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Urduwallah Gopichand Narang's convincing victory in the heated Sahitya Akademi poll and what the real ladai is all about.

illustration by Jayachandran Urduwallah Gopichand Narang’s convincing victory in the heated Sahitya Akademi poll must have convinced the routed opposition candidate, Mahashweta Devi, of one thing: with friends like hers, who needs enemies. Preoccupied till D-Day with her work in Gujarat and editing her Complete Works, Mahashweta left the campaigning to supporters from north and south India. But by mid-day of the Akademi’s presidential poll, they were trickling into her room in dire need of tea and sympathy. The Hazaar Chaurasia Ki Ma dispensed both with maternal aplomb: "Don’t be downcast. Ladai jaari rakhna padta hai," she told her vanquished warriors.

illustration by Jayachandran The real ladai, say leaders of Mahashweta Devi’s faction, is to ensure that Narang does not dispense Akademi patronage too indiscriminately—foreign trips, sponsoring books and translations and of course, the prizes. To ensure the prestigious Akademi awards are not rigged, they want the names of the three jury members for each of the 22 language awards to be published, along with a long- and short-list of writers in the race for the prizes.

illustration by Jayachandran And if Narang won’t give them bread, there’s always the British Council to give them cake. All 50 writers invited for the UK-South Asian women writers’ conference turned up for the all-expenses-paid five-day talk session in Anandgram. Except for the Pakistanis, who wanted to come but didn’t get visas. An interesting twist to the meet was the inclusion of two "honorary women": Mahesh Dattani and Paul Zachariah. Some of the problems that women face, it seems, are that of men writers too. Like writing about sex. Zachariah talked of his dismay when a sexual fantasy he wrote in English was translated. What was sexy in English became pornographic in Malayalam, he discovered.

illustration by Jayachandran Just after the introductions, divisions between men and women writers blurred in an unusual manner. Finding a long queue in front of the women’s loo, an intrepid lady writer decided to do what she declared she had always been dying to do: she crossed over to use the gent’s. But a masculine voice from inside piped up timidly: "It’s occupied."

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