Rishtey, by Kusum Choppra, is a daring, spunky tri-story anthology, full of life.

Setting the tone for the emotional roller-coaster is the very relatable ‘Goa Diaries’ set at an idyllic Goa resort, told from the twin lenses of Amoli on a company junket and recently separated Pooja. A package of unusual encounters at the getaway has the author throwing up larger questions of ‘accepted’ and ‘acceptable’ relationships, packaged in wry humour.

For instance Pooja’s “People tend to love the guy who’s moved on. And hate the woman who tries to do that.” Or ‘‘happy couple’ is at a very high premium, difficult to spot.” The descriptions of the encounters, especially the Pooja ones, take the reader into an almost voyeuristic experience, … somehow almost guilty yet fun!

Next ‘The Pink Sari’, again a radical take on the senior relationships that brings home the point that love and the need for companionship do not bow down to something as dreary as the ‘age factor’. The author tackled a similar subject in her earlier novel –Silver Dreams, and I was sceptical walking into the world of Ranga and Maya – would this be a shorter version of the novel?

Pleasantly surprised to discover a very different, refreshing new story. Oldies’ Love is complicated with the sheer baggage of a past marriage, disappointing or otherwise. The insecurities, second-guessings, difficulty in opening up completely to one’s partner and much more can easily crush any aspiration for ‘love’. Reading all this and more in the delicate world of Ranga and Maya, I empathised with:

Have you forgotten the stresses of a married status: forever wondering how the Other will take what you do, you say, even what you think? Those constant mental questions, bitterness, awkwardness, hiding emotions, views …. and wrenching break ups that rebound over and over again? I have not. Can’t go through it again.” The story’s setting in the hills of Coorg makes it an interesting contrast against the previous story’s sea-side setting and I found myself pondering about the connect between the way these stories were told and their setting. The title plays an important role in the story, but I’d rather you read and discover it for yourself.

The last story, ‘Maitri Karaar’, is at the same time poignant and bold. The author has dared to talk about an aspect of marriages that we’d rather brush under the carpet -the ‘Other Woman’. Who is this other woman, why is she there in a man’s life, does she have an identity of her own, should she have that identity… these were few of the many questions that flitted though my mind as I read the story of Vishal and Uma. Although some parts of the story involving the larger family of Vishal seemed a stereotypical, almost melodramatic portrayal of the previous century, it was not overbearing and the author has remained true to her protagonists.

While smaller back stories of secondary characters brought varied flavours to the reading experience, cheeky dialogues combined with satirical and poignant observations made it an enjoyable read for me. One “Uma” comment stood out for me – “I want my father to die. He’s never done anyone any good; gives my mother only sorrow. He’s living only to make others miserable. Grandpa suffers. For him death will be a release. My father’s death — release for ma and me.” It exposes the elephant in the room in so many of our lives. How many of the relationships we are born with or form turn out ‘perfect’?

It takes guts to accept this reality and in writing this dialogue, the author has forced us to do just that, making Maitri Karaar a well-chosen finale to this wonderful book.

The multifaceted Priya Narayan is an architect-designer who teaches at CEPT, Ahmedabad, a prize winning children’s book author and recently co-author in the ten author collaborative thriller ALTITUDINIS: Seekers, Sinners & Secrets.

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