The theme was ‘Women and Work’. The word count was 100. And the contest was restricted to women writers.
eShe’s first ever Flash Fiction Contest saw scores of entries out of which 48 qualified for the final round.
The jury — Kota Neelima, Chitra Gopalakrishnan and Aekta Kapoor — took 10 days to deliberate over the interesting and engaging stories that writers across India had come up with.
The winner gets courses worth Rs 15000 from Henry Harvin Education, a book collection of four Hachette Essentials, a free annual subscription to eShe’s print edition, a handy eShe notebook and an award certificate.
10 more runners-up win eShe notebooks and merit certificates. (However, we have a three-way tie in 10th position, so we actually have 12 runners-up.)
And here are our winning entries!
Her silver nose pin cringed at the stench of urine and sweat. She had wedged herself in a narrow space between the door and washbasin. Stares of men in the packed general compartment tore at her and the seven-foot-tall canvas roll.
Suddenly, a suave man smiled at her.
“What’s that?” He curiously glanced at the roll.
“My paintings… The Ph.D interview at Shantiniketan ran late. I have an exhibition in Delhi tomorrow. Couldn’t get the sleeper-class,” her voice was firm.
“But, this is uncomfortable, right?” he asked.
“Everything is,” she smiled, remembering the nude self-portraits inside the roll.
By Salini Vineeth, Bengaluru
1st RUNNER UP
The alarm rang too early but I shake myself awake. Couldn’t miss office today. As I haul the laptop bag over my shoulder, my left knee squeaks angrily; 57 is no age to do the laptop-Powerpoint-glib talk corporate dance. Those mint-fresh MBAs carry their laptops like the holy Bible, sing like phoenixes! Ha, brainwashed at the altar of money!
I feel empty as I return my laptop, ID, keys. Why did my brain refuse to get laundered? I walk out of the soulless high-rise, drinking the mellow evening light, and pat my knee. We’re going to be alright.
By Paromita Shastri, Delhi
2nd RUNNER UP
Friend, Mentor, Guide
You must understand – we meant to force you out.
We played Candy Crush and missed our deadlines.
We revelled when senior management blamed you for all the failures.
We asked improper questions to your bosses, so they’d think you a fool who hadn’t coached her team correctly.
We watched you slink back to your seat, and sink your head in your hands.
But then, you helped us. And guided us. And we never faced the firing squad. The girls among us found a role-model, and the men got one too.
We’re eternally sorry, and this time too, we mean it.
By Gargi Mehra, Pune
3rd RUNNER UP
The Last Laugh
As a keen type probationer, I once asked my Collector, “Sir, what are the essential qualities of a civil servant?”
In chaste Haryanvi, he replied, “Chori, ladka hai to, dynamic, outgoing, resourceful,” to my gender-agnostic query.
Aghast, and equally unabashed, I politely enquired, “…and what about a lady officer, sir?”
In between slurps of tea, “Sincere, obedient, hard working,” he blurted, nonchalantly.
That was two decades ago.
Today, he pretends not to remember this conversation, and sheepishly avoids looking into my eyes. Out of sheer respect for his age, I restrain the wry smile that wants to escape my lips.
By Mugdha Sinha
4th RUNNER UP
The Quintessential Working Woman
At 5 am, Raya was preparing breakfast for her 10-year-old. Soon after, she helped the boy revise for his Chemistry test while simultaneously getting him ready for school. Her husband slept peacefully, and her mother-in-law continued sipping tea indifferently.
Raya’s marital home reeked of patriarchy, but she was working on bringing a change through her child. After the kid left, Raya sat at the dining table to type the manuscript of her third book. One-third of her unpaid labour for the day was over, and the rest could wait, until the work that gave her financial independence was attended to.
By Sonia Chatterjee, Kolkata
5th RUNNER UP
The sound of her pounding heart drowned in the chirping of birds heading towards their nests. She tried to contain her unabated enthusiasm as she waited at the door. The sunset sky, smeared with various hues, and even the patchy, uneven, muddy road, seemed to reflect her ecstasy.
The distant whirring sound of her husband’s car wheels jerked her into the present. He would think it weird to see her excited about a domestic help that she had chanced upon after a six-month long wait. The travails of a working woman – only the boss understands!
By Gadepally Shashikala, Bengaluru
6th RUNNER UP
Everybody Bleeds. Period.
Neelima was running late today. Radha, her maid, hadn’t showed up and her toddler was in a mood. Her periods were just the icing on the cake. She held her abdomen and braced for yet another cramp, while thanking her company’s FOP leave policy.
When the doorbell finally rang, Neelima was all fired up. Opening the door, she was about to yell, when she noticed the tell-tale signs on her maid’s face. The same grimace, the beads of sweat over her face and her hand on her abdomen. She calmed down, smiled and told Radha to take the day off!
By Sayantika Adak
7th RUNNER UP
He picked mother-in-law from the airport and then me.
“How can they say that? They need to understand and be human in their expectations,” shrieked mother-in-law on her call.
“Who was that, mother?” he asked.
“Your sister. Her in-laws want her to cook all three meals, take care of the baby, and then go for work. How unreasonable.” Her eyes welled up with tears.
“It’s Navratri from tomorrow. I fast for nine days. Prepare my day’s menu before leaving for work.” She texted the menu to me.
I looked at him.
“Do you have everything at home?” he asked me.
By Kusum Bajpai, Lucknow
8th RUNNER UP
Standing for Sisterhood
“She deviated from the lesson plan,” said the stuffy shirt with scant knowledge about teaching.
“Did she lose her class?” asked the self-assured leader of a great team.
“Was the lesson unclear?”
“Was the class hijacked?” asked the formidable lady.
“Not at all… but…” Flushed, he ran a finger on the inside of his decidedly uncomfortable collar.
“Does it matter at all?” asked she softly. “I would be disappointed if my teachers stick to lesson plans, not taking into account the vibrancy of the class.”
She was not one to allow a greenhorn to belittle her tribe.
By Chandrika R Krishnan, Bengaluru
9th RUNNER UP
It Happens Only in India
As a paediatrician, Niranjana had to deal with all sorts of patients. She smiled at her wrinkled hands, which had held many a soft chubby baby. She was going to hand over her practice to young doctors with their fancy degrees today.
She recalled that one incident when she was advising parents of a four-month-old baby to switch to Semolina kheer. Imagine her surprise when the extended family of the young parents landed at the clinic to learn new recipes for babies!
Niranjana laughed aloud at the memory. Would a male doctor ever experience that?
By R. Janaky
10th RUNNER UP
These (Not So) Small Things
When I joined the firm as a law intern three months ago, I believe I was not properly introduced.
I was in the conference room with my bosses, Suresh Sharma and Ramu Patel. Next to me sat Manish, a recently recruited intern. Opposite us sat Mr. Singh, a ‘big’ client.
I was busy studying the brief when I heard Mr. Sharma’s voice boom, “Anoushka, could you fetch Mr Singh a coffee?”
Surprised, I said, “Sir, Manish is not participating. He will happily fetch the coffee, won’t you, Manish?”
They know me better now. I nip things in the bud.
By Abha Iyengar, Delhi
10th Runner Up
Jugni’s nimble fingers worked deftly, needle in and out, creating exquisite patterns on fabric. A hundred more fingers stitched in perfect unison, like a swarm of buzzing bees, led by her. She had broken the norm in the land of chauvinism and colour, daring to exhort thousands of unlettered women to lift their veils, step out, work, earn and challenge patriarchy.
Her designs were breathtaking, the rich legacy of her grandmother. She walked up the ramp to a thunderous applause, with her applique work declared the best and showcased at the spectacular fashion show. Jugni blazed like the sun!
By Anita Panda, Mumbai
10th RUNNER UP
49 for her D-day
“She says she’s got no motivation.”
“Because she thinks she’s too old for it.”
“Paa! Pass me the phone. Let me attempt it.”
“Hey Maa! You know what the best part is?”
“I guess none.”
“Listen, na! Dad’s retiring in two months and you got an interview call for the role of a counselor in Dad’s school. I mean, from where I see, this says something.”
“But I’ve never done it before.”
“That’s okay, Maa, 49 is not too late an age to start either.”
“I nailed it, recited a poem for my introduction.”
By Asambhava Shubha, Bengaluru
Congratulations to all the winners! Please write to firstname.lastname@example.org with your complete mailing address and phone number to receive your certificates and prizes.