Browsing Awards

The Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize 2012

Rahul Bhattacharya wins the £10,000 Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize with his first novel The Sly Company of People Who Care (Picador)

2012 judges Nick Laird, Michèle Roberts and Kamila Shamsie admired ‘Bhattacharya’s verve and style as he brilliantly evokes the history and inhabitants and landscape of Guyana’.

Nick Laird said he had ‘seldom read a book with so much energy, and on almost every page there were little stylistic twists or felicities which had me stopping to admire them. The novel is a testament both to his potential and to his achievement.’

Michèle Roberts praised ‘one of the most exhilarating novels I have read for years. This picaresque story, funny, tough and romantic, swerves around all kinds of inner and outer landscapes and offers unforgettable vignettes of a host of characters. He has invented a beautiful and original language, mixing street poetry and sharply sensual poetry.’

Kamila Shamsie commended ‘The combination of Bhattacharya’s prose style, his great curiosity and generous-though-not-uncritical eye, the light touch with which he conveys knowledge, and the sheer pleasure of his company.’

Rahul Bhattacharya lives in Delhi and is the author of the cricket tour book Pundits from Pakistan, fourth in The Wisden Cricketers’ list of best cricket books of all time, and winner of the Crossword Award for most popular book, 2005. The Sly Company of People Who Care was also the winner of the Hindu Literary Prize 2011 and was shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize 2011.

Judges Nick Laird,Michèle Roberts and Kamila Shamsie commented: ‘It’s been a pleasure to read through so many books which don’t merely use place as a backdrop but as something to be conjured up by the act of writing.’


Julia Blackburn Thin Paths (Cape)
‘Gorgeously textured observations about the outer landscapes of an Italian vil- lage and the inner landscapes of those who inhabit it’…‘It is a monument to memory and an examination of ageing.’

Teju Cole Open City (Faber)
‘Remarkable for its Sebaldian rhythms and inclusiveness,it wonderfully captures the fecundity and strangeness of the modern metropolis.Nothing escapes the au- thor’s eye and the book,which demonstrates a formidable intellect,is finally wise and also moving.’

Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts Edgelands (Cape)
‘A treat:both intelligent and funny… the attention and grace of
the poets is everywhere in evidence.’‘Wandering around the forgotten and under-valued spaces of the environment,these poets illuminate bleak landscapes and turn them into precious spaces for meditation.’

Olivia Laing To the River (Canongate)
‘Laing walked the length of the Ouse for five days, and her resulting meditation on the river is a considered,clever piece of work.’‘Rich in description and allusion,pulled along by the currents of history and literature to often fascinating effect.’‘Her narrative voice is a delight.’

Tim Robinson Connemara (Penguin Ireland)
‘Magisterial:the range and depth of his knowledge about this piece of the
world is astonishing.’‘Epic in scope and undertaking. There isn’t a stone left unturned in his part of Connemara,and he writes with dignity and supreme knowledge about subjects as diverse as geology and famine graves. A remarkable achievement.’

Previous RSL Ondaatje Prize winners:

2011 Edmund de Waal The Hare withAmber Eyes

2010 Ian Thomson The Dead Yard: Tales of Modern Jamaica

2009 Adam Nicolson Sissinghurst: An Unfinished History

2008 Graham Robb The Discovery of France

2007 Hisham Matar In the Country of Men

2006 James Meek The People’s Act of Love

2005 Rory Stewart The Places In Between

2004 Louisa Waugh Hearing Birds Fly



The Hindu Literary Prize

The Sly Company of People Who Care won the Hindu Literary Prize for Best Fiction 2011.

Here is the shortlist, and below, the award citation.

A link to an interview with The Hindu


Bharathipura, translated work of U.R. Ananthamurthy, translated by Sushila Punitha
The Sly Company of People Who Care by Rahul Bhattacharya
The Fakir, translated work of Sunil Gangopadhyay, translated by Monabi Mitra
River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh
Litanies of Dutch Battery, translated work of N. S. Madhavan, translated by Rajesh Raja Mohan
The Folded Earth by Anuradha Roy
The Storyteller of Marrakesh by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya


Let me on behalf of all the members of the Selection Committee, congratulate the Hindu Literary Review for instituting an award for Indian fiction, as also for organizing a festival around it, a graceful act that newspapers seldom dare undertake.

We had begun the process of selection for the Hindu Literary Award with 125 books in all, both works written originally in English and translations into English of works from the languages of India. We arrived at the shortlist of seven books after a lot of deliberations within the group, recommending to one another certain books they might have missed reading, and preparing, in the process, personal shortlists accompanied by our individual comments on the books we had chosen. While comparing notes we were struck by the astonishing consensus we had been headed to even before seeing one another’s lists. The short list of seven books, three of them translations, a matter of real import in our literary context, was announced in the Literature for Life festival organized by The Hindu in Delhi.

The exchanges and deliberations went on even after the shortlist was announced; we were rereading the short-listed books now as all the books were unique in some way and it was not easy to make a final choice. We felt it would have been a bit easier if there were two awards, one for works in English and another for translations; but we had to choose only one book. So we began to look for books that in some way tried to innovate and even redefine the genre of the novel and extend the frontiers of the discourse, making at the same time, a point about the human condition. Let me make it clear we were looking at the texts in front of us and not the authors. Finally we arrived at a list of two books : The Sly Company of People Who Care by Rahul Bhattacharya and Litanies of Dutch Battery by N. S . Madhavan, translated from Malayalam. The latter with its regional flavour and evocative idiom was a very close contender, but after more detailed  and minute analyses and discussions the committee unanimously decided to select The Sly Company of People Who Care for the Hindu Literary Award, 2011.

 The novel with its nuanced and understated narration, consummate artistry, its refusal to exoticize India – or Guyana for that matter – such exoticization being the bane of a lot of Indian writing in English—, its non-judgmental attitude to the characters, its insightful delineation of the tyranny of forced migration spawning generations of rootless and disinherited people, its evocation of the landscape and understanding of its people, its humour that springs from a kind of detached sense of the absurd , the general grasp of the human condition that informs the whole work and its freshness of idiom, is a definite contribution to contemporary Indian novel in general.

The Selection Committee would also like to request The Hindu to have, from next year onwards at least, separate awards of equal value for fiction written in English and that translated from the languages of India so that both receive equal attention and the process of selection is made a little easier since it is not often easy for a translation to compete with original English writing in terms of the fluency of style as the translation is obliged to retain certain modes and echoes of the original language and the specificities of the culture concerned. The award for the translated work will however not be a translation award, but one for translated fiction. We also recommend that the calendar year be the basis for nominations and not an arbitrarily chosen duration as it becomes difficult to authenticate the month of publication.

We once again congratulate the winner and all the distinguished authors in the short list and thank The Hindu for instituting the award and doing an annual festival to celebrate Indian imagination and literary creativity. Thank you all.






(Members of the Selection Committee)