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Book Review: Everything Changes- Of Survivor Trauma and Being Single in India

She structures every chapter around one key moment in a particular phase of her life, managing to strike a fine balance between chronological life stages
Everything Changes book review
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Title: Everything Changes
Author: Sreemoyee Piu Kundu
Publisher: Bloomsbury India
Cover design: Haitenlo Semy

Price: INR 499/-
Paperback

[I placed] the framed picture of one of my features team [from Bangalore] on my desk. On the soft board above the desk, I pinned three other photos – one with my parents, one of Sujoy and me on our last Valentine’s Day together at the Spa in Bangalore and one of my Delhi team on my last working day there. The sum total of my life journey thus far.

This is the most upbeat moment in Sreemoyee Piu Kundu’s memoir, Everything Changes, when she is appointed lifestyle editor at TOI, Mumbai – after long years of working in Asian Age at its Delhi and Bangalore offices. It marks a high point in her career as a journalist; but more importantly, in the evolution of her ‘self’– of finally taking the plunge to live on her own in a new city, without her family. 

Kundu’s bonding with her family goes beyond blood ties. As a teenager, she had made her widowed mother’s marriage to a much younger man from a different community possible– when her mother had relinquished her love, fearing a rejection from her grandparents a second time. In her early 30s, she had brought back the daughter of their domestic help from their home to hers, to protect her from an abusive environment when mother and child were both endangered by the father/husband. Both instances attest to the redeeming power of love beyond blood ties. But those ties, however, can never be relinquished. Which is why, at 40, she finally performed the funeral rites of her biological father, whom she had lost to suicide at age four. 

At the centre of her life has been this absence– of a father who took his own life, the stigma of which the daughter and wife were condemned to bear lifelong. The resulting trauma and forced silence would define their lives, and it would take them decades before they could come to terms with it. The first three chapters where Kundu confronts this trauma at length– ‘Baba’, The Daughters and ‘Uncle’ are the most poignant in the book, covering most of her childhood. The next four recount her adolescence and early youth, spanning her college and university years. All through, up to this point, she lived in Kolkata. The second half of the book is about her professional life in the other metros of India– Delhi, Bangalore, and Mumbai, before returning home to Kolkata again.

Sreemoyee Piu Kundu with her new book at a bookshop in Delhi.

She structures every chapter around one key moment in a particular phase of her life, managing to strike a fine balance between chronological life stages without a strict linear narrative. That narrative livens up most in scenes that are dramatised: her first day as a fresher at Asian Age, Delhi; breaking down in a phone booth in Bangalore, after being brutally cut off by the person she thought was the man of her life, with the kind old Muslim owner of the booth sitting beside her crouching figure to console her and then personally seeing her off in an auto.

Though Kundu tells us amply about her career as a journalist, this memoir is essentially a history of her heart. With her relationships marked by uncertainty and betrayal – right from her University years to her most recent affair. There is just this one friendship that stands out for the sense of camaraderie, safety and comfort it gave her, probably because of a lot of time spent together as colleagues. Her later romantic leanings towards this friend turn out to be one-sided, and a change of cities for new jobs for both spell an end to their bond. But it is an end without any bitterness or rancour.

At the centre of her life has been this absence– of a father who took his own life, the stigma of which the daughter and wife were condemned to bear lifelong. The resulting trauma and forced silence would define their lives, and it would take them decades before they could come to terms with it. The first three chapters where Kundu confronts this trauma at length– 'Baba', The Daughters and ‘Uncle’ are the most poignant in the book, covering most of her childhood.

Her professional life and relationships, in a way, are representative of the experiences of single women, especially in Indian metros, in the late-90s and post-millennial years. And nowhere more so than in the radical change that dating and romantic relationships have undergone during that time: from marriage being the logical culmination of romance (her closest college friends from the 90s settled down with their college sweethearts), through rather innocent Orkut chats and increased cell phone accessibility in the next decade, to the inroad of social media and the latest dating apps like Bumble, where unhappy married men with polyamorous wives whom they cannot decide whether to divorce or not can easily seek open relationships with other women. 

However, where her story is the most representative is in showing the role that parents play in the lives of professional women. Kundu is blessed with incredibly supportive and liberal parents – her mother and stepfather – who not only supported her life choices (at times against their wishes), but also (mostly) lived with her in the cities of her work, sometimes by making adjustments in their own careers, in order to make her life more comfortable and to be together as a family. 

Kundu has gone through several career transitions. However, what is truly unique about her work and identity is the formation and building of a community of urban single women – Status Single, which grew out of a bestselling book and then a Facebook page, and now has 6000 members across seven cities. The book could do with a more detailed account of the blossoming of this community. 

There have been many memoirs by women in the last few years, which have either dealt with childhood abuse or centred round the identities of wife and especially mother. Everything Changes is focused on singlehood, its challenges and vulnerabilities, where professional success is mostly at odds with personal fulfillment. Speaking of her Mumbai years, at one point, Kundu writes, “I too partook of my newfound emptiness as a sort of fullness I had never before quite enjoyed.” That is perhaps the best that a single woman can hope for. 

Images used in this article are from Sreemoyee Piu Kundu’s Facebook page. 

Everything Changes is available for sale on Amazon & Flipkart.

Rituparna Roy is a writer based in Kolkata. She can be reached at https://www.royrituparna.com/

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