The New India Foundation (NIF) is a highly sought-after writing grant that supports non-fiction research and writing on post-1947 India. Now in its 10th year, eleven writers and academics have received the fellowship for 2021. This is the highest number of fellowships awarded by the foundation, prompted by the high number of applications, numbering over 900, that were received last year.
The aim of the NIF is to promote non-fiction writing and to explore important and, at times, unexplored topics.
The range of subjects is eclectic and it is open to all genres, including memoirs, records, reportage, irrespective of ideological standpoints.
Author and historian Srinath Raghavan, one of the jury members of the Bengaluru-based foundation, explains that the extraordinarily high number of applications reflect the prestigious nature of the fellowship. “NIF is one of the very few quality fellowships specialising in post 1947 writing and has a lot to offer applicants in this field,” he says.
Another member of the jury, Chairman of TeamLease Services Manish Sabharwal, agrees to this, adding, “It could also be a maturation of the Fellowship. We have a 50 per cent conversion ratio of our fellowships into books. It is probably the highest globally in terms of conversion. We now have 25 books out and word has gotten out that we give more than money. We also provide editing support, mentoring, and offer a sounding board. It is more than writing a cheque, it’s really a partnership.” He goes on to comment on how this has resulted in a wide range of applicants. “I feel that has led to people besides journalists and academics applying. This time we’ve had bureaucrats, freelancers and students applying, even private sector professionals.”
This diversity can also be seen in the eclectic mix of writers who have been awarded the fellowship this year. These include writer Sohini C, author of The Losers: A History of Women Runners, and Running, in India, conservationist and wildlife historian Raza Kazmi, author of The First of Nine: The Story of Palamau Tiger Reserve, lawyer and academic M Mohsin Alam Bhat, author of Constitutional Culture: Muslims and Popular Constitutionalism in India, and researcher Maya Ratnam, author of Dwelling in the Forest: The Government of Nature in Tribal Central India.
Speaking on the winners, Raghavan comments, “The diverse range of the winners of the fellowship is notable especially this time, with a larger number than usual. He adds, “This diversity is mirrored not only in the range of topics and the backgrounds of the winners, but also in the nature of the topics themselves.”
The unprecedented number of applications meant that the jury, also consisting of Rukmini Banerji of Pratham Books, entrepreneur and author Nandan Nilekani, historian and author Ramachandra Guha, and political scientist Niraja Gopal Jayal, took a longer time than usual to select the winners.
With such an exhaustive process to select those who will be awarded the fellowship, one would ask what criteria the jury has in mind. Sabharwal says, “We want to convert our fellowships into books, so we also want to assess whether this applicant can make it into a book. We also look at cases where the subject cannot be made into a book without a fellowship like our own. Most of our books are in areas in what one would probably call a market failure, so one needs a body like this foundation to pitch.”
Raghavan adds, “We look for projects that open up new angles and new entry points. The ideas for the books don’t just have to be good, they have to be practical and feasible, and the applicants have to have a good understanding of them, and how they can carry them out to explore them.”