The dreaded Contest 13 is behind us. From now on, it should be plain sailing.
This is the first time I tried a month-long contest on the blog, and for the longest time there weren’t any entries on it. Just as I was wondering if I should not have tried to fix an unbroken thing, as the last date approached, more and more entries trickled in, and the final tally was a healthy fifteen.
What warmed my heart was that this time, there was a lot of engagement between contestants. I’ve been trying to encourage people to read other contestants’ entries too and give comments on them. Not only does this give more perspectives to your own writing, but will also broaden your understanding of the topic in question.
Not to mention the fact that it makes the whole community a little more friendly. So please continue to do it; whenever you can find the time, take the opportunity to read what others have written about the topic, and feel free to write down your reactions and feedback. I’m sure the writer will appreciate it too, as long as you’re not being downright mean.
1. Vinisha, who blogs as britestarlite, and who has become one of our regular participants over time, is bagging two prizes this time, both for being the most Committed Contestant, and for also being the Ball Roller. For the uninitiated, the committed contestant award goes to that person who makes full use of the ‘three entry’ rule, and the ball roller award is given away to the first entry of each contest.
Your mantelpiece must be getting crowded with all these awards, Vinisha. However are you going to manage?
2. It pleases me whenever I have to give out the Late Latif award (Late Lata if the recipient is female). This time it goes to Dharini B, who wrote a wonderful mood piece. Incidentally, Dharini is the winner of another writing contest that I judged recently (at Campus Diaries, here), where she again impressed me with her vivid images and metaphors. I urge all of you to read not only her entry here, but this piece on the Campus Diaries contest.
1. Nidhi’s poem, A Widow’s Destiny, threw up a few good lines about a widow’s lament on society’s gaze.
2. Maniparna’s entry on a killer black cat made me – a cat lover – shiver, so it must have done something right.
3. Atika Srivastava’s story, The Curse, about a rather unique wife and her mother-in-law was brave in its premise and evocative in its execution.
I’m breaking protocol here a little bit and announcing two winners, because I thought both entries were about equally good. So I’m going to split the prize money into two and give 500 rupees each to both Uday, for his story about Billy The Cat (get it?) and to Sdeep ‘Stark’ Datta for his piece on just why dogs howl at night. I’m leaving both pieces here for you to read.
Billy perched on the terrace of the two-storied house, carefully observant of the animal traffic below. It was a bright and sunny day, with a hint of cool breeze in the air. Exactly the kind of day those two-legged animals seemed to think was a “nice” day. Billy knew this, of course. On these nice days, there usually is a heavy influx of them on the streets. But he’d been taught since his childhood that one never crossed paths with a black human being, because it is bound to bring bad luck. You would have called him a racist pig but of course Billy would counter you by saying that he was a cat, not a pig!
A bee wafted and rested on his nose – Billy almost sneezed but controlled himself. He did not want to spoil his whisker-style. Today, after all, was the Mister Cat competition finals. He is not going to let a stupid bee spoil the hours of effort it took to carefully style his fur and whiskers. He had to win this, otherwise… well otherwise he knew he had no chance at scoring a date with Kitty. His heart crushed each time he saw her being intimate with other male cats. Wasn’t she like the perfect companion? No wonder a lot of others were trying to woo her as well. The competition was tight, he knew, but winning the Mister Cat title would certainly draw her attention. He let out a deep breath.
The buzzing of the bee bought him back to his senses. He grunted at it frustratingly. What did bees know about love, anyway? He got on all-fours, craned his neck to try and spot his destination. They were holding the finals inside the church cemetery. The spire was visible to him from here but what immediately caught his attention was that there were no buildings at all for a good distance around the church. Which meant he could not merely hop from one terrace to next to reach his destination. Which meant he’d have to walk on the ground, the same level as humans did. Which meant that there was a very good chance that a black human would cross paths with him. Which meant he would definitely lose the competition. No! Damn these humans! Not today, please. Not today. Billy usually liked to call himself a liberal minded cat. He did not usually give in to silly superstitions. But after seeing a couple of dire incidents occur to his friends who saw a black human, his instincts told him that it’s always better to be safe than sorry. But now, what choice did he have? He just has got to test his luck.
He made it to the beginning of the clearing. The Sunday mass ended just about then and people had begun to leave the church. Keep your head low…and sprint!
As Billy dashed across the square, he only had the cemetery gate in his vision. And without his usual cat instincts in place, it was only natural that something sinister was about to happen. And happen, it did. He ducked and swerved to avoid a group of elderly humans – and the next thing he knew, he was deep inside a big ditch in the ground, half buried in sludge. His mind went numb for a minute. He did not know what to do. He meowed frantically- and then suddenly, the head a little human girl appeared above. She looked up, pointed her right hand towards him and called out to someone-
“Mama, look! There’s a cat down below. It’s stuck!!”
Billy could see that she had a distraught expression on her face. Billy could also see that she was black. As he realized that the sludge was slowing pulling him in and that he would be completely buried and possibly dead, he really wondered what would be worse – dying here or being rescued by the black girl.
But when he emerged from the cemetery garden, two hours later, with a Mister Cat ribbon around his neck, he knew he had a story to tell and debunk some superstitions.
And now Sdeep’s:
They think we’re howling because we sense death.
We’re howling because we feel him coming.
The Prince of Hell.
‘A man’s best friend’, men call us. ”A woman will leave you when you’re down on your luck”, they say. ”But a dog- never.” They take us in, and feed us, and shelter us. They talk to us when they are upset, and they play with us when they are happy.
They like to think they own us.
That’s all right with us.
They’re leading me on now, they’re letting the leash go. “Sniff, boy, sniff! Seek him out!”, they say
I smell him, the boy who is on death’s door. The brother of the scared little girl who now holds my leash. I will comfort her later, lick her face till she smiles a feeble smile. But now, I must hunt. I lead them on into the darkness.
In the dawn of mankind, when we were still capable of speech(the old tongue, not the human speech), we chose to shepherd them, these fledgling creatures, these fragile lives, these blissfully ignorant folk, from the darkness and into the light. It was agreed that we must bear the burden of keeping them safe from the greatest evil that grows everywhere, and the dark one who must never hold mankind between his fingers.
Him, the Prince Of Hell.
The boy is close, and he is wounded. I smell blood… oh, so much blood. They are running behind me with knives and pitchforks, and some carry those heavy metal tubes that spit fire. They think the boy has been taken by a man.
But they are wrong, and their weapons won’t help them.
I find the boy lying in the middle of a field. The girl screams and lets me go, running to her brother. He is nearly dead.
“We must bring him back to the doctor!” one shouts.
“We must search for the attacker!”, another one demands.
They argue amongst themselves over the dying boy, while his sister cries. I sit silently next to her. I am waiting.
And then the wind stops blowing, and a hush falls among the villagers, and I know he has come.
The Prince Of Hell.
He walks softly into the clearing. His eyes are green, they stand out in the darkness. His ears twitch once, and he says nothing more. He sits down. Perfectly. Still.
Of all the legends that men believe, only one has any truth to it.
If you cross a black cat, your soul is doomed.
The shadows dance around the Prince’s paws menacingly. They seem to advance, as if to reach for the dying boy. This soul is mine, his green eyes say. The boy’s pulse flickers. He will be gone, any moment now.
I take a deep, deep, breath, and howl.
The cat hisses in rage, but he does not relent. The shadows reach the boy’s foot, and he shivers even in his dreams.
I howl louder and louder, but the Prince is mighty, and he has all of Hell at his back.
I cannot match his strength, and he knows this. His green eyes gleam in the darkness, full of victory and malice. The shadows start to wrap around the boy’s heart. The Prince prepares to feast on his soul. The villagers stand mesmerized.
I have failed, I think.
And then, in the distance of the night, another voice howls.
The shadows shudder, but they do not let go. Another shrill howl joins in. Then soon, another one, and then more. Soon, the night is full of baying, and the moon seems to shine brighter every time a voice joins in.
The Prince is retreating, his eyes flashing hatred. The shadows return behind him, and the black cat bares his teeth.
I close my eyes, draw my breath, and sing my song to the night.
When I open my eyes, he is gone. The villagers are now huddled around the boy, trying to talk to him. He is alive and well, but deep down he knows he will never be the same again.
The girl is crying, and she puts her arms around my neck. “Thank you”, she cries. She does not really know what has happened, but she has a feeling. I lick her face earnestly, and she breaks into a smile.
The next time you hear a dog howl, remember. They’re not howling because a soul is being taken.
They’re howling because a soul is being saved.
Lucky Prize Winner
The winner of the lucky prize this time – a copy of Shweta Taneja’s ‘Cult of Chaos’ – is Vinisha of britestarlite. Vinisha is one of our most prolific participants who religiously enters three comments for every contest (no pressure, Vinisha!) so I’m glad that my random number generator has picked her as the winner.
I will be in touch with you regarding this, Vinisha. Congratulations.
What happens now?
Contest 14 will go live on the 15th of March, 2015. As I mentioned in some of my previous posts, I’m thinking of making giveaways a regular feature too, and the best way is to alternate between giveaways and contests. So between now and 15th March, there will be a giveaway, in which I hope you all will chime in and participate.
So do stay tuned. I will send out the notice tomorrow.
Congrats to both the winners, and thanks once again to everyone who participated in the contest. It was fun!
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