She Writes Story Contest winner: Chitralekha

Chitralekha is one of twelve winners of the MSN-Random House She Writes a Story Contest', as chosen by our judges. Her story 'Conundrum' features in the 'She Writes: A collection of Short Stories' published by Random House India and available at all leading bookstores.



Chitralekha was born and raised in South Mumbai. She has lived in Jamshedpur, Hong Kong, Singapore, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York and wandered the rest of the globe observing cultures. She is presently parked in New Delhi, trying to crystallize the lessons of a nomadic life.

Read an extract from Chitralekha's story 'Conundrum'

  • Shanta Kamble and Pramila Dhoifude had been friends for years. They were both widows, nearly the same age, and neighbours in Harish Chandra Chawl, near Dadar, in Mumbai.

  • The chawl had been built in the 1950s in an area adjoining the National Textile Mill. Most of the tenants had worked in the mill before it shut down in the early '80s, following an unsuccessful strike by a prominent trade union leader. Some residents had purchased their rooms against 'pagdi' from the original allottees, and had nothing to do with the mill. The two women belonged to the second category, which gave them something in common.

  • Shanta Kamble was fifty-five-years-old. Her late husband had worked in the Port Trust and left her with a small pension after his demise. She lived with her unmarried son, daughter, and nephew. The nephew, Vishwas, had lived with them since he was twelve.

  • Shanta's son worked as an assistant in a computer firm which provided technical support for home computer owners.

  • She had just arranged his marriage to a girl who worked as a telephone operator in an export company.

  • Shantabai's daughter Madhuri taught in a coaching class. She was dark skinned, with acne scars all over her face; a fact reflected in her mother's oft-stated inability in arranging her marriage.

  • The nephew was economically the weakest, and worked as a peon in the nearby municipal school. He had not studied beyond the 8th standard. He was a handsome fellow, with a jaunty air; the only son of Shanta's sister who was married to an unemployed drunkard. The aunt was frequently praised for her selflessness in taking him in since the sister could not fend for her son. It was acknowledged within the family that all efforts must be made to prevent the nephew from taking after his father.

  • On occasion, when the family visited Vishwas' mother in their village, they left a spare key with Pramila Dhoifude. She would clean the house for them while they were away and bring a plastic pouch of milk on the day of their arrival.

In her own words: Chitralekha

  • Have you always been a writer? What made you start writing?

    This is my first attempt at fiction.

  • What inspired you to enter She Writes?

    The categories were so intriguing. I was spurred to put in my two bits' worth.

  • Why did you choose the category you did?

    I have been a Woman in the City all my life. There are many experiences women can have in a city, some common to all cities, some unique to a particular city, all worth telling. I'm glad MSN/Random House added the condition of including a quote, it added a bit of discipline to the project. Otherwise I would have gone into orbit!

  • Do you have a writing routine - e.g. do you have favourite places to write/favourite times of day/do you write longhand or on a computer?

    This is the first time I have written fiction for publication. I wrote it on my laptop in my favourite chair...I hope this process works in future!

  • Who is your favourite author?

    I have a long list of them. The world is full of exceptional writers, living and dead. It is a pleasure to think a new "favourite" could be around the next page.

  • Which book has inspired you the most?

    "Ramakrishna - A Phenomenon" by Christopher Isherwood. Bengalis are steeped in the traditions of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda. It was fascinating to explore a western viewpoint, especially by someone like Isherwood, who is not associated with religiosity. It was like a mirror held up to the self you think you know but don't.

  • Which key piece of advice would you give to any other budding writer?

    Writing is like giving birth, it is in the hands of a higher power. Let the process take you over.

meet the winners