Review – “Women’s Corner” by Usha Sridhar

Usha Sridhar’s collection of short stories, Women’s Corner comprises 8 women-centric stories with strong protagonists and their life lessons.

1. A Rare Retake – Rama was an ambitious girl. Loud, lively, and intelligent, she knew how to charm her way up the corporate ladder by her sheer hard work, perseverance, and a hell lot of attitude. So it was a no-brainer that when she met Ajay, the handsome, charming, and equally ambitious man, she immediately fell for him and got into a whirlwind romance before getting married. Once married, she soon became pregnant and that is when her life started to course towards a future she thought would be bright, but in reality, it turned out to be devoid of any hope.

2. A Spring in Life – Jaya was the youngest amongst her siblings and the last one to get married. Her husband was an ambitious man and took her places while she remained happy to be a homemaker, before settling down in his ancestral house after retirement. So when he died after a heart attack, Jaya had the choice to either move in with her sons or put forward a plan of staying put before her sons so that they don’t pester her to move. She opts for the second, and converts her husband’s bungalow into a homestay for girls, students and working alike. Soon her house is filled with several young women, who with their lively nature brighten up Jaya’s black and white world.

3. Reverse Swing – Maya was born into an impoverished family. Her parents worked as laborers in a construction company and had to fight tooth and nail to put food on the table. So when she turns 18, and her parents get a chance to marry her to a man working in the city, Maya rejects Aakash’s proposal in favor of a well-settled life with Hemanth. But it was not as easy as it seemed. With an ailing mother in law, a rather distant husband and a sudden exposure to the city life, Maya was burdened with all the responsibilities of the house, not to mention her two young children. Not the one to lose hope, Maya took on everything with an alarming amount of energy, shuttled between household chores, taking care of her mother in law, kids, and her own parents and her work at the NGO. Over the years she took the demise of her parents and mother in law well and remembered them fondly. Her children grew up and left her to settle abroad. When Hemath passed away, Maya’s life gets shattered and pushes her into the arms of Alzheimer’s. So when Aakash returns, will Maya recognize him?

4. A-Train Sojourn – A chance meeting of 4 women of different ages and backgrounds on a train journey leads to the formation of a special bond. Kavitha is traveling to a town to pick her neighbor’s sister in law and bring her to the city. She meets Shobha, a transgender, Ammani, a writer, and Indira, an architecture student on the train and they form an unlikely friendship. Sharing their pasts with each other, they find companionship in an otherwise uneventful train bogey.

5. A Mother’s Remorse – Prema is the only daughter of her parents. Amongst her two brothers, she is the only one to have settled back in India. Blessed with a daughter and a son herself, she brings in her mother to her home after her father’s demise, thinking that both hers and her husband’s mother could bond and enjoy each other’s company. Living in a peaceful household, mostly cared for by her sister in law, Prema one day comes across Geetha, the young daughter of a near-death woman, and gives her refuge in her home. Years pass and Geetha turns out to be an intelligent girl, surpassing both of Prema’s children in learning and grasping knowledge and ultimately in living life. Jealous, Prema vows to ruin her foster daughter’s life by over-shadowing her children.

6. A Sombre Silence – Sashi and Ramesh have been married for long. With two lovely children and grandchildren, their life was complete and happy until Ramesh died of a sudden cardiac arrest. On the day of the funeral, Sashi is reminded of her husband’s life journey, from the numerous people in their lives who adored Ramesh. Reminiscing about Ramesh and what a great and happy life he had, Sashi gets the courage to deal with the gaping hole that he has left behind.

7. A Collective Resolve – A group of strong and resolute women from a village decides to bring about social, economic, and ethical changes in their village when they encounter a life-threatening accident of their children. With their perseverance, they are able to rise above their critics and the patriarchy and emerge victoriously. Years later, their village is a model for everyone to see, learn, and follow.

8. A Rainbow Reunion – A group of school friends decides to meet up decades later to catch up on their innocent school years and the intermediate time before their meeting. Urged by one of their group members for a reunion to discuss a matter of great importance, the women take a short vacation at a resort for three days. All of them share their stories with each other while being non-judgemental. Despite being as different as chalk and cheese, the women are as close today as they were during their younger days. They end up having a good time and promise to meet often.

Those who know me, or follow my blog will know how much I stay wary of Indian authors. There was a time I knew of none, but once I took up reviewing professionally, I was loaded with information about them. Since then, I take up only those Indian authors’ books which are offered to me for review, still evading myself from buying their works leisurely. But once in a while, I do come across authors and their books that make an impact on me for one or the other reasons. The author of the aforementioned book is one such example. Having survived cancer, I admire the resilience with which she returned to make her life richer qualitatively by pursuing her interest in writing. Alternatively, her stories speak for the women, and this is a reason enough for me to recommend this book. Written in simple and lucid language, all the 8 stories have a different aspect to show, all related to women. Along with that, it talks about idealistic living, social behavior and evils, the country’s plight, and general matters of concern too. Dealing with a different issue in each story, they have a strong protagonist, but there were some cliches that made me go tut-tut. For example, it was at times mentioned that a homemaking woman is dull, not competent, and content enough with the way her life has turned. Also, that, to find true meaning, a woman should take up some work that pays, which frankly, I don’t agree to. Most of the background setting is that of a perfect world/family/home, with dutiful children/parents/house helps. I couldn’t find a difference in the dialogues of a child and an adult, they were identical to each other. The words used seemed a little out of place, like the use of sis and bro, by grandparents, parents, and children alike. Some parts could have been omitted, a little less detailing could have been done. While I liked the first 5 stories, the last 3 didn’t quite leave a mark on me. Although Rama is the protagonist in the first story, the story never focussed on her life completely, instead a part of it was always kept in the dark/spoken about by other characters. The sixth story, I found to be more of a memoir of the protagonist’s husband, rather than hers. In the seventh, although there is no single protagonist, Lata comes out as a strong person despite her humble roots. The last story is more or less the life history of the characters in a nutshell, without any remarkable points.

Apart from these, I’ve mentioned below in detail the main issues/points that make up the story and the shackles that bind women.

A woman, when ambitious, is seen as a nuisance and when not, is meek. So how should she make a choice? Balance? Well, that’s not everybody’s cup of tea. When Rama is thrown into the fast life of the corporate world, she finds herself pitted against the rabbits, and thus, she couldn’t always be the tortoise and wait for luck to work its magic. Becoming a rabbit herself was no easy task and but messing up her personal life was. One could argue for her, or against her, but none would be considered 100% right.

Why does a woman have to do something other than taking care of her home and family to give meaning to her life and be content? Isn’t home-making a wonderful and demanding job in itself? Why can’t she be happy being “just a homemaker”? Or, why does a woman’s life have to revolve around her husband and a widow’s around her children? Can’t she have a life of her own outside their influence? Now you may say that both the points are contradictory, yes, indeed they are. Having the freedom to choose what makes them happy is what should be given to women, whether it be being a homemaker or a doing a job that pays.

When a woman becomes a mother, she takes a new birth, they say. But what when the same children leave her to die a thousand deaths? Should she never live again? Should she mourn their betrayal? Was it wrong on her part to give everything that her children ever demanded? The age-old notions of a mother never being a “Ku-mata” is so imbibed in every woman that even when she suffers at the hands of those to whom she gave life, she is unable to retort. Agreed, a mother’s love never sees her children’s faults, but isn’t it wrong to let the children torture her? Being a mother myself, I can understand the difficulty of my aforementioned questions. But, I believe, if I don’t respect myself, I will never be respected.

Is there a rule to make friends? Where? When? How? Whom? And most importantly, why? I don’t think so. One makes friends when they feel a connection. And when it comes to female friendships, the age-old notions of them never being good friends is always considered right. So when two or more women form a cordial relationship, it comes across as strange, and one thinks it must definitely be underlined with some kind of selfishness. Breaking the notions, when women form bonds, they do for mutual benefit sending out positivity to their critics.

A mother is the most revered person in a child’s life. She is the one who can do anything for them. But what when she crosses all morals to bring them something that they don’t even want? Is it justified? What for a mother who has adopted? Do her own children always fare above the adopted child? Should her actions benefit both her biological and adopted children or only her biological one? Being a mother myself, I know what it means to see my child in pain, and the feeling to do anything to relieve her. Harming someone else in the way can be collateral damage, but not on purpose. Doing the best for my child will be my topmost priority, though, imposing what I feel is good for them when they are happy with what they have, will not make me a good mother. It will just be to nurture my ego of seeing my child having the best of all, even if it means them being not happy.

Coping with a close one’s demise is difficult, and when it is one’s life partner, it may even be traumatic. What is needed most at this hour of pain is fond memories of the departed and support from others. Only the strong ones are able to cope and move on to live life happily, as their partner would have wanted.

Women, for ages, have been told to sit back, whether to be just a trophy wife to some millionaire or to curb their progress or to just have this power over them. But when they decide to come into the open for the betterment of their family and community as a whole, they put in their most sincere efforts. And when it is a group of cooperating women, nothing is better. There is no better way to empower women than to give them a free hand at what they want to do.

Childhood friendships are the most precious ones that we have in our life. In fact, my only friends today are the ones whom I met in school, and over the years grew closer and our bond stronger. Staying friends even when one doesn’t have the time to meet or call, and the ability to catch up from where they left last, is proof of a deep understanding between the friends. Women too, can be friends, and stay so for a lifetime negating the otherwise perceived notions.

The stories have left me asking a thousand questions which probably will never be answered. Even if they are, there’ll always be conflicting answers. They say, walk a mile in her shoes before you judge, I say, walk a mile in her shoes, and then you’d be far away to judge anyway.

Let her be her, and not someone’s daughter or wife or mother. She is her.


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