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Unbound #2 – Impressions

The UnBound magazine is a team effort from members of the For Writers, By Authors facebook group. UnBound #2, based on the theme “Strength of a Woman” is available for free download here.

Strength of a Woman

UnBound #2 starts with an interesting Foreward by Utkarsh Patel in which he recounts the legend of Alli, a strong woman ruler who is ultimately ‘tamed’ by the great Arjuna. I had never heard of this tale from the Tamil version of Mahabharata and am quite thankful to Utkarsh for retelling this tale here. Given the way women were treated in our epics, it is perhaps not surprising that women still find it hard to establish their  identity as someone other than a mother, wife, daughter, or sister.

This issue has a good collection of stories and I enjoyed reading them all. I was not so impressed with the poems though; many of them seemed very similar to each other. There are a couple of exceptions though. In any case, here are my impressions of the stories and poems in UnBound #2.

The Stories

For His Own Good by Lata Sony

For His Own Good has an interesting plot. I could especially relate to it because it is based on a true incident in one of my previous workplaces. Lata has captured the dynamics of the incident quite well. The casual attitude with which a grievance cell is hastily set up following a government order and the inevitable gossip that follows any actual harassment incident are both depicted realistically.

What I didn’t like about the story – the protagonist, Ritu, does not seem to do any actual investigation. Pooja’s revelation and the phone call just sort of happen. So I wasn’t really satisfied with the ending.

Goodbyes Are Not Forever by Sujata Rajpal

A story about two friends Suma and Anjali who have been each other’s support for several years and how a bomb blast affects both their lives.

I loved this story. The vivid and evocative description makes it easy to visualize Mumbai’s clogged roads, feel Suma’s worry and impatience as she tries to reach her destination, and later empathize with Anjali when she feels guilty for not having given sufficient time to her friend. The ironic twist at the end (I won’t reveal what it is) was superb.

I couldn’t see anything that I would have liked to be different in the story. Except, stupid fate. I really feel bad for Suma, especially if she was going where/why I think she was going.

Her Name Is Red by Karthik L

A short story about a woman, Chang Quiong, who becomes a victim of power politics in Mao’s reign.

The story line is good. The excesses of the Communist Party, the atmosphere of chaos and distrust that it nurtures by turning friend against friend, the infamous Jiang Qing’s machinations, are all portrayed quite well.

What doesn’t quite work for me is the style in which the story is related. There is a slight overuse of the passive voice and past perfect tense. This robs the story of its inherent drama and makes it impersonal.

Lolo’s Daughter by Galina Trefil

Lolo, a pure Romani man, is upset that his daughter is interested in a white boy and arranges her marriage with a Romani boy though she is only 16. The daughter, unnamed throughout the story, tries to explain that she wants to first study and pursue a career but he doesn’t listen. Frustrated, the daughter runs away with the white boy. The rest of the story is about Lolo’s conflicting feelings about her running away.

The story is beautifully written and I could easily relate with it because of the many similarities with the Indian culture. Even though I disagree with Lolo, I could understand his point of view.

A couple of niggling questions at the end of the story – Is the daughter’s husband the same as the boy she left with? What is the daughter’s name? These questions are not important to the story and perhaps that is why Galina has left them unanswered. In fact, Lolo seems to come to terms with his daughter’s treachery (in his eyes) only when he realizes that he doesn’t even remember the name of the girl he is considering as a wife for his son.

All in all, a superb story.

Shri Rama Raksha by Saikumar Yerubandi

Vaidehi wants to become a police officer. Her otherwise supportive husband, Ram, does not see eye to eye with her on this point because he fears for safety. The story is about how Vaidehi sets about convincing her husband.

It’s a sweet and simple story. Both Ram and Vaidehi are believable and likable characters. Ram though a tad overprotective is not annoyingly so. Vaidehi is intelligent enough to realize that the best way to have your cake and eat it too, without any hard feelings, is to convince everyone that cake is just what the doctor prescribed for you.

If you like layered stories with characters touched with various shades of gray, this story is not for you.

Soft Power Strikes by Lata Sony

The narrator, a project manager, lives away from home and is missing his mother’s cooking. When his mother arranges a match for him, he practically starts drooling over visions of crisp paranthas, cooked to his very precise specifications. His hopes turn to ashes when he discovers that his wife, Kiran, has never before stepped into the kitchen.

It is easy to feel the narrator’s despair when his dreams of exquisite food curdle into a plate of inedible Maggi. Kiran, the new bride valiantly trying to meet her husband’s expectations, is quite lovable.

Another sweet love story that leaves you feeling good about life in general.

The Gulab Jamun by Jean Sparker

Hungry, feverish, and chilled to the bone, Shraddha is craving for the comfort and warmth of a hot gulab jamun, just like her grandmother used to make. Her wish is magically fulfilled when her neighbor Jaya turns up with a box of the desired sweet. Jaya not only calls the doctor just in time but also takes care of her through the night. Was Jaya’s arrival a coincidence or did Shraddha’s vision of Shirdi Sai Baba in her dazed state actually mean something?

What I liked best in this story was the saliva-inducing description of gulab jamuns. You can almost feel their warmth. Shirdi Sai Baba disappears after giving Shraddha a valuable lesson in sharing.

There might have been a deeper meaning hidden in the story, but somehow I didn’t get it. Like Shraddha, I wish saints didn’t talk in riddles.

The Monster in My Dreams by Prachi Percy Sharma

After attending a family wedding, Janice starts having recurring nightmares of a monster. A therapist helps her to trace the root cause of the nightmares to long-buried memories of sexual abuse in her childhood. With the therapist’s help, Janice not only returns to normal life but also confronts her demons.

This is the best story so far in #UnboundMag in terms of writing style. Crisp and to the point. The angst and rage of the protagonist, her frustration with her family is beautifully captured.

Initially, the storyline does not seem particularly original. The first therapy session is a bit filmi with the protagonist thrashing and passing out while relating her nightmare. However, I liked the bold ending. Sometimes, the strength of a woman lies in severing the ties that bind her.

The Three Faces by Kashish Kaur

An Army man’s wife is unable to cope with the news of her husband’s death and has to be hospitalized. She is suddenly released from the hospital after what she senses must have been a longish stint. She feels guilty that she has not been there for her remaining family all this time. Because of her guilt, she doesn’t feel ready to face her family immediately and decides to observe them from a distance.

The story starts off promisingly with a unique concept. Here’s a woman who didn’t have the strength to cope with her situation. A woman who completely goes to pieces, causing her teenage daughter and her aged mother-in-law to put aside their grief and be each other’s support. Does this make her less of a woman? Must a woman always be strong?

Unfortunately, the writer doesn’t continue with this line of thought and instead adds a ‘mystery’ angle, which most readers would be able to unravel long before the story ends.

Tripped by Sutapa Basu

Ipshita, a media professional, has been invited as a guest to a BBC chat show in connection  with an award she recently received for her international travel show. While travelling by tube to the interview venue, she notices that a fellow passenger is constantly staring at her. The man is well-dressed and attractive. Ipshita is at once both attracted and repulsed by the stranger’s attention. But she starts getting worried when the coach nearly empties at a station. Fear mounts as the man comes and sits beside her. He starts saying something and places a hand over her. Thoroughly terrified by now, she rushes our of the tube at the next station. When she finally reaches her destination, she is astounded to see the man again. Is he stalking her?

The story is well-written. The vivid description makes it easy to visualize the scene. Ipshita’s terror as she finds herself in a situation that could turn into any woman’s nightmare is palpable.

Jerry McGuin is supposed to be the renowned host of a BBC chat show. Why didn’t Ipshita recognize him? She was going to be interviewed by him; in this day and age, it seems highly improbable that she did not even Google him.

Twenty Thousand Solutions of Problems by Amirban Nanda

A young ninth-standard girl, Durga, commits a murder. As she escapes on a train, she thinks about the events that led to the murder.

I wish I could say that the story is far-fetched. That no mother could actually cross that line. But unfortunately, this story could easily be a dramatized account of recent news reports that say otherwise. Mothers do sell their children to pay for a few meals. People do take advantage of vulnerable children. And for the child, sometimes there are few options for breaking the cycle of abuse. Durga’s decision is born out of her rage at her mother’s treachery, revulsion for her abuser, and her own earlier helplessness. As for her mother, I wish she had had the courage to end her abusive relationship much earlier.

Umm…I didn’t get the significance of the title.

When the Levee Breaks by Aindrila Roy

Rishabh and Asmita are devastated when Asmita is diagnosed with breast cancer. The story is about the couple’s struggle to cope with the lengthy treatment and its effects on their relationship and their three-year old son, Dhruv.

The story is really too short for me to comment on it. It ended just as I was getting interested. What is there is well-written, but I would have liked to know more about how they actually dealt with the tremendous strain.

The Poems

Ode to a Woman by Neeti Banga

I am not really a fan of odes. I usually find them depressing. So it won’t be fair to comment on this one.

The Boy Named Witch by Santosh Bakaya

This one really touches your heart. Why would anyone in their right minds think of a two-year old as a witch?

The First-timer by Antara Jha

This one starts off simply and just when you are wondering where it is leading, grabs you by the throat and demands your full attention. Very powerful.

The Strength of a Woman by Mani Bhushan Prasad

I don’t think the strengh of a woman lies in just the various roles she plays. In addition, I didn’t find this poem very original. Just going through the poems in Unbound #2, I came across at least 3 or 4 variations of this interpretation of a woman’s strength.

UniverShe by Bharath Nandibhatla

Ummm…..again, not very orginal.

Crippled Flames by Satyananda Sarangi

Although this poem is also about a woman in her various roles, the fresh way in which this is portrayed makes this poem interesting.

Her Tiara by Aniruddha Pathak

Incorrect choice of words at some places makes it difficult to appreciate the poem.

I, the Himalaya by Paramita Choudhry

Nicely written. Just as Ganga maiyya, though revered, is exploited and abused, women over the years have been exploited and placed over a pedestal at the same time.

She by Irfan Ali

Nice. Especially this is one of the few poems in this collection that ends on a positive note.

My Strength? Let’s Check… by Geetika Gupta

This poem has some interesting lines. However, incorrect choice of words at places reduces its value.

Liberated to My Freedom by Piyush Kaviraj

Well-written, though a little depressing. I wish women find a better way out.

Woman Interrupted! by Supriya Raju Parulekar

Written from the perspective of the father of a battered woman, this poem describes his grief at seeing that his beloved daughter has been tortured because she gave birth to a girl instead of a boy. Quite moving, but hopefully, fathers in the future would stop marrying daughters off into such families or at least, take action at the first hint of trouble instead of waiting till it is too late.

Categories: Reviews

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Leena T Pandey

I have been reading voraciously since the age of five when I first discovered the joys of reading. I would lap up anything in print. Unrolling an emptied newspaper cone with one hand, stuffing roasted peanuts in my mouth with the other, all the while devouring the printed content on the cone with my eyes, was one of my first experiences in hedonistic pleasure.
In fact, sometimes I feel that I am on an adventurous journey through the secret dreamworld of other people's imaginations, interspersed with occasional visits to my own life to attend events like graduation, first job, marriage, and so on.
As a true-blue reader, I think I am uniquely qualified to comment on and critique other people's works of labour. I can tell exactly what puts the average reader to sleep, what sets their pulse racing, and what has them salivating for more.

Write to me at leenatpandey@gmail.com.

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