Newsweek award for Techie Writer
Dilip D’Souza is a BITS Pilani alumnus of the late 70s and is now a full-time writer living in Mumbai. He just won the prestigious Newsweek & The Daily Beast – Open Hands Prize for Commentary in South Asia 2012 for his writing in popular magazines, spread over topics as diverse as coaching classes in Kota, adulation for Sachin Tendulkar and health care in rural Chhattisgarh.
The prize was created for South Asian journalists and writers covering the region to celebrate and nurture raw talent and find fresh voices. The aim of this prize is to promote and support the work of an individual, who has contributed thoughtful, important, and engaging commentary on the great social, political, and cultural issues of their region. The nominated articles appeared in Caravan and Fountain Ink in 2011 and 2012.
Techgoss speaks to Dilip.
Techgoss (TG): Why and how long were you in the U.S. as a techie?
Dilip D’Souza (DD): Actually, I lived in the US just over 10 years, Sept 1981 to Feb 1992. I returned to India 20 years ago. I came to the US right after my BE degree (1976-81, BITS Pilani), to do my MS degree in Computer Science at Brown University in Providence, RI (1981-83). When I finished my MS, I moved to Texas to work. I was with Texas Instruments for two years (Dallas 1983-84, Austin 1984-85) and then they laid me off. After that I joined a research consortium called MCC (Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation) in Austin, in their Software Technology Program (1986-87).
In late 1987 I resigned from MCC. In 1988 I took a job on the research staff in the Computer Science Department at the University of Texas, Austin. In 1989, the research grant ran out, so I lost that job. I returned to MCC in their Knowledge-Based Natural Language (KBNL) Program (1989-91). In August 1991, I resigned from MCC again, preparatory to returning to India. I spent the rest of that year backpacking in Africa (Namibia, Lesotho and Madagascar). I actually went back to the KBNL program in late December 1991 at their request, to help them with a project. In February 1992, I returned to Bombay.
TG: What made you stay on for ten years and what made you come back home?
DD: I stayed because I liked being in the US, and I was doing interesting things. In 1986, I bought a house in Austin, and its value promptly started dropping. That also kept me in the US longer than I might have liked, and that's why it took me till 1991 to actually pack up and leave.
I returned to India probably for two reasons. One, I wanted to be closer to my parents as they grew older. Two, there were issues and concerns in India that I was getting interested in (dams on the Narmada, religious tensions) that I felt I had to be more involved in than I could be from the USA.
TG: What was the inspiration behind The Journey, I mean the trips you took that culminated in the book “Roadrunner: An Indian Quest in America"?
DD: I've been interested in patriotism and nationalism, in all their shades, for a long time. What does it mean to belong to a country? In searching for a way to write about this that would not be heavy-handed, I got the idea for this book. I thought that if I could hold up a mirror to another country, it would also tell me things about my own country, and perhaps tell me things about who I am as an Indian, about what it means to belong. That's where the book came from.
TG: Tell us more about your writing, about the other books you have written
DD: My first book was "Branded by Law", about so-called "denotified tribes", which the British called "criminal" via their 1871 Criminal Tribes Act. The second was "The Narmada Dammed", about the dams being built on the Narmada river. I also have a monographs of essays on patriotism ("New Glory: Peace as Patriotism") and have contributed essays to several anthologies (e.g. Penguin's "First Proof" volumes of new Indian writing).
I do a fair amount of travel writing; I write a mathematics column in Mint called "A Matter of Numbers", and other writing about social and political concerns.
TG: What is the impact of the Newsweek & The Daily Beast–Open Hands Prize on your writing? Could you tell us more about why this prize is important to a writer?
DD: Of course first of all I'm just overwhelmed to get this prize. Naturally when I applied I hoped to win, but actually winning it was a great thrill. I'm really grateful for the recognition, for the things the judges said about my writing: it's a vindication of what I think is important to me in my writing. And of course I'm grateful for the chance to write for a wider audience.
It's important because in the end, every writer wants to be read widely. You want to make an impact, to be effective. This award is recognition of that.
It's also important because of the challenge and responsibility that comes along with the recognition: to write better each time. The bar just got set higher: that's the challenge.
TG: What do you hope to do next in writing?
DD: I have a half-finished novel that I need to resurrect and finish. Plus there's no shortage of stories I want to chase and write about. For now though, I think I might take a little while just to do some stock-taking about where I am in my writing and how I want to go forward, with this award.