Five authors have been shortlisted for the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize on Monday, 2 September.
The five literary debuts are ‘Babu Bangladesh!’ by Numair Atif Choudhury, ‘Goodbye Freddie Mercury’ by Nadia Akbar, ‘Ib’s Endless Search for Satisfaction’ by Roshan Ali, ‘No Nation for Women’ by Priyanka Dubey and ‘Early Indians’ by Tony Joseph.
The Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize was launched in 2008 in honour of Shakti Bhatt, the editor of Indian publishing house IBD’s Bracket Books, to recognize debut authors from the South Asian subcontinent.
The jury for the 2019 Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize are poet and author Jeet Thayil, journalist Sonia Faleiro, author Prayaag Akbar, author Arshia Sattar and literary giant Ruskin Bond.
Bangladeshi writer Numair Atif Choudhury’s ‘Babu Bangladesh’ has gained popularity within a short time over the past year. But it is tragic that before the book was published, the author drowned and died in the Kyoto river in Japan in September 2018.
Arshia Sattar, co-curator of the prize, said, “Our selected books speak of origins and futures, of satirical masculinities and the continuing vulnerability of women in our society, of vaulting ambitions and the sweetness of dreams.” She praised ‘Babu Bangladesh’ by noting: “[The novel] ...creates the biography of a national superhero who has lived through both his country’s bloody past and the threatening chaos of its imminent future. Although surreal and psychedelic, unconstrained by anything except Chowdhury’s febrile imagination, this roller-coaster of a novel wears its thrumming political heart on its sleeve.”
The novel is a fabulist biography of Babu Abdul Majumdar, a writer, politician and mystic. He disappeared in 2021 before a man began his research on this fascinating character, a witness to Bangladesh. Recovered in 2025, Babu’s private diaries add more color to the character. Many readers see the story of Babu as the story of Bangladesh in all its various aspects as it has evolved from the time of its liberation from Pakistan up to the modern times. It tells the story of the idealism and compromises of a young man and a young nation in their rambling journey from the high horizon of a state built on the four pillars of secularity, nationalism, democracy and socialism to the low lands of compromise with forces of fundamentalism.
In an obituary published on Firstpost by Dr Numair's sister Talita, it has been revealed that Numair took 15 long years to write this awe-inspiring piece of literature,Babu Bangladesh.He started writing it in 2003-04 at the University of Texas in Dallas, where he was completing his doctorate in Literary Studies.
The Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize offers Rs 2 lakh and a trophy to the winner every year. The Foundation invites entries in poetry, fiction, graphic novels, creative non-fiction (travel writing, autobiography, biography and narrative journalism), and drama.Last year, the prize was awarded to Sujatha Gidla for her ‘Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family And The Making Of Modern India.’ The winner of 2019 will be announced in November.