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After Dickens Writing Competition April 19, 2012

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In the range of activities that the British Council India hosted to mark the 200th birth of Portsmouth’s favourite son, a writing competition for young Indian authors tested the spirit of creativity and tribute to their favourite Victorian novelist – Charles Dickens.

After Dickens online writing competition ran across the  length and width  of India, engaged over 170+ writers between 16-21 years. Submissions ranged from short stories to poetry, reportage and documentary and even accounts of  Mr Dickens’ visit to India and his candid Tête-à-tête with  legends of Indian literature.  Some accounted even candid conversations between Dickens.

Armed with exciting entries, we reached the doors of academic Sajni Kriplani Mukherji. Sajni Di  (as she’s fondly referred to) is a Dickens expert and her appetite of all things Dickens made our vision even stronger.  “Things are a little   tight Arnab. She said to me as I sipped the hot Darjeeling tea sitting beside her study-cum-work desk. I am occupied with a range of family priorities that are not too pleasant.

I’ll try to finish these within 5 days but if I don’t, then we’ll have to work things out slightly different. I grinned with excitement and nervousness hoping certainly for the best of times and not the worst. But as things go, Sajni di smilingly handed over the entries on the fifth day! Hurray!

As a promise, we bring to you her verdict that goes out to all our contributors and their untiring efforts.

A big ‘thank-you’ to you Sajni Di

We present to you the winning entries from the competition.

Happy reading!

– Arnab Banerjee

The Smile – Shritama Bose April 19, 2012

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Shritama Bose was raised inJamshedpur, where she attendedSacredHeartConventSchool. She is currently a second-year undergraduate student of English atPresidencyUniversity,Calcutta. Her interests include reading, debating, writing, and quizzing.

The man used to sit on the pavement in front of the florist’s shop. I had seen him on the first day when I had gone to place the order for the flowers. He would sit there on a faded tarpaulin sheet in a tattered blue-and-white polyester shirt. His wrinkled face was framed by tousled salt-and-pepper hair, with the salt overpowering the pepper by far. He worked with shining brass-like wires, shaping them into bicycles and cycle-rickshaws of at least three different sizes. As he worked assiduously at them, a constant unfading smile played on his lips.

As I approached him for a better view of his artifacts, he looked up at me. The smile was still there; he was directing it at me, not smiling at me. His eyes creased into wrinkles as he did that. I knelt down to examine one of the largest pieces. I was taken aback by the sheer quality of the work. It testified to being the handiwork of a true craftsman- the bends in the wires were smooth, the knots strong yet subtle. Particularly remarkable was the way in which the thinnest of the wires had been interwoven into a mesh of kite-like shapes to create the seats of cycle-rickshaws. If this man had indeed crafted the pieces himself, he deserved a station higher than a spot on a Lajpat Nagar pavement. I found out the prices- the smaller of the biycles were worth Rs 10 each, the bigger worth Rs 25, the small and big rickshaws worth Rs 35 and Rs 70 respectively. I wanted a rickshaw with its mesh-seat. However, having had my share of raw deals in the city, I did not dare to go for the biggest one. I settled for a small rickshaw, duly handed over to me with a- rather the- smile.

The next day and the one after that, I found groups of foreign tourists huddled around the smiling man’s spot. On the fourth day, I went to the florist’s shop to collect the consignment. The shop-assistant was packing the flowers when I, unable to resist the urge, asked him, “What is that man’s name? The one selling those miniature bicycles?”

The assistant looked out in the direction of my pointed finger. He then replied, “You mean Rashid?”

“Yes. How long has he been here?”

“Two years ago, he was dismissed from this very shop. Very slow in making bouquets. Kept fiddling with the wires. They removed him and took away the bicycle they had given him. Now he makes these things and gives the neighbouring handicraft stores a run for their money.”

As I walked out with my flowers, I turned to look at that spot. The tarpaulin looked more faded than ever, the smile did not.

BECOMING DICKENS – Sahil Acharya April 19, 2012

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   Saahil, though a native ofCalcutta, lives inBangalore, and spends most of his time struggling with the subjects of science. His spare time he devotes to thinking about the complexities of human existence and Nature, and trivial writing. On the 24th of December, 2011, he tuned into an adult, much against his wishes.

She was pretty. And the thing that struck me most was the proud nose she had. It was defiant, almost challenging, and when she looked at me, it hit me almost as a physical blow. The nose seemed to be angry at everything she looked at, but I could imagine her smile would turn the face around altogether. I was, therefore, hesitant to approach. None of the brilliant single-sentence greetings those chaps on television keep saying seemed viable. So I kept quiet, and watched. She had the air of one who knows herself to be superior in every respect to the ordinary populace. She stared into space with resoluteness, as if she were looking for any particle brave enough to come close. I wondered how often she had intimidated males just like myself. Perhaps, I found myself thinking, she had had a tragic childhood. Perhaps she had been brought up to hate all mankind. She maintained a stony silence throughout, though the sound of the bus and the traffic outside more than made up for it. Twice I caught myself clearing my throat, and both times the noise seemed too feeble to deserve the attention of such a perfect lady. The bus ground to a halt, she threw her hair back, got up, and walked away and out. I was left alone. I could only stare at the faint depressions she had made on the seat, and yearn. Such beings are evil, I remember thinking, to make ordinary folk as us think of ourselves as unworthy. None deserve to live with such as her, I almost said aloud, but for days afterward I could not stop dreaming of just that.

 

That night, I wrote about her. In the world of my words, she became a glorious queen- powerful, spiteful and cruel. She ruled over the hearts of many men, and let none touch her heart. Her kingdom was rich and powerful, and one day, she married. Her husband was an unfortunate young man, so enchanted by her beauty, so enamoured by her loveliness, that he forgot all, and gave her his kingdom. The beautiful queen laughed at the poor prince afterward, as she told him of her real intentions one day as they walked in the garden. The prince was a sensitive man, and he was so “humiliated, hurt, spurned, offended, angry, sorry”, that tears started to his eyes. He held them back, but the queen looked at him with delight for being the cause of them.

It was then, as I wrote, that I realized that in the pretty girl in the bus, I had found my Estella. And accompanying this realization was the second, more obvious one- I was Pip. In the mysterious mind, myriad tales are spun everyday, and ordinary people acquire personalities and facets more varied and exaggerated than any in real life. As I sat writing about my Estella, I understood the process by which I was, temporarily, becoming Dickens.

A TALE OF TWO CITIES – Heba Ahmed April 19, 2012

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Heba Ahmed is pursuing her B.A. (Hons.) course in Political Science, at St. Xavier’s College (Autonomous), Kolkata. She started writing burlesques of poetry from an early age. Dickens has always been an old favourite; his characters and stories transport her to a world which is archaic, but seems evergreen with every turn of the page.

Two souls co-habit a single body,

The old city has two faces to it,

One with a proud brow, a smile of disdain,

The other, with pain, just winces a bit.

Two souls, two faces, one city, or two?

Some sigh, some sing,—its streets seem apart;

One seeks in the skies obscured by steel towers

And wonders where the city keeps its heart.

 

The Indians hail their ‘City ofJoy’,

Its mornings glory in their snug abodes,

And for those who sleep beneath star-strewn roofs —

A ‘home sweet home’ on the dusty roads!

Hark! The city’s music, of varied tones:

Rag picker’s raga which smells of old stains,

Does the joy lie there, or will it be found

In dizzy discotheques’ jazzy refrains?

 

Its gleaming towers all heavenward soar,

While shanties revel in dust and disease;

“Fairy palaces”, or “shadows of night”—

Two spirits of what seems to be two cities!

The cradle, or grave, of modernity?

And the road to progress, onward it shoots;

A lonely roadside witness sees it all—

The withered man who still polishes boots!

 

The pretty young woman sits all day long

In a humble corner, and there she cooks

Little meals for the busy world around,

While her children run naked with hungry looks.

Another young woman drives past this scene,

Flinging some coins from her beaded handbags,

To ensure those waifs don’t pursue her car

Or spoil the shine of its boot with their rags!

 

The footpaths here house the orphans of the earth,

Lisping old melodies to earn their bread;

Some get silenced under bus wheels,

And some by the whips of the world well-fed.

Then somewhere in the elitist arcade,

A crooner sings softly an old sad song

Of homeless children, of abandoned souls,

And the world in sympathy sings along.

 

Each visage of the city has its bloom,

One rouge-stained, the other reddened by cold;

One totters on footsteps burdened with care,

The other outruns Time, in leaps so bold!

One defies the tenets of all the earth,

Then makes the other its sole whipping-boy;

The metropolis dwells in fake concord,

And the Indians hail their ‘City ofJoy’!

Modern Chennai in the Eyes of Charles Dickens – Hannah Hayworth April 19, 2012

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Hannah Heyworth is a year-long exchange student to India from the US on the YES Abroad Scholarship Program. She lives in Chennai, and attends Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan School in Nungambakkum. She has just completed her eighth month inIndia.

 

It was the best of places, it was the worst of places,

It was a city, a metropolis difficult to constrain to rhymes,

It was a shining example, it was subpar at best,

Poverty, shouting, pollution, crowds, but lest

I forget! Also the peace and tolerance of a diverse people,

Where in one direction is a mosque, temple, and steeple.

An unforgiving climate, and an abundance of dust,

But where to sample the local cuisine is a must,

A historic language curving over tacky neon signs,

Yet carved as well into ancient ruins in poetic lines,

A history of colonialism, exploitation, and trade,

But where the colorful traditions shall never fade.

A conservative place, where time runs slower,

But do not assume a place where any development is lower,

A quiet, bustling place, an old-fashioned and modern place,

A place where ancestral homes and condos fill adjoining space,

This bundle of contradictions, my friend, this tumble of culture,

Is no decaying town circled by desertion and abandonment- those vultures!

This is a city, reborn a thousand times with only improvements.

This, my friend, is Chennai.

An unsaid prayer – Haard Barot April 19, 2012

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Haard is 16 years old. He hails from Bharuch in Gujarat. He loves to write and amongst other things enjoys playing table tennis and chess.

Haard’s  imagines an emotional situation where, Charles Dickens visits his son’s grave in Kolkata, India.

Life is a golden chain….which
Death tries to break,
but all in vain.
The years may wipe out many things
But some they wipe out never.
Like memories of those happy times When  we were all together.
What I wouldn’t give
To have you in my arms again,Let me lay my hand Over your heart,
So I canFeel it beating Beneath my touch.

BUT……
I will not stand at your grave and weep,

BECAUSE…..You are not here.

YOU are a thousand winds that blow,
YOU are the laughter in children’s eyes,
YOU are the sunlight that spreads hope,
YOU are the gentle pleasant rain,
When I awake in the morning’s hush,
You are the quiet of birds in unknown flight,
You are the star that shines at night,
I will not stand at your grave and cry,
YOU are not here, YOU did not die.

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