Award Winning Short Story - 2018

 

Bharat Award for Literature - 2018

"Metro Meet Depart"

by Saranya Francis, Karnataka, India

Everyone loves a train and I was not just a metro train, I was the glamorous new face of a city that was changing by the minute. In a way my story is also the story of a changing city and its changing cultural fabric too. Let me tell you one of the first stories I witnessed from my perch on a shiny new metal bridge laid out carefully to usher in the next big thing in metropolitan commute history.

2007 April, the city saw the first few signs of this dream project taking shape. It was a time when the city was getting used to the din and dawn of a new wave of IT professionals, software engineers and call centre executives pouring in from all quarters of the country. A time when Bangalore was in transit: from being a 'Pensioner's Paradise' to India’s answer to 'Silicon Valley'. It was a time, when the city was fast losing its 9-5 office goers, its green cover and its ability to co-exist. The streets of Byappanahalli would be full of people hurrying to work all the time. The road connected the rest of the city to the IT parks and served as a lifeline of sorts to the local traders who frequented the adjoining highway. The first mega consumer store had mushroomed and every resident far and wide would throng the "Big Bazaar" during weekends, NGEF and Kasturinagar were a curse to motorists and land acquisition was a swear phrase. It was also the time when I was eagerly awaiting the commencement of my tryst with the city, through the years of planning and blasting and drilling.

I would spend all my hibernation time observing the curious onlookers who would stop by just to stare at a future possibility that may or may not deliver. Debates would rage, inferences would be drawn around my existence and productivity and I felt like someone really important. Mornings would go by swiftly, but evenings were event less and dark, and It was one such evening that I saw her – a twenty something girl waiting for someone – she had an infectious laughter which even in its absent-minded occurrence could not be ignored. She was standing at the bus stop right across the temporary sky walk meant for workers to cross from one side to the other. In a few minutes a formidable looking man came by on a motorcycle and she left with him. She was carefully dressed, obviously well mannered and deeply concerned about the world around her. I would often see her hugging a beggar's child, talking to street vendors, thanking traffic police, helping an accident victim or narrating tales to school children who would wait at the bus stop in the evenings. She was so full of life and he was an anti-thesis of her to say the least. I took an instant dislike for him. I would see them often on their casual evening outings, mindless ramblings and bitter disagreements and every time I saw them together I would wonder why a girl like her would want to be seen with a guy like him. Late one night I saw her waiting at the bus stop at an unusual hour, she was visibly tense and kept pacing constantly checking her phone. He finally arrived and took her by arm literally dragging her to the dhaba nearby. "This has to be sorted out today, and I am not taking no for an answer" he said in a gruff voice that came naturally to him "are you going to tell me whom to meet and where to go all my life?" she responded " we both know how you fare with people and places, in any case your definitions of relationships and your choices of profession are not suitable to the rules of marriage" he said menacingly "rules of marriage? Aren't we supposed to make our own rules?" she argued "irrespective of who forms the rules, you will not talk to him again, and you will refuse the off-shore project tomorrow itself" he said. The visibly confused waiter served them their usual and slipped into invisibility. She pleaded " this is my career, I have worked really hard to reach this far and this opportunity is a big one and why is he of any concern to you, he is just a colleague and it is merely a coincidence that we happen to be on the same team that is scheduled to go to Tokyo!" "Just a colleague...? Why should he call you even after you’ve left work? Why is it that you are always seen next to him at lunch? Why is he a part of every occasion your family celebrates? Is this some new kind of definition you guys have come up with for the word colleague?" he was almost yelling at this point. She quickly signalled the waiter for the bill but the waiter brought the bill and placed it next to him as was the norm. She cringed as he reached for his wallet to pay, "don't foot my bill!" she said and placed the money in the bill folder and started walking, notwithstanding the torrential rain that lashed. He followed her still yelling "paying your own bills doesn't make you a man!" she stopped briefly, looked him in the eye and said “I don’t want to be a man!” she continued walking, he followed her until they reached the bus stop, he held her right wrist and kept hurling insults at her " How can you be so ungrateful? You were molested and despite your loss of chastity, I accepted you and now you behave like a wayward slut?!" he said, "Chastity? Slut? Do you hear yourself?” “Oh! I very well do” he responded not letting her complete her statement. “You have conveniently forgotten how generous I have been in this relationship and now you want things to go your own way, I have always allowed you to work in your place of choice, but this is unacceptable” “Allowed me to work? Where is this coming from? You know what, you don't have to do me any more favours" she said. Her defiance had gone too far for him, he held her by the throat and almost lifted her frail body with his hold, she struggled and cried but nobody had the time to stop by or intervene… he suddenly let go, slapped her across her cheek and waved his finger at her as if a threat, she simply removed the ring from her finger and placed it in his hand, picked up her bag and walked away.

I suddenly felt my body move, the blasting for the tunnel work had started, and I was moved from my perch to an adjacent space. It was strange, all these days I had waited to be moved off the place I was stationed and now when that was happening I wanted to stay and see what happened of her, of him, of them... but I suppose every beginning need not have an end.

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Juries Bharat Award - 2018

The winning entry "Metro meet depart"  by Saranya Francis is a lovely and imaginative story. Making an inanimate subject (a train) animate, and giving it voice, enabled the writer to observe street scenes on the sidelines. She gives the subject feelings and thoughts that  a  couple down on the street is unaware of. Taut and at the same time eloquent  language. An intelligent study pushing the reader forward to know what happen next. All ending with wise words of the author..I wish Saranya much success in writing and it was a delight to read and judge this story.

Margaret Gudkov, United States

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The theme of Women's Day 2018,  as per UNO is "Press for Progress. "

The Award winning story "Metro Meet Depart" resonates the theme powerfully where the protagonist pushes for carving a space of her own braving odds. The narrative strategies also take a deviance from the conventional, the metro train with an observant eye on the life that flows by, whether in fragments or in desperate efforts to    build in a progress that becomes synonymous with devastation. 

The metro train perched on a new metal bridge telling   a story.. In theme and style "Metro Meet" excels and forms a class by itself…

 Prof. Molly Joseph, Kerala, India

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The story ‘Metro Meet Depart’ serves as a best example on how doubts and possessiveness can ruin a relationship. Lack of compassion and trust, over dominance of the one gender over the other, with a least care to give the necessary personal freedom in a relationship and finally ending in a break up is well structured and plotted in the story. Needless to say, such kind of breakups has become a common thing especially, in our busy metro kind of life. 

Yes, our roads, streets, trains or even the walls can narrate many fresh tales from its ever growing pages. All we have to do is to wear the aura of an author, be that metro train, road or the wall and scribble a fresh tale from its pages. This is what Saranya has framed for us here...it is simple, catching and can create clear impact on the readers.

Gopakumar Radhakrishnan

Founder Bharat Award  for Literature