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Let Nobel Prize glow with its inner force

Shihab Sarkar | Published: October 24, 2019 20:48:03


The Nobel Prize was completely free of all smears and controversies in the first forty years after its launch in 1901. Rabindranath Tagore was indeed a lucky poet; he got the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. Being awarded the coveted prize was synonymous with a writer's being one of the most accomplished one in a certain category. The fact of being awarded the world's most prestigious literary prize enormously added to Tagore's stature as a globally recognised poet.

There are more to it. During the childhood of the people now in their sixties and seventies in Bengal, a special admiration and love for the poet and his work used to be evoked especially, thanks to the poet's being a Nobel Laureate. None of the Bengalees had yet earned the distinction of adding the honorific of 'Nobel Prize winner' to their biographies. That Tagore won the Nobel Prize in 1913 for his 'Gitanjali' has been going integrally with his profile as a poet. Without this tag, the poet would not have been the unique and the most revered one whom we find today.

To the great woes of the admirers of the award-winning personalities in the six fields specified by the Nobel Committee, many of the latter's achievements are nowadays brought into question. A depressing shroud of incredulity and controversy has begun engulfing the Nobel Prize since the beginning of the 21st century. Thanks to the majority of the award winners being impeccably right choices, the Prize seems to be still going strong. But with tacit advocacy of some Swedish Academy members, the prize became controversial in a lot of cases.

Apart from personal liking and disliking, national and ethnic biases, the annual prizes at some point began allegedly being dictated by political biases of a few powerful nations. The working of skewed attitude towards a highly deserving candidate like Gandhi became blatant with the great proponent of nonviolent movement not being picked for the Peace Prize.  The sub-continent's non-violent independence leader Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi had been short-listed for five times in the late 1930s and the 1940s. Later, it became common knowledge that the Norwegian committee of the Nobel Peace Prize did not want to sour relations with the colonial British by honouring the anti-colonial Gandhi. The committee is, however, said to have tried to make amends by awarding the Tibetan pro-peace spiritual leader Dalai Lama in 1989.

Dalai Lama may have been a highly deserving candidate. But by awarding him the prestigious prize apparently to recompense for a deliberately deviant diplomatic strategy will go down the Nobel Prize's history as a controversial chapter. A global wave of outcry was touched off by the 1994 Peace Prize that simultaneously went to PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat; Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Perez --- Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Israel respectively. Although the two were archrivals during their politically active youth, the undisputed South African anti-apartheid leader and later father-figure Nelson Mandela and the country's President (1989-1994) Frederik Willem de Klerk were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize jointly. The award was welcomed worldwide with great spontaneity and warmth. The Nobel Committee in its statement along with the award's announcement said, "The Nobel Peace Prize 1993 was jointly awarded to Nelson Mandela and Frederik Willem de Klerk for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundation for a new democratic Africa." Buoyed by the prize, the long apartheid-scarred South Africa rediscovered its inherent strength as a multi-racial society, with democratic institutions increasingly becoming its pillars of success.

Despite being one of the basic branches of the Nobel Prize, few spark off so much curiosity coupled with commotion and uproar like those prompted by the Peace Prize, especially since the mid-20th century. Two of the most controversial Peace Prizes of the recent times and the not-too-distant past include those going to Barack Obama (2009) and Henry Kissinger (1973).

Like the Nobel Peace Prize, the field of literature has also lately begun to be plagued with controversies. Along with the lackadaisical, biased and 'strategic' choices, the field of literature has been afflicted by absence of some of the great poets and novelists since the beginning. However, the Nobel Prize watchers viewed the first two decades of the literature lists with lenience. But as decades wore on, they discovered to their astonishment that lots of consummate authors of their times had been left out of the lists. The trend of awarding controversial and purely 'anti-humanity and racist' authors, like this year's one of the two Literature winners --- Peter Handke, has lately tainted the prize. Moreover, including creative persons not belonging to the community of litterateurs has also detracted from the prize's dignity. It's painful when one remembers that dozens of great authors have died without being honoured by this globally prestigious award. The omitted writers and playwrights include Leo Tolstoy, James Joyce, Anton Chekov, Marcel Proust, Henrik Ibsen, Mark Twain, George Orwell and dozens of other prose writers and poets. In the 20th and 21st centuries the names of novelists Milan Kundera, Graham Greene, and poets Allan Ginsberg, Dylan Thomas, Robert Lowell came up repeatedly. A few of them died without receiving the prize. The prize has eluded many others, as it has DH Lawrence and Rainer Maria Rilke, the German poet.  One is affected by an enigmatic feeling while thinking over the Nobel authorities' criterion for choosing and awarding a writer, a physicist, an economist or a peace activist. It's worth noting that the great American poet Robert Frost was given the US national Pulitzer Prize 4 times apparently to soothe his grievances over not being awarded the Nobel Prize.

However these limitations notwithstanding, the Nobel Prize committee and the judges deserve generous thanks. They have awarded around 950 gifted people, barring the controversial figures, between 1901 and 2019. This is no mean achievement. Picking on average 10 people of genius after screening several hundred aspiring award winners from almost all parts of the world every year is no easy job; it's a massive assignment. Since its inception in 1901, the Nobel Prize in the fields of Literature and Peace went through occasional phases of resentment and disapproval. There were also years of complete gap. The Swedish Academy postponed awarding of the prize in 1914, the year of the start of WW1. The prizes in Physics, Chemistry and Medicine for that year were handed over in 1915. There were no prizes in 1935, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1942 and 1943 owing to the rise of Nazism and the raging Second World War.

In the recent years, the Nobel Prize has been tainted by its committees' questionable judgements of the award winners' merit. Alfred Nobel's great venture has even been smeared by the scandal of sexual harassment that had led to the postponement of the awards' announcement in 2018. Notwithstanding all this, both creative and educated people want the prize to shine with its inherent force. It has been honouring the talented since 1901.

shihabskr@ymail.com 

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