‘She Speaks’ is a collection of 20 short stories written by women of Indian-origin, residing in different parts of the world. Forbidden love, marriage, female foeticide, immigration, mythology and even sci-fi are various themes that flow through the book . The stories are as diverse as their characters, however, a common thread of the journey of the female protagonist tugs at the heartstrings.

The Genesis of the book

The anthology was conceptualised by Switzerland-based author and artist, Brindarica Bose. A tribute to the female voice, many of the women are first-time writers, and most of them are based in the USA, Switzerland, the UK, Indonesia and New Zealand amongst others. A collective project, the group of writers worked together to give form and shape to their individual ideas, and pooled in their collective efforts towards editing the stories, finding a publisher, publicizing the book, etc. A true example of women uplifting each other and moving towards a common goal.

A synopsis of a selection of stories from Switzerland-based writers

In ‘The Half Ticket’, writer Ipsita Barua strikes close to home with Ankita, a young woman who has recently moved to Zurich. Ankita experiences life in a country where knowledge of German is imperative to daily life. As her husband gifts her a half-fare card, she starts to travel by bus every day, observing the locals and absorbing a new culture, while seeking comfort in the familiar. The story tells of her journey of self-growth in an unfamiliar land.

‘Ageless’, written by Jyoti Kapoor, is a reminder of how age lies not in the body, but in the mind. ‘J’, the lead character, travels to the future using a time machine. She experiences a highly automated world where humans have discovered new ways of self-preservation, while artificial intelligence has taken over most of the world. Having seen what the future holds for her, J sees goes back to her present with new resolve.

In ‘The Forgotten’, Rejina Ramachandran Sadhu tells the moving tale of 65-year-old Lavanya who lives in Switzerland with her emotionally detached husband. She finds companionship in her German class; and volunteering at an old-age home is like balm to her soul. She pines for her dear childhood friend with whom she has built a lifetime of memories of a life lived in Kerala and Mumbai.

Nayana Chakrabarti’s ‘The Goddess is Missing’ deals with the irony of female foeticide in a culture where the girl child is worshipped. Shukla has lived her entire life basking in admiration of her son and the promises his future holds, while looking down upon his wife and her mannerisms. Dolly, however, has finally reached a breaking point, after years of trying to escape her mother-in-law’s looming presence in her life. A deeply haunting story, it shines a light on painful reality – that women often tear other women down instead of building each other up.

In ‘Radha and Govind’, Richa Chauhan adds a mythological layer to her story. Radha, who always felt a spiritual connection to Krishna, is attracted towards Govind, who is in her school. She senses his presence everywhere she goes, making her feel both unsettled and euphoric. Radha’s life takes its course and she finds herself on a weekend trip to Dehradun, where she reunites with Govind in the unlikeliest of places. Are the two meant to be together for eternity, as the legend goes?

In ‘Durga’s New Dawn’, writer Pallabi Roy-Chakraborty takes a playful dig at gods and goddesses, making them come to life as modern, new-age beings. Durga goes about her day, juggling home and family, going to work where she analyses data from earth and tries to handle several requests from human beings. The story plays with the idea that humans and gods aren’t very different after all.

Brindarica Bose’s story, ‘Sita’s Vacation’, is set in the present. However its central character, Sita’s life plays out as a very interesting retelling of the mythological Ramayana. Sita has been confined to her role as mother and dutiful wife for several years, and finally, fate, in the form of Balmiki, has given her a chance to come into her own. Free will does exist, and Sita proves it by breaking the legendary ‘Lakshman Rekha’ and seizing her own destiny.

In Conclusion

The book connects women at different levels and brings out their views in interesting ways. The stories leave a lasting impression, long after one is done with reading the book. You may just find familiarity and resonance in some of the stories, as I did!

(‘She Speaks’ can be purchased online at Amazon.com)

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