Indian author Kritika Pandey has been announced as the overall winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize.
The Commonwealth Foundation announced her win in an online award ceremony today (30th June), which featured readings from Bernardine Evaristo, and actors Swara Bhasker, Elizabeth McGovern, Kerry Fox and Leila Bertand.
Pandey is the second Indian national to win the overall prize, after Parashar Kulkarni in 2016, and will receive £5,000 for her unpublished work "The Great India Tee and Snakes". The story explores forbidden love, and the relationship between a Hindu woman and a Muslim man, set against the backdrop of a tea seller's stall.
Pandey, 29, was presented with the prize by Ghanaian author and chair of the judges Nii Ayikwei Parkes during a video call. She was chosen from the final cohort of regional winners, who included Africa winner Innocent Chizaram Ilo (Nigeria), Canada and Europe winner Reyah Martin (United Kingdom), Caribbean winner Brian S Heap (Jamaica), and Pacific winner Andrea E Macleod (Australia). Overall, there were 5107 entries from 49 Commonwealth countries.
Parkes said: "'The Great India Tee and Snakes' is a gut-punch of a story, remarkable because, in spite of its fraught subject matter, it never neglects the beauty of the world in which the story unfolds. Kritika Pandey infuses the tale with empathy and balance, allowing the characters to inhabit themselves fully, while dragging the narrative to its inevitable end. It's a story that asks important questions about identity, prejudice and nationhood, using metaphors with devastating effect, while still brimming with its author's revelry in the possibilities of language. Its charged conclusion is all the more shocking given that most of it is set at a tea seller's stall and its energy derives from a few looks between a boy and a girl. My fellow judges and I loved the story when we first read it, and love it more each time we read it. Congratulations to Kritika!"
Pandey said: "I've experienced every possible emotion ever since I received the news. At times, I'm overwhelmed with joy, gratitude, and a sense of fulfillment or reeling with disbelief. At other times, I’m devastated by the fate of my fictional characters who seem all too real to me, a feeling compounded by the tragedies presently unfolding around us. However, more than anything else, this prize strengthens my will to write. It tells me that all those days when I lock myself in my room to stare into a computer screen, unsettled and unsure, might just be a worthwhile way of engaging with the world. It reminds me that I must, therefore, continue to inquire into the human condition, to make sense of existence, to listen carefully, to resist, and to hope."