This is what happens when you start reading good writing on the web, you forget to link. Belatedly…here are the winners and runners-up from the Outlook-Picador Nonfiction competition. The theme was travel, and did these guys ever.
Dilip D’ Souza: Ride Across the River (winner)
“On the way back, I keep watch out the right window of the Sumo. A large chinar tree between here and Sangrama, they had said, and that was all the description I got. It was only later that it struck me, I don’t even know what a chinar looks like.
In any case, about two-thirds of the way to Sangrama, we pass a large tree. Chinar or not, I have no idea. But it dominates the landscape hereabouts enough that it might be the correct one. And as a coda to my sighting it, as a reminder of a bloody day in 2001, there is a bicycle there, leaning against the tree. For one long instant, I have the feeling that I’ve been transported back to that day. That any second now, as we drive past, the bicycle will explode and send sharp bits of metal slicing into my flesh. As it once did to 38-year-old Major Abhimanyu Sikka, famous in these parts even then.”
Tishani Doshi, Excerpts From The Journal Of A Delusional Widow (Runner up)
“At the top of a hill, in the Chemry monastery, darkness is becoming light. In a large prayer room where the monks sit on benches and meditate, there’s a single shaft of light coming in through the crack in the ceiling. It is a broad shallow room, full of reconciliation. The light falls into it, hits the boy’s face, spreads outward. He wears prayer beads around the neck of his maroon robes, chants like the rest of them.
The boy monk has been up early, I can tell because there’s still sleep in the corners of his eyes. He looks exactly as he did when he first appeared to me after Cyrus Mazda was found at the bottom of the ocean with the body of a naked girl. I want to tell him that all the light in the room is concentrated on his face, something Cyrus told me the morning after our first night together, at breakfast in a roadside restaurant. But it would mean bringing up the city, and Cyrus, and things that never really belonged to me; things I had come to forget about.”
Geralyn Pinto, Re-routing (Runner Up)
“I’ve often wondered what anyone would find if they took a transverse section of my heart. There’ll be, I suspect, tracks of all kinds webbing together—some partially erased like sketches on old tracing paper and some permanently embossed like seals on a legal document. I am many-journeyed and my heart, I know, is an untidy palimpsest.
How long does a journey have to be before it qualifies as one? I ask because I’ve had some that were four feet long, some 25 feet, others that were the length of India, and yet others that, with a slender needle of a silver plane, tacked together great sheets of ocean and continent. The four-foot journey was the longest.”
Ankush Saikia, Spotting Veron (shortlisted)
“It is raining on the morning he leaves Shillong. It has rained for the past three days, alternating between drizzle and downpour. He looks out of the bathroom window as he brushes his teeth–grey skies, rain, pine trees on the far hills, red tin roofs–and feels an indefinable sadness in his heart. He quickly bids farewell to his mother and brother and walks through the rain with his bag to the car where his father waits.
He is dropped off at Police Bazar where a long line of Guwahati-bound Tata Sumos wait for passengers, their engines idling. A swarm of young touts encircle him as he gets down from the car; he allows one of them to lead him to the second Sumo in the line. He clambers into the last row where there is just one person at the moment.”
Samanth Subramanian, In Search of the Razor’s Edge (shortlisted)
“When I was 18, I read W. Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge, and reading that impressive book at that impressionable age is a bit like setting a particularly ferocious cat amongst pigeons with particularly severe hypertension afflictions. Larry Darrell’s peripatetic quest for the Meaning of Life influenced me enormously, but less its spiritual goal than its nomadic nature. I had always been a travel junkie, but at age 18, The Razor’s Edge put the lust back into my wanderlust.
And a very specific species of lust at that. Darrell’s travels were borne of – and set in – the spontaneous spirit of the Jazz Age, when carefree souls like our Larry could pack a couple of toothbrushes, wander the planet at will, and chalk it all up as life experience, to come in handy later when they settled down to that office job midway through their thirties. That was my ideal vision of youth – to hop about the globe, spend months at a place to soak it in, take an odd job that would just enable me to survive and save enough for the next leg, a passage on a steamer to Yokohama. (Why Yokohama? It’s a mystery. I know little about the place except that steamers possibly dock there. But it’s always been Yokohama.)”
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