The First Page Challenge 2022—1st place

Congrats to Sandy Kundra Verma for winning the top prize in the First Page Challenge 2022! Here's what our judge (Michelle Barker) had to say:

In first place, Eyes That Gave Up Their Search. This author's writing swept me away. The work begins with an evocative scene and uses a voice I found to be utterly charming. Right away, the characters emerge as intriguing, and the author sets up a conflict that made me wish there'd been a page two.

Bombay, April 1988

Eyes That Gave Up Their Search

That summer they learnt that Dolly Aunty had a love marriage and their world tilted. Barbie dolls fell flat on their faces.

Ummi was teaching Dolly Aunty how to cook mutton curry and the pressure cooker went off too many times. Steam billowed into the living room, spices made her nose run and Meena heard Ummi through the cloud and catarrh, as if her mother’s voice was the voice of God.

"This is what happens in a love marriage. Things don’t match. You can’t cook mutton for him."

"Love marriage?" Meena whispered to Pallavi, whose eyes were also wide. Even Pallavi didn’t know that her parents had had a love marriage.

Marriages were supposed to be arranged, like flowers are arranged and showpieces are arranged in a cabinet, the way forks and knives are arranged next to each other – although life had proved that was often not the case. Ummi and Papa would not look good in any decoration. They could not be arranged in a bouquet.

Meena’s eyes flicked to Ummi but her mother had folded her hands and angled her body away as though she wanted to distance herself from the conversation.

Dolly Aunty told them that she had met Uncle in a bus. That he had left a red rose on her seat. That it took them a month to say hello.

"And then?" Pallavi pestered and now Meena understood why Pallavi was the way she was. Her unbridled optimism, her confidence, her long hair left open so that it danced and skipped and fluttered in the breeze. It all made sense now.

Two roses appeared on Dolly Aunty’s cheeks as though she was not just an aunty, not just Pallavi’s Mummy.

They were nine years old and all those years had been a lie.


Sandy Kundra Verma, winner of the 2022 First Page ChallengeSandy Kundra Verma has worked in advertising and in teaching in Mumbai and in Singapore. Her novel Burnt Toast was published in 2012. Her short fiction has been published in The Barren Magazine and The Bangalore Review; it has won The Michael Holroyd Prize and was shortlisted for the Magic Oxygen Literary prize. She has an MSt in Creative Writing from Cambridge University. The novel she is currently writing has won the BPA Pitch Prize and was a finalist in The Page Turner Awards. From Mumbai, she lives in London with her husband and two teenagers who take up way too much of her time.

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