There was always a distant thought in my mind the thought that I would someday write. A passionate reader since childhood, stories were my best friends who never lied to me, who never betrayed me, who were comfort to me on days that were bleak and days that were joyous. Away from home in hostel from the age of nine surrounded by girls of my age, younger and older ones on most days is great but sometimes home becomes a longing that is difficult to dispel, that is when books became my mother’s comforting touch, my father’s friendly counsel, my brother’s playful antics. Every story I read made me happy and also sad. Sad that it was over, sad that the characters or the settings were lost to me. Sad only till I found another set of characters, another setting that would take me to realms unexplored and thoughts unknown. But then I digress from the thread of thought that I meant to unravel. What did participating in Write India mean to me.
When I first saw the campaign in print for this unique idea, I knew the time had come to begin. To start work on a dream that I had harboured in the far recesses of my heart. With bated breath, I waited for the first prompt which I was thrilled to find compelled me to research for the story was to be set in the past. Amish Tripathi’s prompt made me delve into the annals of history from the Vedic ages to the Maratha rulers. I learnt that feminism isn’t a concept of modern times but was an intrinsic part of the very fabric of the early Vedic age. I read the tenets of Manu Smriti and understood the misogyny that for centuries would diminish the worth of the women in my country. I discovered the legends of the Godavari in addition to which I learnt the two-thousand-year-old legacy of the weavers of Paithan and the beautiful product that is the Paithani. The unveiling of the second prompt by Chetan Bhagat had me even more energised and I began research on the vulnerabilities of the human body and the broad field of forensic investigation. I googled for information which opened an astonishing world of knives for me: knives of flint, bronze, copper and knives as tools for hunting, sport, survival even knives as symbols of culture and tradition. With this also came the many possibilities of their usage in the killing of a human. In my mind, I cooked up various scenarios for the prompt and even had a nightmare about killing off the love of my life, poor fellow. I realised that thinking like a criminal was uncomfortable and admired those who so vividly describe the mind of a criminal. The next story I wrote was for Ashwin Sanghi’s prompt, intrigued by it I began to create a character akin to the various investigators that had been the heroes of the very many thrillers I had read over the years. Since I wanted my story to have a twist I decided to use another theme now I probed into the obscure world of telepathic communication between the living and the dead. What an interesting time I had writing that story!
Life sometimes interferes with one’s desires and I was unable to write on Preeti Shennoy, Ravi Subramanian and Durjoy Dutta’s prompts due to certain commitments. And then I again picked up with gusto for Tuhin A. Sinha, I did not do any research here and had fun as I wrote a short fluffy piece keeping conversations between my teenage daughter and her friends in mind. Ravinder Singh’s prompt made me think about a young man’s dilemma in a modern marriage that was turning bitter what would he do, I thought, when he was faced with his past, with the woman who was his first love. I wrote an emotional story that earned me the third winners position. Madhuri Banerjee’s prompt made me look up the term ‘Love Jihad’ to my horror I discovered how innocent love was being subverted in such an exploitive manner. Reading Jaishree Misra’s prompt I instantly knew that I would now have to undertake that treacherous emotional journey into my own psyche, the loss that more than two decades later still haunts me of my cousin brother’s death. Writing the story was an experience that was hugely cathartic; I felt later that even though I did not lay all my demons to rest, some had found closure. This was one prompt I am glad I did not win.
The last prompt detailed by Anita Nair had us all in a tizzy. Twitter erupted with debates on literary fiction in contrast to commercial fiction. Participants posted query after query to Anita to understand the rules that she had set. Writing this story was a gauntlet that she threw and I almost did not write intimidated with the challenge that it posed. Till one morning I woke up with a far distant memory of an old woman who came to my childhood home every day. A story began to form and I let it write itself. When I finished, I sent it out with no hopes of a win. I did not even know if the rules permitted me to be eligible for participation after the third place win earlier. The most pleasant surprise awaited me when the results were announced Anita chose it with another incredible story as the winning entry. The feeling of a dream coming true is so difficult to describe, it felt surreal, as if the grace of the almighty has touched you in the form of ‘the daemon’ that the ancient Greeks attribute to creative success. I will be forever thankful to Anita Nair for making this a tough prompt to write on, if she hadn’t I would not have caught the inspiration and let it bleed onto paper.
Over the period of 11 months that the Write India contest ran for and with every story that I wrote I have evolved both as a writer as well as a person. I’ve found reservoirs of empathy within myself and have been managed to express myriad feelings to others. I’ve gone from a woman with no idea what she was doing with her life to one with relevance.
The unveiling of the book at the Write India Grand Finale was as an event as close to perfection as could be. Write India Director Vinita Dawra Nangia’s dream project has given wings to the dreams of so many of us. Her warm embrace fledgling writers such as me is not something that is to be taken lightly, her faith is something that I aspire to fulfil. Gilbert K Chesterton says “When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” I take this win with the humblest of gratitude. I also owe my deepest appreciation to Team Write India comprising of these three amazing young women: the untiring Gunjan Verma, the diligent Surbhi and the unstintingly supportive Kalpana Sharma. I need to in addition thank those very many people behind the scenes who made Write India possible.
I cannot end without mentioning the new friends I have made on this journey, my fellow participants and winners Sutapa Basu, Shailesh Tripathy, Nainesh A. Jadwani, Tishampati Sen, Nikhil D. Samant, Ameeta Anand, Kena Shree, Bhaswar Mukherjee, Samah Visaria, Aarati Shah, Kuheli Bhattacharya, Shachee Desai, Roshan Radhakrishnan, Ramya Vivek and Rohit Tandekar. A warm group of people who immediately struck up a camaraderie that I would be openly envious of if I were not part of this group lauded as ‘Gen-Next’ of Indian writers. As the connections over social media strengthen this newfound group and witticisms fly unabated, I enjoy getting inspired by each one of them and their soulful stories. I am sure all my new friends will join me in thanking the celebrity authors for a lot many reasons but most of all for their enthusiastic cheering for the winners of Write India Season 1.
The Write India contest culminated in the release of a book of amazing stories. 36 chosen tales from over 25000 entries, a novel concept of crowd sourcing by The Times of India. You can order your copy on the following link.