Ritu is living the good life in Gurgaon. She works as a senior consultant with more than 50 employees reporting to her, in one of the top IT companies of the world. When she returns to her hometown in a nondescript part of Punjab, she feels a sense of belonging she does not in the big city, where she is constantly on her toes, trying to stay on top of things. At home, she hears that her neighbour Neelu is getting married. As she helps Neelu select her wedding saree, she realises there is an emptiness in the young girl’s eyes. As she speaks to her, she realises Neelu wants to leave behind her small-town persona. “You know what I want, didi?” says Neelu. “I don’t want that saree we bought. I want your jeans and shirt…. I want to be you.” Ritu remembers her life’s arc that has brought her where she is now, and recognises her younger self in Neelu. Later, as Ritu watches Neelu sprinkling water on the terrace, she ruminates what pulls the water up…. What force makes these tiny drops want to reach the sky, she wonders. What is this thirst for being elsewhere, being something else….
In a way, Ritu’s story is a microcosm of what plays out in many of our lives – our desire to be someone we are not, the overarching dreams we have, the disillusionment we face as we grow older, a longing for our roots. Perhaps that is why this story best encapsulates the theme of Escape Velocity, a collection of short stories from a writing workshop called Write & Beyond that has been curated by Kiranjeet Chaturvedi.
The book features the stories of 13 budding female writers. It was born when Chaturvedi met the writer Kanchana Banerjee in 2014 and started discussing the idea of starting a writing workshop. With the support of Moitreyee Chatterjee, a senior publishing consultant, they set up Write & Beyond on Facebook within a week. “As we talked of writing, and wrote in each other’s company, it was like being around the proverbial hoary bonfire all over again,” writes Chaturvedi. “It was homecoming. It was validation, recognition, and permission to tell our stories, with the knowledge of being heard. We knew then, how our stories—real or imagined—while being personal in a particular way, were also universal.”
What is really admirable is the confidence with which these women write, perhaps because they write about what is close to their hearts. Like how books have kept a woman company all her life, transporting her to a wondrous fictional world and helping her through some of the most difficult times of her life. Or how a person lives out her life on social media, keeping up appearances while neglecting the needs of her young son. Or how someone’s life changes when she becomes a mother, and the curious pain of watching her daughter need her less as she grows older.
Inhabiting these words are the aches and pains of these women’s lives, often smudged as they are conveyed through the lens of fiction, but there nevertheless. Have you ever gone to a beach and tried walking along the trail of someone else’s footprints? The thing about these stories is that while you walk along the trail left by the writers, you get the curious sensation of merging footprints, yours with theirs. Individual threads borrowed from the universal condition of humanity. Stories intermingled, like the breath of star-crossed lovers.