Stories with a Punch

A bunch of women writers explore unrequited love and dystopian marriages in this anthology

Published: 06th March 2022 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 05th March 2022 05:17 PM   |  A+A-

There is a tantalising quality to super-short stories, the form holding irresistible appeal for readers while posing a challenge to the writer—in balancing brevity with creativity. The Punch Magazine’s Anthology of New Writing: Select Short Stories by Women Writers scores very high on all scales.

One of the first things that lingers in the mind after reading this book is the sheer range of themes tackled. From the bizarre, esoteric, piquant, perky, melancholic to the angst-ridden and plain scary, the stories evoke a gamut of emotions. Thus, we have a cloaked-in-intense-solitude protagonist in Ameta Bal’s ‘Static A.D’, soliloquising to a point where things start teetering on the edge of sanity, threatening to pull the reader in as well. In ‘A Tale of Disconnect’, author Anila SK walks us into a district court in Colombo while doing a neat flip between the past and the present to relive a childhood filled with stammering, lisping and strong bonds of friendship; the eventual pathos is portrayed with astonishing stoicism. The story ‘Pandemonium’, an easy-breezy delightful romance set in the college campus of a Cochin college, evokes nostalgia for the 70s by its mention of ABBA and bell-bottoms, and Anjali Doney tackles adolescent crushes and girl-bonding with youthful effervescence.

The quality of prose could sometimes eclipse all other aspects of a short story and one finds this happening with Rinita Banerjee’s ‘The Dance of the Happy Muse’. She leaves the reader intrigued by the real-life little ballerina who inspired a famous wax sculpture. Rochelle Patkar’s competent pen takes us down the slippery pathways of Mahalaxmi’s (in) famous dhobi ghat, the gradual chill in the bones having all to do with the unfurling of events thereafter. Her vivid description of the city is sure to touch a chord with every true-blue Mumbaikar. In the beautifully crafted ‘Marietta’s Song’, Sarah Robertson succeeds in warming the cockles of one’s heart in an incident that happens in a very cold, hostile and impersonal asylum. Nothing very earth-shaking happens in ‘Artichoke’ and yet Tammy Armstrong creates magical imagery with her descriptions of the sights, sounds and smells of Rome, and the quality of light. The overall effect is mesmerising. 

Kashmir, the eternal land of conflict, trauma and nostalgia, is captured in three stories that juxtaposed, create a mosaic, while Meher Pestonji, with her usual chutzpah, weaves a delicious chiller in ‘Ghost’, revolving around a dead man’s dentures, spectacles and one very young prankster. Vrinda Baliga brings alive the cramped and claustrophobic horrors of refugees looking to sail to supposedly brighter destinies in ‘The Crossing’.

There is an understated approach to the writing, an element of unpredictability that adds a strange allure to the stories; the protagonists’ gender is frequently unspecified. The prose oozes attitude and assuredness while displaying dizzying flights of fancy. But the ultimate victory belongs to the editor for bringing this bunch of stories together; the merit of this collection being much more than the sum total of its 18 stories. Editor Shireen Quadri is well-known in the literary circuit, and in selecting this particular spectrum of short fiction, she succeeds in packing a mean punch (pun intended!). The book cover—giant blossoms in primary colours—is a bit of a let-down; edgy graphics and a sober palette may have worked better. Categorising this book as women’s fiction would be doing it a great disservice. In magnitude and texture, it soars above genders.

The Punch Magazine Anthology of New Writing
Edited and Introduced by:
Shireen Quadri
Publisher: Niyogi Books 
Pages: 192
Price: Rs 395


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