Look who declined Padma Bhushan this year: two giants of art, literature

While US-based hotelier Sant Singh Chatwal — with three criminal complaints and four cases against him — said he deserved the Padma Bhushan for his "efforts and services" and decried the "malicious campaign" against him, two doughty 84-year-olds, writers Krishna Sobti and Badal Sircar, declined the same honour this year.

Sobti, the grande dame of Hindi literature, told The Indian Express from her Delhi home, "As a writer, I have to keep a distance from the establishment. I think I did the right thing."

Sobti said an official from the Home Ministry had, as is the norm, contacted her three or four days before the announcement of the awards to inform her she had been chosen. "I told him, 'let us stop this right here'. I did not want to create a din later, after the awards had been publicly announced. Then on the morning of January 25, I again got a call from the Ministry. The official said, 'The nation wants to honour you.' I told him, 'Thank you very much. That's very nice. But I am already honoured, I'm a Sahitya Akademi Fellow. That is the biggest recognition for a writer.'"

Sobti, who has written Mitro Marjani, Ai Ladki and Dil-O-Danish, won the Sahitya Akademi Award for her novel Zindaginama in 1980 and was awarded the Fellowship in 1996. She had heard about Sircar too declining the Padma.

"I wish there were more people like him. Then these voices would get heard," she said. "A government would want some people to be in their line, although it is sometimes not a good line-up, but writers have their own convictions. They need space to look at things objectively."

Sobti said she had also been reading about the Chatwal fiasco. "He (Chatwal) was explaining why he deserved the award. That was hilarious," she laughed over the phone.

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