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The Prize

It was a singing contest. The last letter of the first person's song would need to be the first letter of the next person's song. "Antakshari", in Hindi and some other Indian languages. If you couldn't think of a song when your turn came, you were out of the game. This process of musical elimination continued and finally, only the winner remained.

My mother went to periodic gatherings at a ladies’ club when I was a young girl. Games such as this, or cooking contests, were played for prizes. A casserole dish. A vase. A basket. She was always keen to win a prize.

She often came home with a prize, and would beam with childlike delight. She would laugh and recount what had transpired, leading to her winning the prize. What this person had said admiringly. What that person had said.

One day, she came home deeply disappointed. She had sung a song in Bengali, not her first language. Someone, the daughter of one of the ladies (all of whom were Bengali), challenged her choice. That was not how the song started, the girl insisted, and her confidence prevailed. My mother was eliminated. She knew she was right but wasn't able to show that until after the event, much later. And the prize had already been given to someone else.

I still remember how crushed she was at the unfairness of it, of being deprived of her prize. And how touched and saddened I was to see how much it meant to her to win a prize at her ladies’ club.


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