HomeArts & EntertainmentBooksReview: Everything Changes: A Memoir by Sreemoyee Piu Kundu

Review: Everything Changes: A Memoir by Sreemoyee Piu Kundu

Novelist and columnist Sreemoyee Piu Kundu’s memoir Everything Changes is a glimpse of the life lessons that have shaped her journey as a woman. In this somewhat complex book, the 45-year-old author looks back at her life, unravelling several aspects of her childhood, family life, friendships, intimate relationships and career as a journalist. Along the way, she confronts some difficult episodes, including her father’s death by suicide when she was just four years old.

Going solo: A woman in New Delhi. (Arvind Yadav/HT PHOTO)

Kundu spent most of her childhood in her father’s shadow, which was defined mostly by his looming absence. She lived with her mother and maternal grandparents, who did not breathe a word to her about what exactly had happened. It was only after she turned 16 that she learnt the truth about her father’s untimely end. It’s clear that mental health and suicide remain taboo subjects for the Indian middle class, which still lacks access to trauma or grief counselling. Especially illuminating is Kundu’s meditation on how suicide robs the deceased and their immediate family of dignity and respectability and about the humiliation and ostracism faced by those left behind.

256pp, ₹499; Bloomsbury
256pp, ₹499; Bloomsbury

Kundu points out that Indian society is “still too afraid, unsure and ashamed to acknowledge mental health as a looming health crisis, and suicide as more than an accident or crime… and rather, as a consequence of actual ailments, which often lack physical symptoms.”

She writes about being bullied at school for her looks and growing up unattractive, lonely, and burdened with a constant need to please people, forever trying extra hard to earn external validation. While she was in her teens, her mother married a younger man from a different sociocultural background. Kundu wonders why women need marriage, often labelling it “security”. She also wonders why Indian parents rarely lobby for their widowed daughters to remarry with the same urgency as they do for their divorced ones. “Is it because a dead husband is socially more venerated and valid than a husband who left you, sometimes with a child?” she ponders. Customs like the north Indian Karwa Chauth when woman fast for the long lives of their husbands and the Bengali Jamai Sasthi when sons-in-law are spoilt with material gifts and elaborate meals also come in for much disapproval.

At 19, Kundu underwent her first gynaecological surgery, after which she was pronounced infertile. At this point, she was constantly in search of romance, which she believes was probably her way of looking for a replacement for her father – “an anchor of sorts”. But the road to love is rocky and filled with brutal rejection. This emotional trauma is compounded by the culture of silence around sex in India. The author writes about the absence of real sex education at school, the censoring of the subject of female pleasure, and the generally-held belief that sexual intimacy is just a precursor to procreation. “Everything we knew about sex was either from being desired by a man, or something to be had after marriage; like there was no in-between,” she writes.

Kundu is also the founder of Status Single, India’s first and only community specifically for urban single women (HT Team)
Kundu is also the founder of Status Single, India’s first and only community specifically for urban single women (HT Team)

Leaving an abusive relationship and her home town Kolkata behind, the author set off to begin her life as a features reporter in Delhi. The independence this brings is exhilarating and over the next few years, she samples life in Bengaluru and Mumbai. More disastrous relationships that feature emotional manipulation and violent outbursts follow. But she has no complaints on the workfront and writes of coming to be recognised as a kind of “desi Suzy Menkes”, publishing a novel, a collection of feminist erotic verse, and becoming a columnist on gender and sexuality.

In 2017, she wrote her first work of non-fiction. Comprising interviews with 3,500 urban single women from across the country, Status Single, is about the daily struggle of being an unattached woman in India. Kundu is also the founder of Status Single, India’s first and only community specifically for urban single women.

Author Sreemoyee Piu Kundu (Courtesy the publisher)
Author Sreemoyee Piu Kundu (Courtesy the publisher)

Everything Changes, which presents the author’s life without resorting to the usual bourgeois filters, has a happy ending of sorts. In her fortieth year, almost three decades after his death, the author offered a special prayer and performed her father’s funeral rites at a Buddhist monastery. The ritual gave her a sense of closure and she even arranged a celebration on his seventieth birthday.

This is a thoughtful work that could well be the story of any single woman in India as she juggles family, relationships, work, and the almost unbearable burden of social pressures and expectations.

A freelance writer based in New Delhi, Neha Kirpal writes primarily on books, music, films, theatre and travel.

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