All of you know I'm a show-off. After all, my 'Moments of Pride' button on the blog is so filled to the brim with self- congratulatory posts (Me! Me! Me!) that I had to convert it into a drop-down menu linking to three separate pages (Me! Me! Me!, More Me! Me! Me! and Best of Me! Me! Me!)!
Anyway, I know I make a huge hue and cry over every short-story that gets published in print or media form. I get a lot of 'anything you write gets published' comments too.
That's flattering to hear... it's also false. This is something I think every person who is scared of entering their stories/poems in contests (for fear of rejection) should hear frankly.
For every story that somehow sneaks past the editor's eyes and makes it into print, I do get thrice as many rejection letters from contests and publishers, literally from across the globe. (Yes, I am an international reject.) For those of you who are wondering, most of the rejection letters are very polite. I presume the editors are forced by their upbringing to not insult me and my heritage for the kind of written horse-manure I send them. But the rejection letter that I got recently is the one which inspired me to write this post.
The contest was for an international magazine with a specific themed issue. I had sent my entry and was smoking a Cuban cigar and sipping wine while in my silk bathrobe as I waited for them to send me the obvious "You are too good. We are blessed to have your story in our magazine. Can we change our magazine to "Who da Man? Roshan da Man!" All hail Roshan's story!" letter.
So imagine my shock when I got the rejection slip instead. What absurdity? Me? Rejected? Blasphemy! The editor was kind enough to inform me that I had actually made the final round of selections. But it was her next sentence that really hit me (and my ego) for a googly:
"Ultimately what got the story rejected was the inconsistency of the verb tense... In places you switched from present to perfect in the same paragraph, and so we had to reject the story..."
Someone needed to remind me that winning a contest doesn't make me better in English. More crucially, I needed someone to remind me that I REALLY DO NOT REMEMBER the basics of English grammar.
I did immediately go online and read up on the different kinds of English tenses again. And I did go through the present stories I am writing and give them a good re-upholstery ensuring they have at least some semblance of decent grammar.
The point I want to make is - don't be disheartened if your best story didn't get selected in a contest. It just means that the judges found one that was better than yours. (or in my case, it just means that the judges were bribed by 'em cheatin' smily scumbag winners!) See if you can find out what went wrong or where you can improve that story or the next one you try. Have faith in your abilities, take a chance and keep on entering contests. Because the joy of seeing your name in print will be something you can cherish for a lifetime.
I keep expecting to see my old English teacher at the doorway and have my ears tweaked by her as she informs me that I have dishonoured all her years of hard work and so she's changing my grade in third standard to FAIL. Thus, any degrees I may have attained after that (minor things like MBBS and MD) are all void and from tomorrow, I have to report back to school with my tiffin box and water bottle.
Sigh. I have weird nightmares.
On a lighter note (after all this seriousness, you see), if you want to know how I initially wanted to react while reading the rejection letter, I would like to redirect you to one of Malayalam cinema's more iconic moments. For the non-Mallus in the crowd, let me give you some context on what you are about to see before the 'English begins':
The two key characters here are the driver Mohanlal (white lungi man) and his master, the more affluent NRI from America, Srinivasan (red). To secretly observe a girl he wants to marry, Srinivasan forces his driver to switch places with him when they go to see the girl. That plan goes spectacularly awry when the driver falls in love with the girl and convinces everyone he is indeed the coveted NRI that the girl's parents are seeking. To prove his identity, Srinivasan tries to show that Mohanlal does not even know the basics of English grammar (and American geography). Poor guy had no idea what was coming.
P.S. For those who are not afraid of admitting that, like me, they don't remember the difference between present progressive and past perfect progressive tenses, this is the page I read. Also, if you see my English teacher hunting for me, tell her I'm out of station. That I'm in Washington DC. Or Miami beach.
God knows why I thought of those places just now.