Dipika Mukherjee’s debut novel, Thunder Demons (Gyaana, 2011) was long-listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize; it is being republished as Ode to Broken Things (Repeater, UK) and distributed by Penguin/Random House worldwide in Summer 2016. Her first short story collection Rules of Desire (Fixi, Malaysia) was launched in November 2015. Her edited anthologies on Southeast Asian fiction include Silverfish New Writing 6 (Silverfish, 2006) and The Merlion and Hibiscus (Penguin, 2002) and her poetry chapbook, The Palimpsest of Exile, was published by Rubicon Press (Canada) in 2009. Her writing appears in publications around the world including Asia Literary Review, World Literature Today, Rhino, Chicago Quarterly Review, Postcolonial Text and South Asian Review. She is Contributing Editor for Chicago Quarterly Review and Jaggery and curates an Asian/American Reading Series in Chicago.
RK Biswas: You established the DK Dutt Memorial Award for Literary Excellence this year for Malaysian writers. What were your thoughts and emotions for establishing it, and a bit about the man who inspired you?
Dipika Mukherjee: My father-in-law, Delip Kumar Dutt, passed away in February 2015. He was a man who loved sports and embraced life; his passing was a great loss to the family and the community in Malaysia.
When the mourning period began in Malaysia, I realized very quickly that although a community mourning is of great value to the family, a lot of the rituals are patriarchal (a daughter typically mourns for only three days, the sons for eleven; last rites are conducted by sons, etc.) However, in the Ramayana (arguably India’s oldest epic) it was Sita who gave the pind daan for her father-in-law, Dasharath.
I too wanted to do something to memorialize my father-in-law, but in a way that celebrated his zest for life, rather than by mourning his absence ritualistically. As I am quite involved in the Malaysian literary network, I initially thought of starting a small literary award in Delip Kumar Dutt’s name; it was my husband, Prasanta Dutt, who suggested that this become a sportswriting award. Sharon Bakar, who is an editor & writer as well as an unflagging champion of Malaysian writing in English, came on board as co-editor for this award; she also generously offered additional prize money. Arohan Dutt created the website and the logo. Then this award took off in the best possible way, with brilliant entries and a wonderful opening at the Cooler Lumpur Literary Festival in June 2015. The Award ceremony at Georgetown Literary Festival in November 2015 was very entertaining, with the finalists reading excerpts from their work and a fabulously receptive audience.
Hannah Alkaf was the winner; she wrote a wonderfully nuanced story about the fluidity of gender identities versus the machismo of football players in small towns of Malaysia. We are now looking forward to launching an anthology of stories from this competition, and it will be titled “Champion Fellas!”
We have received tremendous support from the writing community in Malaysia. As this will be the first anthology of stories on sports in Malaysia, written in English, we also have the backing of some eminent sportswriters and media personalities who will be contributing their work. We are planning a big launch in March 2016, in Kuala Lumpur.