Lost for words

Lost for words

I had drawn an

Memories of past events sink to the bottom of our minds like drowned jasmine. But, sometimes, they have a way of suddenly surfacing with a rotten smell. One of my memories concerns a word-building competition in which I had participated during my college years.

Word building was a popular literary game played with minimum paraphernalia – all you needed were a heap of small cardboard pieces with an alphabet written on each piece, and a napkin to cover the heap. It was a basic home-grown version of the modern Scrabble.

The year that I competed, after several rounds of elimination, two of us remained to play out the last prize winning round. The final game had been arran-ged in a room in the Students’ Union Building, located in a corner across the street from the main red-brick college.

My opponent was my senior in the undergraduate course, and was also good in languages. In the room that day, besides the two of us, there were only some Student Union office-bearers who were conducting the proceedings along with a few of their hangers-on. Strict silence had to be maintained during the game.

We began to play. One started getting the better of the other in quick succession and we both progressed neck-to-neck. As the closing-time for the game was nearly upon us, we found that we had both formed an equal number of words! One of us had to produce that crucial extra word quickly to break the tie! Hoping and praying that I could form that final word during my turn, I drew out one piece from under the napkin.

I had drawn an “X”! No go! It was my opponent’s turn. She drew an “A”. She smugly picked up some other pieces lying on the napkin and arranged that fateful last word –“AFIX”! I could not believe my eyes! Just at the nick of that moment, the referee belonging to the Student Union rang the bell sharply and announced that the game-time was over and my opponent was the winner!

I could not believe my ears! “AFIX” – the spelling was wrong and I knew it! But I was tongue-tied and sat there transfixed. In my confused state of shock and surprise, I did not utter a word. No one else had spoken. The moment passed. Everyone got up and left the room hurriedly. I came home and double-checked the word in the dictionary, Yes, it was “AFFIX” and not “AFIX”. I knew it. But I had failed to speak up and my opponent had left with the first prize.

The gilt-silver cup which was my seco-nd prize sat in the cupboard of our home amidst the dumb Navaratri festival dolls and taunted me no end until I finally got rid of it. At times, though, a white blur floats up in my mind disturbingly. Then, I wonder whose the greater failure was that day – my opponent’s, for her pyrrhic victory with her misspelt word; or mine, with my stupid defeat for want of a word!
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