I have a special affinity for short stories, and especially, ones with female protagonists. Here was an entire collection! The previous such book I had read was Madhulika Liddle’s Woman To Woman (and, interestingly, the friend who had recommended it to me is a part of this collection too.)
What’s intriguing about this collection is that it is the outcome of writing workshops conducted by Kiranjeet Chaturvedi, founder of a writing support group ‘Write and Beyond’. I had previously read the work of some of the contributors in this anthology and so, I was particularly looking forward to reading this book.
The stories, though connected thematically, are quite varied in the emotions they convey and the messages they impart. Some of them are abstract and open-ended, and while they do offer a slice of life, all of the stories leave the reader with a lingering after-thought. That, for me, is the USP of this book.
In an anthology, it is expected and understandable for some of the stories to remain in the reader’s mind longer than others, but what this book surprisingly manages to do is ensure each story carries on its own weight, making a distinct impression on the reader’s mind in some way or the other. Some of the stories inevitably (of course!) left a more lasting impact than others.
While I genuinely liked all the stories, I connected more strongly with a few – based on my own personal beliefs and experiences.
Anjali Gurmukhani Sharma’s For the Love of Likes is apt as the first story in the collection and sets the reader up for the rest of the book. This story reminded me of how shackled we are to the chains of technology. (Even the notes for this review were typed on the phone instead of noting it by hand like we would have done in a technology-free world.) We’ve seen enough images and satirical cartoons that mock the excessive use of social media and yet we ignore them in favour of the benefits and conveniences.
The pressure to always be online, use the social media channels effectively, and further your virtual image is immense. Not just organizations, but for individuals too, maintaining a favourable social media image has become a necessary evil in today’s internet-driven world.
Sharma’s writing manages to ensure that while one does appreciate the convenience and closeness that the advent of social media has brought into our lives, they also take cognizance of its damaging impact on the quality of life and relationships – especially if used in excess.
The protagonist Ramola’s inability to disconnect from her phone is sure to resonate with most of us but it will also remind us an important lesson – something that’s delivered powerfully through her son Vihaan’s emotional outburst.
My second favourite story from the collection is Kasturi Patra’s Between Bookends.
That a world truly does come alive between the pages of a book is something I’ve always believed. Kasturi Patra brings alive many.
The story has a certain charm about it, which pulls the reader in as if they’re standing right there and watching the scene unfold.
Watching raindrops pattering on the window while old Hindi music plays in the background, rediscovering old books while cleaning old bookshelves, and sorting through mounds of books at second-hand books markets just to grab that one gem you’ve been wanting to read, are all faded memories that come alive through Kasturi’s words.
What was also really special for me was how Patra narrates the deep connections bibliophiles can make on the basis of a shared love for reading.
Major chunks of the story were extremely personal and relatable – I felt as if the protagonist in the story was me.
Reading is a childhood love. Right from the days of Champak and Tinkle to Secret Seven and Nancy Drew, I’d find a certain joy in discovering and exploring alternate worlds through the author’s eyes. I would often get reprimanded by my mother for letting the food in front of me get cold. Engrossed in the pages of a book, I’d forget to even eat.
During middle and high school, I had a bunch of friends who loved reading too. We participated in book discussions and enjoyed exchanging books and recommendations with each other.
This was something I sorely missed in college and at work. I didn’t meet enough people who enjoyed reading as much as I did. Life also got in the way, and my relationship with books got strained. When I finally quit my job and got back to reading and writing, I felt like a whole new world had opened up.
What it means to be doing the one thing I love most and the many friends I have made as a result of this shared love for reading and writing is something that I can only expect a book lover to understand.
Except that, Kasturi’s words gave me the comfort that I need not even explain.
Seeta’s Choice by Megha Consul is another story that leaves a strong impact.
It’s a life of difficulties and challenges for the LGBTQ+ community, and the story does aim to showcase that, but it goes far beyond than just chronicling the stigma and social ostracization they face. It makes one more empathetic towards their struggles.
While I’m all for LGBTQ rights (and I don’t say this with pride – observing a basic tenet of humanity isn’t something to be applauded for, exactly as treating women with respect and dignity is a no-brainer), I haven’t pro-actively spoken up for them either.
This story made me reflect on how I’ve always spoken for equality between men and women. It exposed my limited understanding of gender and feminism. And that, my slow, albeit deliberate, efforts at reading more about all aspects of gender equality are still woefully inadequate.
While acknowledging this section of society as ‘normal’ is the first step in the fight to accord them the respect they deserve, it surely isn’t enough. We need more voices to support the movement, and not just those directly part of the LGBTQ community. Instead, it has got to be more of us cis-het people speaking out for them.
Manmeet Narang’s The Other Half, told through the eyes of a male protagonist, is another searing commentary on the widespread apathy towards women in a highly patriarchal society.
This story brilliantly drives home the message of balance and equality, especially in a marriage, through the story of a damaged table. It is layered, emotional, and thought-provoking.
What does it take for us to ignore something that desperately needs attention only to realize much later that we should have been more alert earlier? Why do we choose to keep quiet despite witnessing gross injustice? The poignancy of the haunting memories and the regrets that remind us of what we could have done better is beautifully expressed.
On a deeper level, it seemed to me to be a brilliant way to expose the glaring disbalance between the two halves of society – men and women (broadly classified – the transgender community being included as either men and women, based on the assumption of their chosen gender – as thanks to the story ‘Seeta’s Choice’, I am now more conscious of not implying only ‘men and women’ for fear of excluding the other genders.)
While the writing of each story is undoubtedly brilliant, I did feel a few stories could have been better developed. Some were a tad predictable, and the endings for others seemed contrived. Nevertheless, I still managed to enjoy reading them because of the beautiful writing, strong emotional connect, and the relatability factor.
Stories that make one question their own behaviour or raises questions that push the readers to demand or create a better world are, in my opinion, stories of merit. Escape Velocity is a book replete with such examples.
Overall, this was a remarkable effort and I would look forward to reading more from all of these writers.
Have you read the book? Which is your favourite short story collection? Share your thoughts and feedback via the comment box below.