Book Review: Everything Changed After That: 25 Women, 25 Stories

In September 2020, eShe Magazine conducted a short story contest for women across India. The contest was judged by best selling author Preeti Shenoy, Aruna Joshi, editor of Embassy books and Aekta Kapoor, the editor of eShe Magazine. 25 women from across India with varying backgrounds emerged as the winners. I was so excited to see my name among them. But at that time I didn’t know that this contest is going to be much more rewarding. Everything Changed After That, the anthology of the 25 winning stories turned out to be a stunning book. Not just that, it gave me a rare chance to meet so many talented women writers, and a chance to read them and learn from their stories. So, here’s my review of the 24 other stories in the anthology. This is my Women’s day gift to those wonderful women with whom I share this anthology. The book is available on Amazon

A generic review of the book

Before I go into each story, there are a few things about the book as a whole. As the name of the book suggests, it revolves around the theme ‘a life changing event’. All the stories in this book has done justice to the theme. They have done much more. Most of the stories in this book are women-centric, women from various strata of life. This book is also about bonding between women. In more than a dozen of stories, I could spot women trying to help other women. I think that’s something I want to think about on this women’s day. Women, as a collective group has immense strength to help each other and enrich each other’s lives. I would like to just mention a word about my story in this anthology, ‘The Talking Heron’. This story is a result of an interesting social experiment I did during the lockdown in 2020. I asked my friends on Facebook to anonymously share their life’s most excruciating/interesting experiences. The Talking Heron was born from one such experience, where a person turns to his passion to get over his heart-break and it becomes his vocation. So, I would thank that anonymous friend, who contributed the thread of my short story. Without much ado, let’s dive into each story in this collection.

Skyward Bound – Arti Jain

This is a heart-warming story of an Indian girl who finds herself in a typical arranged marriage set-up. It’s narrated from the first-person POV of the girl. She starts by confessing how her life is like a turnstile door. She says how difficult it’s for her to take any major decision in her life. But contrary to the initial image she gives us about herself, she turns out to be a very observant girl who never misses a wrong signal. Even though she understands what’s going around her in the name of the arrange marriage is demeaning to her, she doesn’t dare speak up. But, an event she witnesses pushes her to come out of her shackles. In the beginning of the story, we see a girl who doesn’t have much agency , a silent spectator, but she emerges as a very strong woman. What I liked about the story is the intelligent protagonist. She is a representative of a majority of Indian women. I wish every Indian woman have the courage that the protagonist has. This story ends at a perfect point, where the reader will be eager to know what the future holds for this girl. I would really love a sequel.

A Seasonal Quiddity – Manisha Sahoo

This is a very interesting story in this collection as a non-human protagonist narrates it. Often, I find it very refreshing to read stories from a non-human perspective. For example, how they observe our daily routines. When there is a non-human narrator, there is a risk of the story becoming forced or artificial, but in this story, Manisha has pulled off a wonderful narrative, so real and entertaining. I really loved how she revealed the story of these two sisters and their mother, layer by layer, and draws us into the plot even without the reader realizing it. I really loved how Manisha has employed multiple points of view quite effectively. The narrative is engaging as well as entertaining. I hope our non-human protagonist finds happiness in his/her new home. Kudos to Manisha for executing such an emotional story, and it did change my perspective about our non-human friends.

The Karma Seed – Nina Krishna Warrier

This story is a sweet depiction of a stubborn kid and how her resolution to save something so close to her comes back and saves her in a very surprising way. Being from Kerala, I really loved the setting of the story. I found the first two paragraphs of the story a bit like a news report, but from the third paragraph, we get into the little protagonist’s world. The innocence and adamancy of the girl are beautifully depicted. I loved how her parents are sweet and strict at the same time. I found the story very nostalgic, as I grew up in Kerala and was a very adamant kid myself. It’s a very soothing story. The reader will be lost in the small world of this little girl. The story ends with a good twist, with an ‘ah’ moment. This story will surely warm the reader’s heart.

Akhila – Preetha Vasan

I love stories that are from a unique point of view. This story is told from the perspective of the protagonist’s sister. The first thing that struck me in the story is the vivid depiction of an average household. The images are so clear that we feel like we are inside their little apartment. Every character in this story is unique in their own way. The mother, elder sister, and younger sister – all have unique personalities. The characters are well-rounded that I felt that I know them personally. The prose is beautiful, dotted with humor. Reading the story, I felt that Dr. Preetha Vasan is a very seasoned writer who has incredible control over her story-telling. The tone of the narration, in a way, matches with the personality of the protagonist – Akhila. I could relate to this story very well as I have a free-spirited sister. I loved the twist in the end and how the family welcomes it. Akhila is indeed a great read.

The Maggi Point – Nasreen Khan

Even the shortest encounters in our life can change our perspective towards life. Even the most common people can give us the essence of life – this is ‘Maggi Point’ in a nutshell. Set in the beautiful mountains, the story takes the reader for a trek. During the trek, we encounter a very wise person. He is not a sage or a learned man, but quite an ordinary person. Reading this story was like sipping hot tea on a cold morning. It flows through the mind of the reader and gives us a warm sensation. What I liked about the story is, the protagonist or the narrator is only a spectator. This is a very useful story-telling technique that I want to use sometime in the future. The narrator doesn’t exactly participate in the events but reports what she sees and how it changes her life. This story also gives the reader a very concrete philosophy. I am sure the readers will remember this story forever for its very powerful message delivered in a very memorable way.

A Flight to Freedom – A V Sridevi

A flight to freedom is a story of friendship, betrayal, and guilt. It’s about the heavy baggage sometimes we carry within ourselves. The protagonist of this story also carries such a weight. A folly in her youth follows her into adulthood, and it pains her. A flight ride changes her life forever and sets her free. The story opens with a promise that something interesting is going to happen. I liked how the author foreshadowed the upcoming events. It helps to grab the reader’s attention from the very beginning. The back story of the protagonist is easy to relate to. I could see myself in her shoes. The twist at the end is very heartwarming. I felt the dialogues could have been a bit more natural. A flight to freedom is a story that hooks the reader to the end. It also shows that whatever happens, it’s difficult to let go of our friends we make during our childhood and teenage.

Navjote Nu Bhonu ( The Navjote Feast) – Sulekha Bajpai

I love stories that depict very ordinary lives in an extraordinary way. Danish Wadia, the protagonist, leads an uneventful, lonely life. He doesn’t have much money, friends, or love in his life. The story starts with the description of the mundane life of Danish but in an extraordinary manner. The prose flows through Danish’s life, and I felt like I know him for a very long time. The images are vivid. Everything changes for Danish when he decides to gatecrash an event. The awkwardness of Danish is hilariously portrayed. Another thing I  love about Danish is, he is always ready to listen to old ladies 🙂 .  Danish meets someone special during the party. Just imagining what this duo will do in the future will make you laugh like anything. It’s a beautifully executed story. The character of Danish so compelling, he deserves much more pages. I will readily buy a novel if Danish is the hero. 

A Promise is a Promise  – Natasha Sharma 

This story has a myriad of emotions, so vividly portrayed. The story starts with a feel-good classroom scene that might take the reader back to their college days. The first portion is dotted with good-natured humor, and the energy of the narrator is contentious. The story suddenly switches gear, and the emotions take a 180-degree turn. The easy-going narrative suddenly becomes gripping and poignant. The emotions are so beautifully conveyed, it leaves an everlasting impression on the reader. Natasha has a gift to portray intense scenes and emotions. The subject is very contemporary, and as a parent, I couldn’t control my tears by the end of the story. It’s not often a story touches me so profoundly. It’s a quite poignant story, told in a fast, and compelling way.

La Bella Revenga – Shalini Mullick 

This story is a crisp narrative of how a shared taxi ride brings together two women who are mysteriously connected through fate. The story starts with a protagonist who doesn’t seem to have much agency, who has been deceived and shattered. She seems to have nothing left in her life. But when life presents her with a chance to redeem herself, she quickly grabs it. I love both the woman characters in this story. They both are intelligent, daring, and quick thinkers. The reader does get a strange sense of satisfaction by the end of the story. Apart from the fact that coincidence plays a significant role in this story, it’s a crisp and neatly narrated story where both the woman characters win. I love it when I read a story where women characters are not damsels in distress and can take their fate into their own hands.

The Car Keys –Noopur Joshi Bapat 

Some incidents in our lives prompt us to make some drastic changes. For the outside world, it might seem ridiculous, but for those who do it, it might be their blanket of security. ‘The car keys’ is a heart-warming story about an Indian household. Everyone can relate to the daily lives of the protagonists. The story depicts an unusual choice a mother makes to protect her son. She has a back story that prompts her to do so. In this story, I immensely enjoyed the rapport between the mother and daughter-in-law. It was refreshing to read a warm relationship as opposed to the stereotyped rivalry that’s often depicted in movies and TV. While I loved the dialogs so much, I felt the narrative could have been a little tighter, especially since the back story of one of the protagonists is somewhat repeated in two places. One great thing about this story is its simplicity, how a simple act by a woman means so much, and it’s an indicator of what an Indian woman does for her family on a daily basis. I totally enjoyed the ending too.

Memories Forgotten – Divya Vartika

This is a very poignant story about a man and a woman trying to run away from a harrowing incident in their life. This story has many little nuggets that show the craft of Divya – how the husband and wife respond and cope with the tragic event, how they rediscover themselves and each other, how songs play an essential part in their lives. It’s a story about healing and second chances. I totally loved the first-person narrative and the indirect way in which pain is described. There are no descriptions of violence or sad lines, but the author has managed to bring out the element of despair very well. Interestingly, this story only has a couple of dialogs, but the main characters are speaking volumes to each other through their silence. I really loved the way this story is put together, the discreet description of the tragedy, and the controlled way of story-telling.

Dream – Sangeeta Das

This is an adorable story in this collection. Set in a beautiful hill-station, this story will give the reader a very refreshing feeling. The story is all about the power of dreams and aspirations. For some people, their ambitions are so clear that they can visualize each and every bit of it. This story also tells us how often children teach us big lessons. I totally loved the characterization of seven/eight-year-old Rohitesh and how he pretends to be more mature and serious than he really is. I could totally relate to it as my toddler daughter sometimes acts like my mom 😊. The narration is crisp, and the dialogs are natural. The imagery and setting are so vivid that the reader will be lost in the beautiful orchards of apple and peach. The story also has a parallel thread, deliberately underplayed, about the frustrated, grown-up protagonist. I hope Rohitesh will help her get a different perspective about life.

An Autumn Leaf – Ruchika Verma

This story is by the youngest author in this group. Her prose has a unique freshness and a surprising maturity. As a parent, I found this story really interesting. Sometimes, I restrict my daughter from many things for the fear that she will get into trouble. It was interesting to read the perspective of a child. Throughout the story, I could see a daughter who loves her parents but at the same time so eager to break free, fly solo. The imagery of the autumn leaf is so beautifully woven into the story. I am sure it will stay in my heart for a long time. The conflicting emotions of the protagonist are nicely portrayed – fear, anticipation, joy, anxiety. I particularly enjoyed the much-controlled depiction of the bargaining scene. While the writer could have added a lot of dialogs, she has shown remarkable economy for words. Ruchika is a promising writer, and I am sure she will go places in her literary journey.

Jalebi – Raina Lopes

This story deals with a grave issue that’s prevalent in Indian society. This is the story of Aisha, an average Indian girl – who is often body-shamed. Under the pretext of love and playing her insecurities, someone coerces her into something she didn’t want to do. The repercussion of that was so grave that it almost drives Aisha to suicide. The story begins with the portrayal of a shattered Aisha, wondering why she should live. This story gives a powerful message against the unreal beauty standards, how often girls are exploited under the pretext of love. In a society that doesn’t understand sexual consent and interprets a girl’s ‘NO’ as a  ‘YES,’ stories like Jalebi raises some crucial points. This story also discusses, how society sees women as the culprit when she is the victim. Another aspect I liked about this story is the portrayal of men. While the antagonist is a man, Aisha also has some strong men by her side, who bring her back to life. While I am not a great fan of epilogues, it was satisfying to know where Aisha finally reached in her life.

The Night Out – Sapna D Singh

This story is about the intricacies of human relationships. The story of Ela, a homemaker, is about how we sometimes lose ourselves attending to the needs of others. For Ela, her entire life has been about her family. Over the years, it takes a toll on her. It only gets worse when she has to be the primary caretaker of her ailing mother-in-law. This story is all about the raw portrayal of emotions. Through her skillful narration, Sapna is able to convey how mentally and physically exhausted Ela is. This story narrates how women are always assumed to be in charge of the house and everything around it. Even in ordinary families, everything from cooking, cleaning, rearing of children, care for elderly parents comes under the responsibility of women, even if there are people to help. In our society, women are seasoned to feel guilty if they deny doing any of these chores. This drudgery that Indian women go through is portrayed vividly in this story. This story is also about a moral dilemma Ela goes through. The physical, mental, and emotional trauma of Ela and her resolve to do the right thing shines through this story.

The Resurrection – Urvashi Tandon

This is a very uplifting story of a woman who carves her own destiny from almost nothing – Sudha had no money, no degree, and not many to support when fate shook up her life. This story is about Sudha’s perseverance. She started from simple, small steps and worked her way to the top of the career she chose – and her choice of career is also interesting. It’s also about how someone turned their passion into a flourishing profession. I loved the positivity of the story. Even though Sudha had experiences that might have made her bitter, she chose to be happy and positive instead. The climax is filled with so much positivity and is quite practical. I loved how the ending was so realistic, even though there was a scope for being dramatic. I am sure this story has the potential to inspire women who find themselves in unfortunate situations. In this story also, it’s another woman who helps Sudha to recognize her potential. That’s a common thread I found in many stories and quite uplifting.

Moondust – Anushree Bose

This is a beautifully narrated story about the relationship between two siblings. As I mentioned earlier, I love stories from a unique point of view. While this story is about Gauri, it’s narrated by her younger sibling. The voice of the narrator is so spot-on. It clearly conveys a myriad of feelings this younger sibling has for Gauri – sometimes it’s admiration, annoyance, envy, or love. Anushree Bose has demonstrated so much craft in portraying all these emotions in a subtle yet effective manner. This story is also about dreams and aspirations – what we are and what we want to become. It’s about someone dreaming of breaking the shackles of their lower-middle-class life and go in search of greener pastures. The character of Gauri is quite intriguing. Just like her younger sibling, we readers don’t understand her completely – I think this aspect was brilliantly portrayed. Even though this story doesn’t have many conversations, it has great momentum, that I read it almost in one breath! I love stories with unpredictable quirky characters. When it’s coupled with brilliant prose, Moondust becomes a delightful experience.

At Home, Finally – Arva Bhavnagarwala

Across the globe, it’s women who suffer most from war, terror, and natural calamities. Arva’s poignant story portrays the journey of Rehana from the time she arrives first time in Bombay. She is all bubbly and full of hopes for this new city, but soon she understands the bitter reality. From an almost-comfortable living in her village, she is suddenly thrown into the midst of harsh life. The story is about how Rehana haphazardly builds a life with her limited resources and how an unfortunate event topples her life. This story represents not only Rehana but the millions of Indian women who spend their lives in poverty and oppression. One thing I particularly liked is the bonding between two women characters in this story. When Rehana is in despair, it’s another woman who gives her company and a little hope. The narration is crisp and fast. I would have loved a little more textured characterization for both the women.

You Are All Mennials!” – Priyamvada Singh

This is a story that tells us how deep misogyny runs in our country. The story starts with the woman protagonist, who in the midst of her busy job trying to cope with her strange husband. Just like many Indian girls, she also had dutifully entered into an arranged marriage. This story is also a reminder of how little the bride and groom know each other in typical Indian marriages. I have many relatives who got married after meeting their would-be spouse for just once. The woman protagonist also didn’t get much time to get to know her fiancé. She believed his gentleman façade and got into the marriage. This story also tells us how it’s always the job of the woman to hold together a marriage that’s falling apart. The stark revelations at the end of the story tell us how the men India grows up privileged and takes it for granted. I liked how life turned out for the protagonist, even though she had to tread marital troubles. I felt the back story of the husband was narrated all at once. Instead, I would have loved sprinkles of it throughout the story. It’s a very compelling story, just like its title.

A Father’s Daughter – Bhargavi Chatterjea Bhattacharyya

In India, we have certain stereotypes about family dynamics. A girl is expected to ‘get married’ and settle in her husband’s house while the son takes care of the parents. This story breaks such stereotypes from the first paragraph. We see the woman protagonist smoking, a habit she had inherited from her father. She is very much aware that she will never become a typical ‘bahu.’ She wants to stay home and take care of her parents. The story is about how she manages through the ill health of her parents, but she is steadfast about her duty as a daughter. I particularly enjoyed the bond between the father and the daughter. My eyes welled up at some places as I kept thinking about my parents, whom I can’t meet very often due to the pandemic. It also talks about how society always places sons above daughters. Even from ancient times, it’s the son who has the right to perform the last rites of the parents. I loved the characterization. Just one thing in the end, how the protagonist was in two minds about the misdiagnosis, I found that single bit a little out of character.

The Allure of Power – Chandrika R Krishnan

This is a very powerful story. The story starts with a very raw and intense portrayal of a young girl’s ordeal. Being the mom of a girl-child, I felt a lump in my throat when I started reading. Chandrika has not tried to dilute the feelings or experiences of this girl, and it really hits hard. It’s almost a coming-of-age story of a young girl who wanted to become a doctor but was thrown into an entirely different life. It’s about how she sacrifices her life for the rest of her family. The story is also about the resilience of this girl, who, irrespective of everything she went through, made a life for herself – even though she might not be 100% happy about it. I found this story very realistic. Each stage in this girl’s life is portrayed with utmost honesty, and it all feels very real – even the unexpected ending. It was a 180-degree turn of what I had expected the end to be. That makes this story a poignant and exciting read. I cannot end the story without praying no girl-child should go through what the protagonist has to suffer.

The Dance – Kala Priyadarshini

Just like its name, this story flows like a graceful dance. The story starts with Ira, a middle-aged woman, getting ready for a get-together. When she wears a stunning yellow dress and looks at the mirror, she knows something is about to change in her life. I particularly liked this story, as it portrays a middle-aged protagonist, as opposed to the young protagonists in other stories. This story talks about ‘things’ that a woman is expected to do, or rather things that a woman shouldn’t do. These restrictions had made Ira make fences around her, gave her a strong sense of what’s appropriate and what’s not. Wearing a stunning dress, laughing out loud, dancing with a stranger – all these terrify Ira, but she does it anyway. Just like many people I have seen in real life, Ira is a strict judge of herself. The story is about whether or how she would let go of her inhibitions and break the fence around her. It’s a beautifully crafted story with an adorable protagonist. The images are so vivid that I can see Ira dancing in the stunning yellow dress.

Peering Through the Mist – Rajitha Menon

Sometimes in life, we find ourselves in a dilemma. Our heart says something but the common logic tells the opposite. Peering through the mist is the story of a young woman who finds herself in a dilemma. She knows that the decision she’s about to take will change her life forever, and she has an intuition that it’s wrong. But, she is in a position where everyone around her, including herself, is trying to tell her otherwise. It’s about a journey she takes and how she comes across someone who offers her a perspective. Starting from the heavy Mumbai traffic, the story takes us to the scenic Lonavala. The story discusses the inequalities in relationships, where one party always assumes a superior air and the other feels inferior and submissive. I liked the story for its setting and the protagonist with a delicate internal conflict.  The story also tells us how our perceptions about others could be totally wrong. 

Be the Flow – Sangeetha Vallat

This story is set in a very interesting place – the parcel office of a railway station. Right from the beginning, the image of a dilapidated parcel office catches the reader’s attention. The everyday life at the parcel office and the intriguing parcels people drop – like piglets and chickens – are vividly portrayed. The author has a total grip on this setting. I particularly liked the nuggets of humor that the author has sprinkled throughout the story. While the story has a light mood, it talks about an important issue in Indian society – bribery. In India, even though there are strict rules against giving and taking bribes, it’s still a norm in many places. The story discusses how deeply bribery runs in public sectors of India, that both the person gives it and receives it considers it quite normal. The protagonist in the story is quite lucky, as a timely intervention helps her from a possible dishonor. I loved the story for its authentic setting, realistic characters, and the light vein of humor running throughout this story.

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