Of writings’ gains and losses, of experiences found in places

By Azra Farzana Shuib

This is a note from a person who just lost. To some this write-up might seem like a petty thing. But what I’ll write here comes from the heart, and I have let my fingers be at service as I pour the words in my head out without a second thought. Some of you may agree whilst some may not. Nevertheless, as you read on, whatever opinions come to your head, remember that you have been warned.

Before I went to the competition in Penang, I have been reminded by almost everyone to just go there and have fun. Winning wasn’t really important, it’s the experience that counts. After all, this is the first feature writing competition I have ever joined. That didn’t make winning seem elusive to me. When I went there with my teammate, I thought we’ve had all the reasons to win. Being a realist that I am, I prepared myself, emotionally, for whatever’s going to happen. As I embarked on my journey more than 400 kilometres from my home, I held on to the words of my lecturer spoken in one of the classes this semester:

“I believe my students are the best.”

The journey to University of Science Malaysia

Minutes before I went to Penang, I had a chat with a security guard officer at my mahallah. At first, he just wanted me to help him with changing the keyboards options in his phone, and then we talked about the competition that I’ll be participating in. He was impressed, but he was witty about it.

“So I guess when you write, you can make the trees fall?”

“Usually people who are good in debating would be good in writing. But you straight away become good in writing. I guess you were never a half moon? You were born a full moon?”

Those were the jokes he uttered after learning the fact that I was one of two students who will take part in the competition. As much as I enjoyed his company, I was really impressed with his analogies.

The last time I went to the tropical island was when I was three. The tiring journey became the sweetest thing when I finally reached the Penang Bridge bathed in the generosity of the sun. The big island’s weather was very hot and it bitten every inch of my skin as a welcome.

During the first night, I texted my mum who was performing her umrah. She said she’ll pray for me and that night, seemingly everyone was praying for me. Knowing that I am blessed to get all the prayers, I was calm and I was sure, that whatever happens, and whatever results I will get, it’s been written by Allah and it is what’s best for me. That night, calmness blanketed me.

Anyway, what I love most about Penang is the place is like a kernel for multiculturalism we have in Malaysia. When I savoured the famous Nasi Kandar, I saw all races eating together under a roof, and it was a living testament of how food can unite us all. The buildings in Penang, I can say are well preserved. The historical pages unfold in synchrony with the conserved and stuccoed buildings. It was a good night to spend before the competition we would face the next day.

In USM, my first encounter was a Chinese. From that final year student, I learned the edge-cutting syllabus they have in USM. The students in the School of Communication were graded based on 100% coursework. That day they showcased their works. I read their Berita Kampus, mostly written in Malay, done by the third year students. And final year students have their own magazines, while at the same time would edit the articles in newspapers. The magazines’ topics revolve around herbs, foods, travelling and lifestyle. I was really impressed by the quality. The articles were well written and the layout design was nicely put out.

I guess the downside was when two of the Journalism students I chatted with, known by the names Khairi and Khairul, told me they also have to write a thesis. Arguably, their workload was heavier than that of the Department of Communication have in IIUM. So, a part of me was a little thankful for being in IIUM, honestly. Though, if I were to be brutally honest, the students in USM do win in terms of practical knowledge, and IIUM students have advantage in English language (also in religiosity?). However, that issue is debatable. We should compare and take what is good from other universities to promote healthy competition. Universities are not factories anyway.

The competition, and the loss

Now after the mumble jumble, I have finally reached the point of my write-up here. So, in this competition, I was given around five hours to complete the feature article. Mind you, the feature I wrote was the fastest write-up I have ever made. And, since we have to write about the event itself, it just made everything harder. I mean, I was only there for a few hours and now I got to write an article. Together with my teammate, we walked around the IMPACT 2016 event, interviewed some people, exchanged some ideas, and got back in front of our laptops to write. Both of us usually need days to complete our articles. But, now we got less than five hours after those interviewing and stuff.

Despite hastening, we were quite satisfied by what we wrote. Thoughtfully, I was quite certain that one of us could win, and brought something for our Kulliyyah.

But we didn’t.

Almost all the winners announced were tasks delivered in Malay language. Both of us wrote in English. We didn’t know they would lump everything in one category. We lost to our native language, not that I despise the language that made up my identity, but I could argue that the competition wasn’t fair. I was confused.

But come to think about it, if my feature write-up was that good, I would have surely won regardless the language that I used, right?

And I remembered the prayers made by my parents in Mekah, the prayers made by my lecturers and friends. What could have obstructed these prayers made by the kindest people I know, from being answered?

Nothing, I tell you. I guess I wasn’t ready. Maybe I didn’t come here to win. Perhaps I came for something else.

The first people I told about my loss were my friends. Most of them congratulated me. One of them, being so honest, told me to accept it. To reach this far, she said, was a win in itself. And it was true.

If I didn’t win, I wouldn’t have written this article you’re reading now in the train as I am going back home. As I typed, this has been less than two hours. What made it fast is the fact that I’m pouring this out of my heart, but more than that, I am being authentic. I wrote what I feel, and I expressed it in such a way that you could feel it too. I may have succeeded and I may have not, but I am satisfied and that’s all that count.

Before this, I have never really felt satisfaction in my articles. I do feel like I needed something more, like I needed something out of my comfort zone. And this loss, I’m satisfied with it.

I learned that there’s always room for more, that no matter how good you get in writing, there’s always, always room for improvement. That need of satisfaction is not something bad. I realised that that unsatisfied cravings in writing is what made me move forward. That cravings show that I am really passionate. I will never know what can satisfy it, but what the heck, I’ll write even more that way.

This is the end of my note, my journal of loss. I am four stations away before I reach my hometown. I thank you guys for reading, and I’ll make sure the next time you read my feature, it will get even better than before.***

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