‘The Essay’ – from the Commonwealth Short Story Competition

Way back in 1999, one of my short stories was judged as a highly commended entry in the Commonwealth Short Story Competition, run by the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association. I was surprised to find that the story was later used by the BBC in a guide to reading literature in English – http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/radio/studyguides/pdfs/effectivereading.pdf Here is the story in its entirety:

                                                                      *       *       *

                                                                       The Essay

Mr Nair had done it again. He had torn the essay that Ravi was writing and had growled, “You’d better do some work, instead of writing all this silly stuff.” It wasn’t fair. Ravi had already completed the given work at Mr Nair’s tailoring shop. He was an eleven-year-old orphan and was living with his father’s sister, Sheila, and her family. He was indeed lucky to be living with such a loving family, except that they weren’t well off and so Ravi tried to help by working at the tailoring shop. But Mr Nair made him work too hard and that hardly left any spare time for Ravi to study. Mr Nair was a good tailor, but he wasn’t that good as a person. His mood swings would put a pendulum to shame. He made Ravi work whenever he wished. He had been in a very angry mood that day and had torn Ravi’s essay. (People often pour out their anger on children.)

That afternoon, when Ravi came home, Aunt Sheila guessed something was wrong from his crestfallen face. When she asked what the matter was, Ravi told her everything. This wasn’t the first time that such a thing had happened. She did not say anything, but sat silently for a while, lost in her own thoughts. Suddenly, she got up. “Come with me,” she said, without looking back, and walked out of the house. Ravi ran after her. “Where?”, he asked, but she did not answer.

Ravi did not repeat his question, but kept walking. The sky was clouded. He felt suffocated, as if something was crushing him and it wasn’t only because of the hot and humid air.

He was surprised to see her enter Mr Nair’s shop. She stood unnoticed in a corner of the shop. The customers were engrossed in watching the cricket match between India and South Africa on the small television set in the shop.

Aunt Sheila gently touched a pink dress that was hanging near her, as if she was admiring it, and took a fold of it in her hands. “Look! Sachin’s going to hit a four”, someone cried. Everyone watched with bated breath.

Suddenly, a loud ripping sound ran through the silence of the shop. For a moment, Sachin’s four was forgotten, as

all eyes turned to Aunt Sheila. She had torn a large part of the dress. Mr Nair gave a look of astonishment, before it dissolved into a look of anger. Before he could say anything, she began to speak in a strangely calm voice. “You tore the essay that my nephew was writing. Do you know how hard he worked on it? The dress that I tore,” she said, pointing to it, “was stitched by you. You won’t understand someone else’s efforts until your own have been treated in such a way.” Then she placed some money in front of him. “This money is for what I did to the dress. But I doubt that you can make up for what you did to Ravi’s work, to his confidence,” she said, and stepped out of the shop with the same kind of calmness.

Without waiting to look at anyone, Ravi followed her outside. She looked at him, smiled faintly, and said, “Let’s go home, so that you can write that essay again.” Ravi nodded. It began to drizzle as they walked back home, hand in hand. He smiled to himself as he watched the loose end of her light green sari fluttering in the breeze, and listened to the familiar tinkling sound of her bangles.

                                                                         *       *       *

About Deepti Nalavade Mahule

Originally from India, I reside in California, where I spend time developing software, feeding books to my two children and submitting my short fiction. View samples of my writing on — https://deeptiwriting.wordpress.com/
This entry was posted in Published Work, Short fiction and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to ‘The Essay’ – from the Commonwealth Short Story Competition

  1. After having discovered the Commonwealth awards, have always kept a track of them but could never participate. Always thought that I havent reached that kind of perfection to enter into the awards! Lovely to know that you were shortlisted! 🙂 And this is one story that had beautiful surprise elements to it!

  2. Congrats on the achievement!! It’s a great honour indeed!!

  3. Wow what a story! Must share this with all my writer friends! They would love the plot!

    Nice line “His mood swings would put a pendulum to shame.”

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  5. Farah says:

    Hi there, I’m not quite sure where I came across this, but I really enjoyed the story. Congratulations on your achievement! I also had a story Highly Commended in the Commonwealth Short Story Competition 2010, titled “Judgement Day”. I’m currently writer in residence there, and the website provides some great resources for writers, as you probably know: http://www.commonwealthwriters.org

    I have also enjoyed reading many of the stories that have made up the winners list for this competition, because so many of the stories are clever and pack a punch. The brevity allows one to read many stories in a relatively short time, and the reward for reading each of them comes quickly! Look forward to more of your work.

    • Thank you very much for reading my short story and your kind words about it. My other published work is available on this blog under ‘Published Work’ (https://dfsk.wordpress.com/category/published-work). I hope to keep writing regularly, striving to improve as time passes.
      Thank you also for reminding me about the wealth of information available on http://www.commonwealthwriters.org. I had not checked it out for helpful resources recently and when I did, I was glad to have found a lot that I could read and benefit from, including your fantastic posts as writer in residence. I also sampled and enjoyed some of the short fiction on your website and your short story “Judgement Day” simply blew me away!

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