And so, Contest 16 has come and gone. Those of you who are keen to read what people have written, please go to the contest page and take a look.
We got more poems this time than we normally do. Maybe dreams lend themselves better to verse than to prose. Quite a few people examined the dual nature of reality and dreams, and some talked about the difference between dreams that we see in our sleep and those that we see during our waking hours.
It was good fun. Thanks to all those who took the time to drop in a few lines.
1. The Ball Roller Award this time goes to Anantalakshmi Prasad, who, in spite of this being her first time here, stepped forward with no timidity whatsoever and posted the first entry. We’re hoping that you will become a regular here, Anantalakshmi.
2. Vinisha has managed to hold on to the Committed Contestant prize because she has once again managed to use her ‘three entry’ right to the fullest. A mention must also go to Atika Srivastava and Uday, who both chimed in with two entries each.
3. There were no overly long entries this time, nor were there any late ones, so this time, shockingly, the Rebel Award goes unclaimed.
1. Vinisha’s first entry that features an empty rocking chair drew some stark images for me. This was well-written, Vinisha.
2. Iris A‘s poem, which spoke about death as an unending dream, has some memorable lines. I read the poem twice, and found it an enchanting read both times. I’m sure you will like it too.
3. Dharini‘s story, which oscillates between a man of our times and a sword-wielding fantasy hero, has a creative central idea, and is complemented by good, atmospheric writing. It flows at just the rice pace as well.
The first winner of Contest 16 competed quite closely with Dharini’s story, and it was an agonizing choice because I liked both ideas equally. But Sania Heba‘s piece about an oppressive regime has that extra bit of wow factor, I thought, to make it a deserved winner.
Her entry here in full:
They say, in the olden days, when the sky still changed colours with the dark never being truly dark, people used to see even when they were sleeping. ‘A load of crap.’ My grandfather used to say. ‘When ye sleep, ye sleep. I’ll have none o’ this old nut-job nonsense in my house. Ye hear?’ But he’s gone now. Cryo-freezed. So it doesn’t make a difference.
I knock on the door, barely registering it’s peeling paint and rust-eaten hinges. A woman clad in red opens it. A long hood droops over her eyes but I have a feeling they are red too.
“Ah. A kid at the door of a soothsayer. Why is he here she wonders?” She says and her lips curl up in a smile.
“I’m not a kid. I’m here because of the visions.” I reply crossing my arms across my chest, defiantly.
“The kid says he has visions. Maybe he should see the men in white cloaks. Maybe he should drink the juice of veera. The kid has no business here.”
She steps back.
“No, wait! It’s not those visions. It’s the…other visions.”
The soothsayer opens the door wider.
“The kid talks in riddles. The kid shall speak freely.”
She leaves the door open and strides inside. I follow her meekly, all my gathered strength disintegrating as I cross the threshold.
The room she leads me into is bare. A wooden table stands in the middle, along with two chairs. There are no windows, no paint on the walls, no magical glowing balls, no fluff. I can’t help but wonder if I am at the right place.
“The kid shall speak.” She says, sitting on one of the chairs.
“It’s when I…when I sleep.” There. I said it. Ordinarily even the mention of this would send me straight to a mental asylum. Normal people don’t see with their eyes closed. But the soothsayer fixes me with a piercing stare. She folds her hands in front of her. I spy the edge of a tattoo that disappears up her sleeve. A dragon maybe.
“The kid must not lie. The kid is not aware of the severity of his words.” She says.
“I am! And I’m not a kid! I read the lore okay. People in the ancient days had these visions and then and after the war, the survivors, all of them stopped having them. But I know what I am saying. I dream.” I shout. She rises suddenly and her hand flies across the table to cover my mouth.
“The walls have ears. The kid must know that. The regime has eyes everywhere. The kid says he sees with his eyes closed. Yet the regime makes sure that no one is able to do that. The kid claims something that the regime has made impossible. The kid is in danger.”
I look at her wide-eyed. Everyone knew the regime was a bit too strict. But they wouldn’t harm anyone surely.
“The kid must leave.” She slips a piece of paper in my hand and pushes me out of the room.
Back outside, I open it. It’s an ancient scroll and I can’t understand most of it. But at the bottom, I see a scribble in New English.
“When the people see again, the darkness will turn to light and the light to darkness. The strong will fall and the weak will rise. The new will fall apart and the old will reign supreme.”
I shudder as I walk back. Whatever shall I do?
The second winner is Varun Shetty, who managed to come up with a unique interpretation of the word ‘dream’ and wrote a story involving a certain someone that we all know. I won’t spoil the suspense. Just make sure you read it fully right to the end.
In 1956, I got six months in the can for trying to knick a pack of cigarettes from a pocket in the bus stand. The magic of cleaning out a pocket, they’ll tell you, lies in the fingers. Me?
“It’s in the tongue. The old gift of the gab. Because your fingers sure can’t knick a man’s mind.”
“Then how did you end up in Montgomery County?” he asked.
“You see that kid by the desk, Jay? Officer Brookes. Turns out he wanted to take the bus that day.”
“He saw you?”
“Sure did. Heck, he saw straight through me. Had me by the arm. Wouldn’t make much of a cop if any randy could take a quick tour in his pockets, would he?”
He laughed like I had heard no man laugh in prison. Heck, I wasn’t sure if it was allowed in there. But I wasn’t complaining; four months and eight men later, I had finally finished my story without having to repeat it. The world didn’t throw many bright ones in prison. No, sir. The bright ones played rainbow outside; in here, we got bits of grey backdrop.
Jay was sharp and he was important on the outside. I figured after I was out that he’d done college. Socieitologics or some junk of the sort I can’t care about. But I could tell with him from the start. He wasn’t your average monkey mouth. He had a nettling politeness about him. And man was he a thinker. He wasn’t a goddamned river. And he sure as heck wasn’t a mirror. But this kid sure liked to reflect.
What really gave it away, though, was the number of ‘meetings’ he took at the hands of the Lieutenant.
In Montgomery County Jail, any thief worth his nickel was up on the first floor. Second tier got murderers, and up top, ‘The Penthouse’, was reserved for the special departments – arson, genocide, necrophilia.
We were on ground floor. On the MCJ hierarchy, we were considered so petty and incompetent that they practically put us in the vicinity of every exit. So why did the Lieutenant have any business with Jay in the interrogation room? I was willing to bet it had nothing to do with the reason he was inside in the first place: driving 30 miles an hour in a 25 zone.
I couldn’t put my finger on it. So I trusted my magic maker again.
“The Lyoot really loves you, huh?”
He donated a half-smile to my jibe. A smile that – our well-lit floor showed – was damaged at the edges.
He said, “My father never let love get in the way of a beating. So it’s not out of the question.”
“Well, that’s a start. I’ve been meaning to ask you what your story is.”
This time the expression was much more in character.
“I’m not sure it’s different from yours in any way, my friend.”
“I’m in for overspeeding. You got 6 months for petty pick-pocketing. We are in an isolated cell. It’s no coincidence, my friend, that even in here we are the unmentionables. Our stories are the same, in here as well as out there. The only difference is that they don’t go out of their way to call us African-American.”
There was truth in what he was saying, but there was more to it than this. There was more to him than me.
“Heck, then why don’t I have special appointments with the Lyoot? You have something he wants?”
Brookes interrupted us from outside.
“Jay! In the IR — now! You know the way.”
Jay responded to me.
“Ah, I doubt if I can add to his repertoire. I have things he has. Things his boss has – and his boss. They probably have more of it –“
“You hear me Jay Arrrrrr?”
“- than I do. The reason I have special appointments is because they don’t think I’m entitled –“
“Get out here!” There were footsteps.
“- to it. They can’t imagine such a thing! I have an education! I have a cause and I have support –“
The door flew inwards with the words, “Martin f*cking Luther!”
“- I have a dream!”
Then they took him.
What happens now?
Contest 17 will come out sometime in the second half of June, most likely around the 15th. Before that, there will be a launch of a new book and a giveaway as well, so do stay within shouting distance. Until then, be good.