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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 April 2019

You say ‘goodbye’ and I say ‘hello’

In a way, writing competitions are a great platform to bring forth what’s going on in young people's minds, and take the discussion forward to achieve happier ends.

The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature seems to have been a massive success this year. I’m sorry to have missed it, having been away at uni. I heard some pretty cool people made an appearance, including Christina Lamb, Alexander McNabb and Tim Rice. It’s frustrating to have thrilling events going on so close to home while you are ensconced in a grey, miserable land far away.

I’d actually forgotten I’d submitted an entry for the Oxford University Press short-story competition, where participants had to write a story on the theme “Between Hello and Goodbye”. This was done online last summer; the results have only come out now. It was a pleasant surprise to get an email from the Lit Fest organisers inviting me to a prize ceremony, as my entry placed second in the 18+ category. In retrospect, my story is awfully contrived and almost comically depressing. Anything you write sounds much worse when you rediscover it after a time gap, and all that can be done is to bang your head on the table and wonder “What on earth was I thinking?”

Anyway, the 12 winning entries were published in a book, which I am currently reading. The compilation is brilliant, the judges’ comments bang-on, and it was all very exciting to stumble across two stories written by students from Dubai College, my old school. I heard my amazing former English teacher, Mr Donovan, was at the prize ceremony, which made me quite nostalgic.

What strikes you immediately, though, is that the entries get sadder and sadder as one progresses through the age group categories – and the writers get older. My hands-down favourite author in the book is the seven-year-old Daniel Wilson, whose writing style makes me think of Tolkien’s The Hobbit and radiates a joy and warmth reminiscent of Beatrix Potter. His entry is about a penguin called Stringer hatching an egg, then finally saying goodbye to the egg and hello to his baby penguin.

Death and despair are the main themes in the other stories and your soul is utterly destroyed and weeping by the time you get to the 18+ category. Here, the winning entry, by Jerusha Sequeira, was about a lady forced into prostitution who eventually commits suicide. Mine was about a girl who gets raped, kills her rapist, then commits suicide. I imagine I was in a particularly vindictive mood that evening. Third prize went to a tale by Yousuf Essa Al Ghurair about a girl contemplating suicide.

The stories were movingly vivid, but what worries me is that all the college students, who are at a relatively happy-go-lucky age, felt the need to discuss suicide. I know I wrote the story in the backdrop of the Delhi gang-rape case, but I hadn’t expected so many submissions to involve death. In a way, competitions such as these are a great platform to bring forth what’s going on in our minds and take the discussion forward to achieve happier ends. Perhaps we need to take a lesson in optimism from little Daniel Wilson’s story: “So, maybe every time we say ‘Goodbye’, it means saying ‘Hello’ to something new and even more wonderful and exciting!”

The writer is an 18-year-old student at Cambridge who grew up in Dubai

Updated: March 22, 2014 04:00 AM

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