNDEM is a writer and civil servant from Shillong. Name Place Animal Thing is her first book. She currently works with the Indian Revenue Service and a Deputy Commissioner of Customs. Daribha now lives with two cats and a husband in Mumbai.

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WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT HER by Krupa Ge

What we know about her by Krupa Ge

Blurb as in Amazon:

Yamuna is adrift. A long-term relationship has come to an end. Her mother and she are at loggerheads about their ancestral home in Chingleput, which she loves and lives in. Even her PhD on early twentieth-century music in Tamil Nadu seems to be going nowhere—until it leads her to an unexpected puzzle from the past.

During her research, she comes to be fascinated by her enigmatic grandaunt, Lalitha, who rose to prominence as a Carnatic musician at a time when thirteen-year-old brides were the norm. And then she chances upon a letter written by her own grandmother to her grandfather that opens up another window into Lalitha’s life. She wants to know more. Only, the more questions she asks, the closer her family draws its secrets. No one will talk to her about this long-dead ancestor’s life or death.

What lies beneath the stories they are willing to tell? Beyond the letters that Yamuna manages to purloin from her beloved grandfather’s papers when she visits him in Banaras? What did this family do to Lalitha? Krupa Ge’s debut novel is an absorbing tale of an angsty young woman who must unravel the secrets of her family before she can untangle her own life.

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ASOCA- A sutra by Irwin Allan Sealy

ASOCA A Sutra by Irwin Allan Sealy

Blurb as in Amazon :

Asoca-often spelled Ashoka-was hailed as Ashoka the Great, the emperor who ruled most of the Indian Subcontinent and was pivotal in the spread of Buddhism from India to other parts of Asia in the third century BC.
But his life as emperor was not always led by non-violence. History has it that he masterminded one of the biggest and deadliest wars ever fought, and it was the insurmountable grief he experienced at the sight of the people dying and dead on the battleground that made him turn to Buddhism and take a vow of ahimsa.

Who was the man, and who was the king? What were his demons, and what gave him strength? This historical novel, drawn from research and portrayed with energy and complexity, transports the reader to the era of the Mauryan dynasty with atmospheric vividness and insight. Epic in scope and Shakespearean in drama, Asoca: A Sutra leaves the reader breathless with the full-bodied richness of Sealy’s prose, his trademark whimsy and his imaginative modern reconstruction of that enigmatic and brilliant ruler of the Indian subcontinent.

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The Man Who Learnt to Fly but Could Not Land by Thachom Poyil Rajeevan

The Man Who Learnt to Fly but Could Not Land

Blurb as in Amazon :

K.T.N. Kottoor was an activist, lover, communist, friend, saint, sinner – but, above all, he was a writer…

Born into a family of rural wealth and near-feudal influence in a village nestled in British Malabar, Koyiloth Thazhe Narayanan Kottoor knows little of want. But as a patriotic fervour grips the country in the last decades of the Raj, a veritable avalanche of new ideas and ideals shapes the young KTN.

As he grows from a boy who takes to writing not only as art but also as a tool of social change, to an activist enamoured of varying philosophies and enmeshed in India’s freedom struggle, he grapples with hardship, love, lust and a search for meaning in a reality that forever disappoints. His is a tale both deeply personal and political – tracing a web of caste, sexuality and ideology, while also navigating the struggles of a man coming to terms with himself as a writer and as an individual.

Award-winning author Thachom Poyil Rajeevan weaves a magical almost-biography of a fictional writer, one inhabited by goddesses and ghosts, a fortune-telling parrot, dead humans in the avatar of crows, and a blind woman who hears – and sees – better than anyone else. Masterfully translated from the original Malayalam, The Man Who Learnt to Fly but Could Not Land is a poignant exploration of the power of writing, the chaos of a country’s rebirth and the life of an idealist caught up in the maelstrom.

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The Plague upon Us by Shabir Ahmad Mir

The Plague upon us by Shabir Ahmad Mir

Blurb as in Amazon :

‘In times like these, truth is perhaps the only justice we can have, the only vengeance we can wreak.’

Blood drips from the pellet-stricken eyes of young Kashmiri men as Oubaid watches insurgency and violence rip through the streets of his homeland. A voice in his head tells him he knows who brought this plague upon them. But acknowledging it would mean that he must relive the horrors that have been inflicted on those he loves…

Yet the voice will not leave Oubaid alone, and as he reluctantly confronts his past, there emerge four echoes of a story, narrated by four childhood friends – a youth caught in the conflict, the daughter of a social climber, the son of a moneyed landlord and a militant. As their tales diverge and coalesce, they unravel a truth that is not always the sum of its parts – one that reveals the full tragedy of a people buffeted by circumstance and desperately seeking salvation.

A taut, searing reflection of our times, The Plague upon Us announces the arrival of an arresting new voice in contemporary fiction.

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A Death in Shonagachi by Rijula Das

A death in shonagachi by Rijula Das

Blurb as in Amazon ;

In the red-light district of Shonagachhi, Lalee dreams of trading a life of penury and violence for one of relative luxury as a better-paid ‘escort’, just as her long-standing client, erotic novelist Trilokeshwar ‘Tilu’ Shau, realizes he is hopelessly in love with her.

When a young woman who lives next door to Lalee is brutally murdered, a spiral of deceit and crime further disturbs the fragile stability of their existence. Despite misgivings, Lalee lets new opportunities promising wealth and respite lure her away from the familiar confines of her neighbourhood. But beneath the facade of the plush hotels lies an underbelly of unimaginable secrets that will endanger her life and that of numerous women like her. As the local Sex Workers’ Collective’s protests against the government and police inaction and their calls for justice for the deceased woman gain fervour, Lalee and Tilu must each embark on a life-altering misadventure in order to escape a similarly savage fate.

Chekhovian in spirit and reminiscent of the works of Nabarun Bhattacharya, it introduces us to an astonishing new writer.

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These are the ten longlisted books. Grab your copies if you haven’t read them yet. A shortlist of five books will be announced in October 2021.

Check out the details of the longlisted books for the 2021 JCB prize for literature Click To Tweet
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