Fiction / Short Stories (INR 295)
The title is cryptic. Does the book talk about busy lives in the city? But then it has the picture of a poignant woman. Is this then a tale of a multi-tasking modern lady? The answer to the riddle comes when you flip through the pages. What Sagarika Chakraborty has got together for her readers is a stunning compilation, scattered across the year. “A Calendar Too Crowded” tells stories of women we know, have heard of, or possibly, are. These are stories that continue to happen in various households around the globe, irrespective of the special “days” allotted to check them.
Sagarika’s women do not have names, do not often have faces. But they are fleshed out in vivid detail. In “Finding a Mother…”, there is a woman – married and pregnant – observing a modern-day mother before visiting an abortion clinic. She finds it odd that the school-boy needs to have tuitions in primary school and forget all about his mother when his friends arrive. In another household, in stark contrast, there is a woman who cannot be a mother. At the helm of things, a successful middle-ager enjoys a cruise trip with her daughter – born “artificially” – and enjoys the good life of luxury and strawberries. But Chakraborty doesn’t leave it at that. In the course of the story, we are made to wonder – doesn’t the woman crave the presence of a man, a husband, a lover? Are the newfangled norms of social and financial independence over-hyped when they cannot answer the need for err, passion? Hear, hear.
The questions are plenty. Sample some. How can anyone comfort the little girl who wakes up one day to a bloody bed and is henceforth supposed to behave like a lady? (Behind those Whispers – too brand-friendly a name?) When will society truly come to accept that a lifetime of isolation and whites may not be what will please either a widow or her dead husband? (Witch without a Broomstick) The style in which they are asked is impressive. It does get a tad bit overdone when many of the stories reiterate their questions over and over again, in the same words. But Sagarika makes up for glitches by keeping her stories succinct, crisp and for the most part, enjoyable.
Given the sensitive theme, the reading sometimes tends to be heavy. Even sad. But then, it is all very real and presented without any frills or fancy. Emotional relief (and a smile) comes by way of two stories: The Homecoming and Knowledge Beyond Printed Letters. Anyhow, considering this is the author’s first work, her ability to get under the skin of so many varied women – an “escort”, a rape/domestic violence victim, a hot-shot professional – alike, is commendable.
All in all, A Calendar Too Crowded is a very well-researched and relevant literary work. Though the voice is strongly feminist and the theme is one that almost rules out pleasure reading, this is one book that encourages thought. Especially so in a time when every second page of the newspaper tells of crime and every second person in society enjoys being a gossip-monger.