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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’!

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.

Sunglasses for all seasons – Amartya Kumar Mitra April 19, 2012

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 Amartya is studying in class X. His interests are music, creative writing, films and recitation. His ambition is to compose music and perform at the Wembley arena of London and to make films on world’s amazing short stories

You can never focus on a single thing when you are in Esplanade.

Something or other will make you look at it. This is not only because there are a variety of things but their low price tags. The only problem lies with the label. You may find a shirt with a costly brand name but you can never say if it’s genuine because here the genuine and fake items are like Siamese twins. Trust me, if you feel down just step into a bus and head for this heavenly place. But it may help only if you are a bit too drawn to the lures of material world. If you feel those is not anything worthy for a man to dwell upon then change your bus if you are already on board and head for Dakshineshwar temple.

The traffic sergeant with a wave of his hand stopped the vehicles. A huge crowd rushed to the other side of the street like violent bulls. Tired daily-passengers inside the bus exchanged hopeless expressions. Irregular passengers mostly woman watched the event with puzzled looks and open mouths. Everyday on such a busy hour Robi, a handsome twenty three years old boy would cross the road. His looks often drew attention of people passing him. Whether the weather was sunny, overcast or rainy he wore a sunglass and had a fancy stick with a bell metal handle. His attires changed only occasionally as he was not rich and neither did he want to be. Only thing he wanted was to help his brother in his studies doing the laundry job for him as his brother was working in a well known laundry so that one day he can buy enough food to feed both of them . The laundry owner knew that Robi needed money to support his brother and his brother needed time for his studying. He allowed Robi to work in place of his brother.

Robi was knocking around the laundry building when the voice of his boss was heard. He was calling Robi. As usual Robi was waiting for this call and climbed the stairs.

‘’ Yes Sir’’ said Robi

The stout laundry owner sipped his fruit drink slowly and said ‘’ It’s in your delivery area but the address is new. Deliver this to 401, Serpentine lane,Howrah’’ and handed Robi a parcel packed in brown papers which had dry- washed kurta pyjamas. Robi took the parcel and repeated the address twice. He crossed the very same road but instead of walking this time he got into a bus.

Merely five or ten passengers in the office hours can make a man standing outside a bus think that the bus is over-crowded. (Just for the terrible noise they make). The same man might think the bus is deserted just after six full half hours but when he boards the vehicle he will find dozens of drooping heads in post lunch siesta. No risk of pick pockets as those thieves also probably doze at such an hour.

Robi couldn’t dare to take a nap asHowrahwas not far from Esplanade. The bus reached there by half an hour. The clock said 1.30. The holy water of the Ganga looked like sparklingChampagne(though not transparent). Robi made his way to a dhaba nearby not to have lunch but ask the owner who happened to be his childhood friend the exact location of 404 Serpentine lane. The Dhaba owner forced him to have his lunch there and Robi had no choice but to eat there. When he finished it was already two. He hurried to the address. On the way sadly enough he stumbled down as his feet struck a small rock jutting out of the narrow road. The pain was tolerable but the parcel he was carrying got torn and the kurta pyjamas got somewhat soiled.

‘’ What the hell is this?’’ screamed the owner of those clothes. ‘’ I gave this to be washed and ironed but what is this? huh? He continued.

‘’ Sorry sir I……’’

‘’ Sorry? I want to kill the man who invented that word. Will it clean my dress?

‘’ Sir I just…”

“Don’t say a word and just get lost. A young fellow like you can’t deliver a laundry in a good condition and what the hell for you are wearing a sunglass and carrying a stick like that? Style huh?’’ and he slammed the door.

‘’ No sir pleases ……”

Robi didn’t get a chance to say a word and left. He feared the worst. May be his boss will fire him or pay him less or……….

On the other side the angry customer who wanted the Kurta to be ready for attending a wedding went to the telephone and called the laundry office.

‘’ Hello! Hello! Are you the worthless owner of the laundry?’’

‘’ Excuse me Sir may I know who are you speaking?’’

‘’ One of your customers fromHowrah’’

‘’ What can I do for you sir?

‘’ Shut up! This is possibly the worst laundry service in Kolkata. That stylish boy. Who came to deliver my laundry? He has ruined my Kurta. I thing he dropped it carelessly. Now you have troubled me much and I swear I will never use you service anymore Good Bye!!”

‘’ Wait! Don’t show so many attitudes. We have hundreds of customers and we don’t care if you stop dealing with us any more but being the owner of the company I will refund you the money and ….. Are you listening?’’

‘’ Yes’’

‘’ And for Heaven’s sake don’t curse the boy for his mistake. He is blind’’.

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