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What Amitav Ghosh said at Dan David prize ceremony

May 12, 2010 18:55 IST

Unperturbed by criticisms over accepting the prestigious Dan David prize, noted Indian author Amitav Ghosh has said that he is "equally disappointed by those running this campaign of admonition".

"We cannot let others decide for us and we cannot yield to such demands. If a reader from Israel wants to reach out to us, how can we not engage him. I am here to engage like-minded people", the author told PTI.

Addressing a gathering in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, Ghosh, who read out excerpts from his book, said that among the growing list of people joining this campaign of admonition are some 50 Indians who sent him a letter saying that as friends they would advise him not to accept this prize, and he could at the most recognise some two of them.

Booker-winning author Margaret Atwood who shares the prestigious million dollar award with the Indian author also justified their acceptance of the award brushing aside criticisms saying, "It is always important to leave a space for dialogue".

"We writers belong to a space one can call 'Republic of writers' and do not do cultural boycotts, Atwood stressed.

Their acceptance of the prize has generated an unsavoury controversy with several organisations supporting the academic and cultural boycott of Israel urging them to refuse the award. The award is partly funded by the Tel Aviv university.

"Stand up to your principles, Margaret, and set an example for other decent intellectuals.... A total boycott of Israel in response to its total occupation of Palestine," wrote Antoine Raffoul of London in an email to Atwood dated April 11.

This and Atwood's response defending her decision and calling the boycott a "dangerous precedent," were published on the website of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.

Another group, the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP), wrote an open letter signed by film-studies scholar Haim Bresheeth and biologist David Pegg among others, to Ghosh.

Ghosh is the third Indian to win the award, joining an elite league comprising of chemist CNR Rao and musician Zubin
Mehta.

"Ghosh's work provides a transnational understanding of the self seen as the intersection of the many identities produced by the collision of languages and cultures; displacement and exile - lives torn between India, Burma, England, and elsewhere; families torn by the violence and psychological turmoil of colonial rule and post-colonial dispossession; a globe wracked by two world wars and their ancillary bloodshed", the jury wrote in their award conferring remarks.

The above mentioned topics have been integral to�his work right from his earliest novels, The Circle of Reason (1986) and The Shadow Lines (1990).

The jury also recognised his contribution in fiction "distinguished equally by its precise, beautifully rendered depictions of characters and settings, and by its sweeping sense of history unfolding over generations against the backdrop of the violent dislocations of peoples and regimes during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries".

"This is most evident in The Glass Palace (2000), which traces the life story of Rajkumar, a self-made young man who builds a fortune in the teak and rubber trades, and spans a century of Indian and Burmese history, from the fall of the Konbaung Dynasty to British rule, through the Japanese invasion during World War II, and beyond", they added.

The prestigious Dan David prize is annually awarded in three different fields - Archaeology, Performing Arts and Material Science - in the three dimension time framework of past, present and future.

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