It has been a pleasure to go through this anthology put together by the talented Sonia Rao, who has not only written a story for the collection, but is also a Municipal Liaison for NaNoWriMo in India. The Wrimos have crafted stories in myriad genres around the theme 'Vengeance - A Sting in Every Tale'. The cover, striking in its shades of black, red and white, piques the interest even before the book is opened.
"When everything you've had is stolen from you, all you have left is revenge."
1. The Beautiful Ratio by Shweta Rao Garg
Shazia has an "undying infatuation with prime numbers" and a romance with Mathematics and the golden ratio. After the Godhra tragedy, she loses the constants in her life, striving "to hold on to the flickering moment of mathematical genius before it faded away", by deriving the perfect Maths formula to avenge the death of a loved one. A poignant, well written tale that touches the heart!
2. The Murder of a Dying Man by Archana Sarat
The atmosphere of an Agatha Christie novel is recreated, in which ACP Anton Pinto investigates the murder of the homeless Lalit, a dying man with severe liver damage, slated to donate his kidney to a celebrity, Abdul Khan. Numerous interesting characters float in and out as "A dying man's death was hastened", and a fascinating investigation reveals the astute murderer. Quick paced action and short pithy dialogues make this story by Archana Sarat a riveting read.
3. That Which Does Not Kill You by Neil D'Silva
There are some stories in which the readers tread warily through overwhelming twists. Neil D'Silva's story is one such shocker. Anay Joshi finds himself in the hospital after a suicide attempt, and tries to pick up the pieces of his life with Nurse Aditi Kelkar, after the death of his girlfriend, Ipsa. Abuse, mistrust and betrayal cloud the atmosphere, as a warped villain makes his presence felt. This is a tale masterly in its narration, with a twist that leaves the readers with a sense of disbelief.
4. I Will Teach You Yet, America by Balakrishnan Rajamani
Srinivasa Sastri does his Graduation and his Masters in America, but succumbs to the strain and returns home to Delhi for rest and recuperation. How his Mind Voice takes this so-called rejection, and devises a plan to take revenge on America, is the stuff this tale is made up of. An unusual theme, indeed!
5. Karmic Vengeance by Shail Raghuvanshi
This masterpiece by Shail Raghuvanshi starts with a bang. Why does Yaani shoot Angel Thomas in her bridal finery? When he meets Kashish, how does he react? her? The story moves on to a blood-chilling climax when the Karmic Vengeance, which has come full circle, begins all over again, making this one of the most suspenseful and skillfully woven stories in this anthology.
6. The Sting by Sini Mathew
Veena is dominated by her dictator father. She thanks her stars for her perfect husband, Vinu. When she finds her world turned upside down, she mourns, "Inside I was broken glass. Every fragment was piercing me sharp". As she moves away from her life of ignorance, of filth, the story ends on a note of hope. "The venom of the sting must not overpower." The language shines, but is marred due to a few punctuation woes.
7. Priya Praneshwari - Mahesh Ramani
A young girl, Priya goes missing, and her distraught husband. Pranesh, files a 'Missing Persons' complaint. She is found poisoned in the Park Hotel. Mahesh Ramani obviously has a penchant for clean, well-etched mysteries, and this comes across in his rendering of this story, that deserves to be savoured.
8. Liberated in Love - Piorre Hart
At which point does love turn liberating? Superstar Rajiiv Khanna and his pretty girlfriend, Geethika, have the ideal romance. What happens when he decides to propose to her in a TV studio in front of his adoring public? Geethika watches him from the confines of her home, and the manner in which she decides to reply to him is truly unique. "She decided to reply. Her reply. His style." Piorre Hart turns out a well crafted tale that cannot be put down.
9. Song of the Broken by Prashant Srivatsa
A beautiful writing style is the strong point of this tale that describes a caravan journey led by Daga with nine interesting passengers. Janavi who sings songs in praise of the gods, suspects that there is treachery afoot when she hears the Song of the Broken, the song of the enemy. Why do the others decide to leave her behind and go on to their destination? This intriguing story leaves the reader with a sense of curiosity and ends on a note of anticipation.
10. Music of Death by Neelesh Inamdar
Reminiscent of the Lucknowi style, this tale describes Shehnaz of the mellifluous voice, the Koh-i-noor of Rukhsar Apa's kotha, who falls in love with Aftab, as "the fragrance of love lingered on." What is the aftermath of the affair and what role does Rukhsar play to set the events rolling? Neelesh Inamdar weaves an emotional tale whose beguiling fragrance lingers on in the reader's mind long after the last word has been read.
11. It Is Somewhere around You by Sreeja Harikrishnan
Nikitha and Shikha are drawn into the memories of a horrific train incident where Shikha and her fellow passengers could have saved a life, had they reacted in time. What does this have to do with Shikha’s wedding to Anirudh? A story that leaves the reader a trifle confused, as it ends too abruptly.
12. The Singers by Destination Infinity
Classical singers Balaji and Vani have a fairytale marriage till the latter becomes more popular. Balaji urges her to have a child. When she refuses, they turn into pure rivals, bringing each other down on every occasion. What is her secret that he uses to keep her from singing? Does his ploy serve his purpose or is there a deeper reason behind it? This story ends with an intriguing twist that tugs at one's heartstrings.
13. The Vengeful Bride by Mamatha Kamireddy
One of the most heart-wrenching stories in this book! Aarti marries Bhushan, but the reason why she abhors him, and the revenge she has come as a complete shock as the tale unfolds. The wonderful narration by Mamatha Kamireddy leaves one with a sense of intense pathos, along with a feeling of triumph at the ways the tables are turned on the villain.
14. The Sneaky Blogger by Sudha Gopal Nair
A story that has an Enid Blyton touch to it, with a blogger who posts mean pictures of events on her Hate Blog. Around ten girls who have all been victims form the V for Vengeance Team, a neat touch, and set out to trap the sneaky blogger. However, the plot is weak and could have done with a more plausible reason for vengeance.
15. Shadows of the Past by Pritesh Patil
This story reminds one of Perry Mason, and then goes on to cover the whole gamut of magic realism with Godslayers, Beastmasters, Devourers and Djinns, as Arquin sets out to rescue a maiden captured by the Shadebringers. It does hold the readers’ interest, but is marred by lapses in spacing and punctuation.
16. The Game Changers by Ruchi Singh
In this taut and highly charged tale of cuckoldry, the main players are Amit Raghuvanshi, his wife, Maya, and a couple in love, Keira and Samar. A wilful murder committed due to envy, an attempt of a frame up, and a totally unexpected twist in the tale make this a tale with all the right ingredients for a classy whodunit.
17. Alheims - Icelandic for Universal by Dola Basu Singh
The protagonist deals with an eve teaser, taking us through all the different steps she uses to disarm him. The steps are as impressive as the words denoting her feelings as she goes through the whole gamut, only to come through victorious. One of the shortest and most unusual stories in this collection, but it certainly packs a punch.
18. The Hunt - Debashis Deb
Purnima proves the dictum that there is no fury like that of a wronged woman after having been captured by Salva Judum volunteers, because she dares to voice her opinions against the government. She turns into a rebel herself, for the purpose of taking revenge on the men who had abused her. The story, steeped in the ground realities faced by the state, has a social twist which the readers can relate to as well.
19. Let There Be No Guilt by Smriti Verma
Smriti Verma's love of language and description is revealed in this tale of a young soldier, Michael Truman, who grows up too fast after his older brother dies. The stress overcomes him, and he wreaks vengeance on those who had snatched away his childhood, so that the balance may be restored. Beautifully narrated, this story has many shades to it, as the young man's emotions bring him to the brink.
20. Damned for Eternity by Kartik L
Dr. Moreau is imprisoned for conducting human trials for his 'Elixir of Life' experiment. Kellor, the power-hungry First Citizen wants him to revive his experiments years later. Who is behind the disappearance of Moreau's wife, Clarissa, a scientist herself? A cryptic sci-fi tale in which vengeance subtly makes its presence felt!
21. The Shattered Melody by Sonia Rao
This is the ideal story with which to end this anthology, a tale of betrayal that causes a wife to fling off her blinkers and take revenge on her philandering husband. The skilful way she does this, and the decisions she takes after, make her a strong admirable woman. Sonia Rao proves that she is a consummate writer as she spins a tale that is devoid of melodrama, which makes the story sparkle all the more.
Verdict: Highly readable!