Coverpage of 'Everything Changes'.
"You are right," said the husband to his wife, "but all the same, keep your mouth shut," goes a famous Frisian proverb. This silence is unfortunately adopted unquestioningly by every Indian woman, too, in her daily life — to preserve the honour of the family. It takes a toll. There are other silences, too. While maligning a woman as unchaste not only incorrectly but even absurdly goes unremarked upon in our surroundings, talking about the act at issue or asking her if she had an orgasm during intercourse with her husband is considered shameful.
The paranoia of being judged without their knowledge and the trauma of being gaslit as also the pain of being labelled a spinster thus haunt several women, right from their adolescent years.
Until one day, the thrall breaks. A woman speaks up, portraying her naked self and the encounters of her body with no qualms. Yes, now she can be cleaved, shred and ripped apart by the ravenous male gaze, but so what? In her memoir, Everything Changes, Sreemoyee Piu Kundu, who has been a lifestyle journalist with the best Indian media houses, employs a poetic monologue to bust the prison of her memories where she had been held hostage for long.
Adopting an unconventional stance, the author discusses the impact of the sudden suicide by her father — a patient of schizophrenia — when she was only four years old. The looming shadow of his death and the lack of closure wreaked havoc in her own journey towards self-love. But scrutinising her merely as a fatherless daughter wouldn’t do justice to her statement wins. Patriarchal expectations did cast their weight on her soul and her life.
Born on December 14, 1977, in a privileged Bengali home, the author attempts to understand her gnawing need for validation from her maternal grandmother — a powerful matriarch. The author’s mother herself is shown as a meek figure, suffering silently after her husband’s death, just like the many widows who lack the agency to live with dignity. Until one day, in her late 40s, she chooses to wed again, this time a man from South India. The barriers to this union bring out class and regional jealousies extant in Bengali society.
Carefully unravelling the entangled lives of her family members in an effort to piece together her childhood memories, the author speaks about the absence of sex education and trauma counselling in schools as well as the practices of bullying and body-shaming among teenagers. Having been emotionally blackmailed by her boyfriend while still a teenager, she identifies Darr, the 1993 Shah Rukh Khan starrer that romanticised sociopathic behaviour, as the kitsch that perpetuates those stereotypes. Her own experiences with PCOD and
endometriosis also cast light on the shame and wounding that female bodies and their sexualities undergo, often along a companionless and abandoned road.
The book recalls the nostalgic world of journalism before the advent of Internet plus the trepidation of being a female reporter, sometimes working at the beck and call of lusty bosses. It showcases the emerging concept of self-marriage as a revolt against the patriarchal heteronormative functioning of society. It is a cathartic experience for the reader, as well, and perhaps endows them with the confidence to navigate the trauma of their own lives, but a more nuanced and fetching end to the book would have been welcome.
As Roland Barthes said, the "death of an author" leads to the "birth of the reader". This book, too, can, therefore, be dissected and judged for being honest to the extent of artlessness.
However, nothing can hide the sincere ring of its words, nor dim the vocal and effusive energy of the outpouring.
By Sreemoyee Piu Kundu
pp. 256, Rs 499