Thirty-six and single, Laura sits at the desk doing a job that promises few surprises or adventures. Much of life has passed her by, and the card on her desk when she arrived reminds her that another year has passed.
She hasn’t opened the card yet, dismissing it as the annual ritual of the human resources department. Finally, the fluorescent swirls on the shiny card implore him to cut the envelope and the words that meet his gaze speak loud and clear: “Congratulations: your wishes have been granted!
What follows is a sort of fantasy parade beginning with her childhood love for sweets. It was a wish made on a chicken bone that she had broken with her brother on his 11th birthday. Indeed, an elf delivers her a lifetime of goodies: box after box of sherbet dabs, mixed licorice, cola cubes, honeycomb crisp, watermelon candies and more, which she rejects by concern for his teeth. But she can’t help it and only keeps one box of “crumbly fudge” which she shares with her brother Nigel when he comes to wish her home with a bottle of red wine.
The strange affair of wishes coming true continues and she defeats Nigel in a fight with a strange new power. The next mundane day at the office is filled with excitement as his school hero Robin Godiver whispers in his ear “Did anyone wish for a horse?” and carries him away, astride his beautiful white steed.
Reading this delightful story of wishes to be horses by Camila Chester, who has a small dog-walking business and lives with her husband in Hertfordshire, England, one is reminded of all the wishes one was on as a child and during teenagehood.
The most important being that a fairy would come with a wand and paint my dark skin “pinks and peaches for all time”. Then there was the wish to have a magic pencil that would do all my homework. And there’s the lament that I wouldn’t have missed my eighth birthday celebrations if my dad hadn’t decided to call it a day two months earlier. The list is huge and makes you smile reading the story, Terms and conditions.
The magic of storytelling
This story is included in Punch magazine’s anthology of new writing by women writers and it encapsulates the feminine literary impulse in all its glory. The 18 stories that round out the volume could go on and on, but let me not be a spoilsport for those who haven’t read them yet. But two stories I’m compelled to touch on are Rinita Banerjee’s “The Dance of the Happy Muse” and Mehr Pestonji’s “Ghost,” a well-respected name in journalism when people like me had barely started out as doodlers.
Banerjee’s story opens in a museum in front of the wax, clay and metal frame of Edward Degas’ famous painting ‘Little Dancer Aged Fourteen’ and a youngster gazing at him in delight as the phone is in his pocket of his pants when he witnesses a woman intervening between him and the statue’s fantasia and cutting his wrist and shouting “Help, help”. It shatters the reverie of the viewer who must return to the routine of the life of art, crushed as he is by the parental responsibilities of his own life.
Moving on to the story of Pestonji “Ghost”, we are in the heart of Mumbai in the home of a Parsi family who have seen better days and dreams are all set on the son of the house who has the academic excellence of his late grandfather.
He’s young Kaizad, bright and fond of ghost stories until he spots his grandfather’s dentures and glasses in the attic and decides to play ghost to the detriment of the family whose house, which they plan to sell for his education, is haunted. From one story to another, it is a demonstration of great talent and insight by women writers from here and elsewhere.
The female impulse
This delightful collection of short stories, which range from the personal to the political, includes 18 stories that were invited by Shireen Quadri, Editor-in-Chief of The Punch Magazine, Delhi, in 2019 and to her pleasant surprise, the number of female storytellers was more numerous than men and it was then that she made the decision to edit an entirely feminine collection.
The poet Gulzar, who approves the collection with compliments, however asks: “But why separate them as women writers. They are on par with the world standard.
He also advises the reader to read ‘brilliant fiction’ without any gender bias. Pardon Gulzar Sahib, writing like a woman is the phrase that nowadays replaces all old pride and prejudice. Quadri sums it up like this: “The stories in this anthology reflect a certain sensibility and sensibility. It takes us on the paths these writers forge to create art through the rhythms and ruptures of life.