After making you all wait a little longer than planned, I’m delighted to announce the two joint winners of the Travel Through Words creative writing exercise! We received a total of fifty-five entries, including emailed entries and your comments on the posts- so, no shortage of quality, and no shortage of competition.
In no particular order, the first winner is Indian author, journalist and digital content creator Prerna Shah for her personal recollection inspired by the first Travel Through Words image, the car on the Havana street. I really liked the way Prerna appropriated the image in such a personal way. While inspired by the photo, Prerna’s imagination never appeared constrained by it, using it as a conduit through which to explore her past experiences and travels.
Prerna has previously worked as a journalist for the Times of India and has degrees in communications and creative writing (the latter a MA from Goldsmiths, University of London). In addition to her journalistic work, Prerna is a content creator and brand storyteller, specialising in digital media.
The second joint-winner is Sherly Balzon, for her beautiful prose poem ‘My Search Ends Here’. Sherly is an Indian nurse and writer based in Mullingar, Co Westmeath. Sherly’s poem was clearly inspired by the image, but she appropriated it in an intimately personal way. While personal, the narrated scenes, characters and dialogue seemed natural to the image’s context. The image that inspired Sherly was the sun-blessed abbey in Provance.
But enough from me, here are our two winners!
For me, this image takes me first to my mother’s memories. This was a time when she was newly married, when she could still see the world. She told me of a time when my dad’s colleague, a pediatrician like him, but one who had remained single, had just brought herself a new Padmini Fiat. My father was away on a scholarship in England and this colleague and my mother, who had quickly become friends, took the car and went to the forests of Gir. Like rust gold were the leaves scattered on the ground of the forest, says my mother. She has never forgotten it.
Neither have I. When we moved to England, my husband asked me what kind of car would I like. He laughed when I answered that in India, I thought a car was good if the air conditioning worked and came on to do its work quickly – within seconds of switching it on. I had a Maruti 800, and air conditioning wasn’t its strongest point.
That’s not how you choose a car. Think hard, he said. Think of movies, dive deep into what you really desire, what sets your heart on fire. You must have a dream car.
I thought hard. There was this little car I had once seen. I think my niece had it. But I was confused about its make. There was also a little car that Mr Bean always drove in his movies. I quite liked it. It was so compact, so pretty. It almost felt like you could put it in a matchbox.
You are talking about the Mini Cooper, my husband laughed. As luck would have it - as we had moved to the UK when the date for ordering a new car from the company’s leasing options had just passed - we had to choose from what was already in the pool.
I couldn’t believe it when a beautiful Mini Cooper in electric blue – oh gosh, like it had readied itself for an evening do - came to be ours. It was a sports model, and it had been driven for a little over 12800 kilometres by its previous owner.
I was beside myself with excitement. When my husband and his colleague drove it home, I stood outside with a friend, with a pooja thali in hand, to welcome the little girl home. (A pooja thali is a plate filled with sweets, vermilion, flowers, and such – to be used on auspicious occasions). I lit a lamp, made a little red vermilion dot on its bonnet for good luck, and offered everyone sweets.
We decided to call her Mini. Like my mother, I was newly married. We were just a little over two years into our marriage then and Mini was just what we needed. We took the car everywhere. On our first trip, along with a friend who was visiting from India, we went to Scotland and the Lake District. From Reading, where we lived, it was about a 715 km drive one way.
We fitted my friend into the back of our three-door car, and surprisingly there was still space for three bags and a large picnic bag that contained eatables of every kind – wafers, chivda (a teatime snack made with flattened rice), chakri (a crunchy, spiral savoury item made of lentils and spices), biscuits, khakra (a thinly rolled disc-like snack made of flour and spice), a packet of Bombay mix (a kind of a chivda) … It was also autumn so the Mini had to accommodate our winter coats as well. She was a star. She ran all the way to Scotland, without a whimper or a tear. From there, she took us to one of the most beautiful sights we had ever seen in our lives – the Lake District. It felt like we had been served heaven on a plate. She sliced her way through some of the most tranquil scenes ever, through roads and pathways between the fells, and the farms, and the meadows. She seemed to glide her way through picture-perfect postcard villages. I would watch the world go by from the passenger seat – men sitting leisurely outside a pub, dogs at their feet and sheep grazing determinedly in the fields.
Mini would also take us to the quaint pubs in the region, especially making frequent visits to this one pub at Cockermouth which had tea pots everywhere – about a thousand of them in all shapes and sizes.
I was so happy. I had never desired or loved a car as much as I loved our Mini even though I never drove her. When the lease on the car ended, and she had to go, I stealthily woke up one morning and gave her a kiss. I whispered to her – wherever you go, bring people the kind of happiness that you brought to us. You are so special; I hope you always know.
Then I stood back and looked at her – she was still shiny blue after clocking a good 32,000 kilometres in all the years since her birth.
Go in peace, go in love my dear – I must go back to my sleeping husband now.
I said this to her stealthily because while the husband and I both grew up in India and were well-versed with a similar set of customs and traditions where automobiles were worshipped on a certain day of the year (Dusherra) and considered a part of the family and welcomed home on their first day with garlands and a pooja – he wasn’t accustomed to having conversations with them.
My mother always bade goodbye – to our old refrigerator when it was its time to go, to her mixer-grinder, and the tape recorder too…
She would make a point of thanking them for their service. My grandmother, my mother’s mother would also talk to her inanimate possessions – her rather noisy wall-mounted clock amongst others – as she would to her plants and flowers.
Ever since then, I have wondered if we leave a part of ourselves in the objects we own, the places we travel, the rooms we inhabit…
Perhaps a part of me is still with the Mini and I hope she travels to many hills and pastures, to beaches and villages, to pubs and across motorways – taking her new owners to happy memories and new adventures.
And this car in Cuba? I hope she has lived a rich life and has been loved deeply too.
My Search Ends Here
Under the clear sky roof,
The meadow spreads out like a green carpet.
On either side, stretches the mountain walls,
The sight of a valley,
An abbey in the midst draws me,
For the meditation and peace that I wish long
To delve into,
To live my life thereafter,
My gaze turns up to the huge walls and the tiny windows,
I perceive darkness and solitude behind it,
For a moment, I imagine myself as a nun of the past.
‘A young girl walks in the courtyard,
Four high walls around,
Rosary beads in right hand,
A heavy prayer book in the left,
Disconsolate, tries to obliterate
The memories of her parents,
Siblings and friends, whom she left behind,
She goes upstairs to the room,
In silence and tears,
Approaches the small window,
Sees the blue skies and the green mountains,
Embraces the scent of the meadow,
And listens to the music of the wind,
Against the walls and sighs.’
The next moment, I turn around to look up,
At the cloudless magnificent sky,
I observe the green blue mountains,
Are prettier and mightier,
The meadow reflects the colours of the rainbow,
The sun smiles and its rays crossing my path,
I amble along the waving stalks in freedom,
Listening to the birds and murmur of the bees.
My search for peace and happiness ends here,
In this nature!