In a model case scenario, there should be no reason to have a separate category of women’s fiction other than to amplify their voices by bringing them to the fore. The proof is in the pudding, and it is pointless to deconstruct the creative process that led to its making, whether in terms of women’s history, sex difference or prevailing circumstance pertaining to gender. Indeed, diversity is the flavour and forte of The Punch Magazine’s Anthology of New Writing: Select Short Stories by Women Writers whose call for submissions received an overwhelming response from around the world, per Shireen Quadri, its editor, and which features the efforts of 18 distinguished women writers.
The stories range in mood from joyous (Camilla Chester, “Terms and Conditions”), cheerful (Meher Pestonji, “Ghost”) and breezy (Anjali Doney, “Pandemonium”), through nostalgic (Anila S.K., “A Tale of Disconnect”), grim and harrowing (Vineetha Mokkil, “Sunday, Bloody Sunday”) to dark, bordering on the macabre (Latha Anantharaman, “The Very Narrow House”). Their form varies from the autofictional personal essay (“Olya’s Kitchen” by Helen Harris) to studies on the human condition (Rinita Banerjee, “The Dance of the Happy Muse”) and meditations on the distress of a particular demographic (Meena Menon’s “The Closed Cinema” describes the persecution of a Kashmiri man while refugees crossing the sea by boat forms the subject of Vrinda Baliga’s “The Crossing”). A few (Chester, “T&C”; Mokkil, “Sunday”) regale us with plot twists and imaginative storylines.
Perhaps the most enjoyable of the lot is “Terms and Conditions”, a modern fairytale of an office drone and to-be crone’s childhood dreams all coming true on her birthday. While this evokes feelings relatable for very many of us, the spunky babushka of “Olya’s kitchen” cooking up her borscht and stacks of pel’meni brings with her the comforts of maternal love combined with a whiff of the exotic. While the writers of these two tales are of foreign origin, the story that is most authentically Indian in style of narration, content and sensibility is possibly “The Very Narrow House”. It is the story of that one family in the neighbourhood that keeps to itself, a family with a secret, and its strength is that it manages to do so much with so little, even leaving the reader with an ending that is haunting.
In a recent interview, the writer, Indira Chandrasekhar, while discussing the merits of the short story as a literary form, averred that some stories stay with you. Isn’t it great that the same can be said of “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” by Vineetha Mokkil, which is at its essence an unmasking of the patriarchal Indian family but deftly hooks the reader and takes them on a trajectory of events and emotions leading up to its chilling denouement? All the same, with its stark realism and evocative language, Rochelle Potkar’s story of a Mumbai washerwoman grieving the loss of a brother who was a rapist, “Honour”, surpasses every other contender in this collection of works in quality and is the pick of the compilation.
Recommended reading for those who want to pick a bone with this reader or simply love a good story.
The Punch Magazine: Anthology of New Writing
Edited by Shireen Quadri
pp. 191, Rs.395...