UW Professor Receives Lifelong Achievement Award from Indian Government

India's President Srimati Pratibha Devisingh Patil (left) presents Professor Usha Nilsson (right) with the Padmabhushan Moturi Satyanarayan Puraskar award for her outstanding contributions to Hindi literature under her pen name Usha Priyamvada.

Emeritus Professor of Languages and Cultures of Asia, Prof. Usha Nilsson has been awarded one of the highest civilian honors in the field of art and culture in India, the Padmabhushan Moturi Satyanarayan Puraskar by the Ministry of Education. This award is for her outstanding contributions to Hindi literature under her pen name Usha Priyamvada. She was presented the award on February 16th in New Delhi from India’s President Srimati Pratibha Devisingh Patil.

Usha Nilsson joined the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1964 as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Indian Studies. She taught Hindi at advanced level and courses on Indian Literature in translation. She created several text books for teaching Hindi under the contract from the Department of Education which were widely used all over the country as more and more universities concentrated on the study of South Asia.

She translated religious Hindi poetry of Mirabai and Surdas: two famous medieval poets. These translations were published by Sahitya Akademi in India and retranslated into several Indian languages, like Malayalam, Urdu, Tamil and Punjabi. She also translated modern Hindi shortstories and published the book as a dual language reader for advanced students of Hindi. Her courses not only concentrated on the language teaching but also included widely popular “Modern Indian Cinema: Empowering Women” and “Indian Folklore” with emphasis on women’s folklore and rituals.

Along with many scholarly articles and papers presented at the national conferences, under her pen name Usha Priyamvada she wrote five novels and published six volumes of shortstories. At present she is the leading fiction writing in Hindi with many Master’s and Ph.D. theses on her work.

She was honored by the Education Ministry, Government of India on February, 16, 2009 with the prestigious Padmabhushan Moturi Saayanarayana Award for 2008 for her lifelong service to Hindi, both in India and in the United States.

The titles of her novels are:

  • Pachpan Khambe laal DivareN
  • Rugogi NahiN Radhika
  • Shesh Yatra
  • Antarvanshi
  • Bhaya Kabir Udaas.
  • Her story collections are
  • Banvaas, to be published by Penguin India in fall 2009
  • Sampoorn KahaniyaN
  • Shunya
  • Kitna Baraa JhooTh
  • Ek Koi Doosra
  • Zindagi aur Gulaab ke Phool

In her writing she has focused on women, mostly marginalized by the society, yet they emerge as survivors and fully empowered. In her two early novels she writes about the dilemma of educated urban women caught between the modernization of India and the stranglehold of cultural traditions and the struggle to find their place. Her last three novels concentrate on immigrant experiences of Indian women in America.