Updated: Oct 16, 2021
And then there are those who love a good contest. Stiff competitions are what keep them pumped. Not me. I say this neither with conceit nor guilt. It is just the way I have learnt to perceive things over a period of time.
There is something about contests and competitions that make me shrink back. Something that makes me feel I am giving short shrift to my craft.
There is something inherent about contests that curtails my creativity. It robs my freedom to gambol on the page. It makes me shift my focus from my job at hand to what will ensue, and that is a great distraction. I feel that unwittingly I will compromise my creative integrity and natural manner of doing things.
It is not the fear of not making the cut and taking the trophy home. I have instituted my own trophies and medals. My winning moment is when I punch in the last word of my story or article and sign it off. That way I win with every piece, you see.
However, there is one contest that will remain a milestone in my life because it was in that moment I realised what great things I was capable of doing, if only I wanted them. Now, ‘wanting’ is an operative word in any endeavour. A majority of things don’t land in our kitty because we have not willed or wanted them intensely. We will set that topic aside for another day.
It was one of my earliest pieces of fiction- raw in style, crude in content and lax in attitude. Who would have thought at that point, when I wrote a tiny story and sent it by post to the contest organizers, that I will make the headlines? Winning it was not the intention, not by a long shot. I clearly remember that I didn't even consider myself good enough to be in contention. If someone had suggested it to me then, I would have laughed like a hyena and died.
I wrote it only because at that point there were no avenues for me to test my talent, to know what scope I had as a writer and how far my writing could travel if it winged its way. I had to fling it off the ridge to know that.
The result was unexpected. Jaw-dropping to be precise. My story was declared the best of all entries. I had ‘beaten off challenges from budding writers in all parts of the UAE’. Once the enormity of the moment passed, I pondered what this meant for my future and the message I got was that my relationship with words and thought was now for keeps.
I got betrothed to writing that day. In a quiet ceremony. Our years of courtship prior to that found consummation. It was unequivocal. We would tread the path together.
I am unable to say if I would have strived day after day and stayed committed to the craft if I had not won that contest that day. No doubt, the nascent fire that was crackling inside me was stoked by the win. There was nothing else to propel me in those days.
The fire that was kindled by the coup twenty-one years ago went through its own life cycle, flaring at times, sobering at the other, and even threatening to die out, occasionally.
Now, after weathering storms of all kinds, it has settled to a flame. Soft and diffused. Gently swaying with the cadence of my breath, with no burning desire to invade the world. It now essentially illumines my inner domain and the light spills into the lives of those who pass by it. Some by chance, others by choice. Whatever else happens to it is dictated by the stars.
Way back then, I blindly released a story from my fold to find its destiny. Sans the thought of what would happen next. This news clip saved from then is probably instructing me to do the same as I prepare to float 'That Pain in the Womb', my next collection of stories into the universe.
Why else should it materialize from a box file and jump at me unexpectedly while I was searching for a document three days ago, exactly 21 years hence? Note the date in the news report. 20 August, 2000.
(I don’t know if the contest was held in the following years. We relocated to Oman soon after.)