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Wayfaring by Tikuli

Reviewed by Shikhandin 

The poet as a wanderer. This is what comes to mind when reading “Wayfaring” by Tikuli. Not as a wandering minstrel. Rather as one who collects snapshots of experiences and sketches of mental spaces, through seemingly aimless wanderings. Yet nowhere does Tikuli come across as footloose and fancy-free. Rather there is an oblique brooding quality to the poems. In her foreward, this New Delhi based poet points out that poems in the volume go beyond the elegiac, “there is an interweaving of shapes, smells and the changing moods of a city” where she grew up. The poems have history and landscapes running down their spines. And then there is protest, subtle, unobtrusive, but it is there. 

The book is divided into seven sections or themes: – Trains, Exile Poems, Remembrance, Travel, Mosaic, Acrostics and Delhi Poems. The poems, fairly straightforward and easy to decipher, are mostly short, almost concise. Few are longer than a single page, and many are less than ten lines. They are almost like postcards mailed back by Tikuli during her sojourns. The white space around the shortest poems add an ethereal quality. The book would tempt a doodler to put down his or her reactions to the poems. Perhaps Tikuli intended it so, being something of a painter herself. 

A poet’s other parts may well seep into the poems. ‘Wayfaring’ is no exception. So Tikuli’s passion for food and cooking lends a tactile quality. For example, “The edge of the rain slices the ruddy sun” from the poem ‘Rain.’ One can even taste them in some – “that peppery winter noon” – from ‘Winter.’ Tea is a recurring motif pouring down her poems. Then again, most of her poems are set in winter and/or in trains and railway stations, where tea is a ubiquitous presence. 

The poems in ‘Wayfaring’ call out to themselves as they move through the pages. In the poem ‘Snow,’ which is set in a narrow-gauge train track, the line “a poem uncoiling into oblivion,” evokes the train’s passage. In another, ‘City Metro,’ evokes a similar mood with “laden with shopping bags/this poem rides the rush hour tide.” 

In the section ‘Exile Poems,’ nostalgia cradled in pain takes centre stage. Even in the poems that appear to be purely descriptive, a phrase here and a line or stanza there, reveal Tikuli’s inner feelings. This is abundantly obvious in the title poem ‘Exile,’ which makes no attempt to couch its emotion in descriptions of the past. The poem bares itself at the onset, refusing to relent even in the last line.  And in the poem ‘Winter,’ that season becomes a “grisly metaphor.”  There is a raw honesty in Tikuli’s work.  

Many of the poems in this collection have a little story at heart but leave themselves open ended. At times this becomes a fault, and the poems feel like flash fiction pieces broken up into stanzas. ‘Home,’ ‘Child Widow,’ ‘Exhaustion 1 and 2,’ and ‘The Last Meal,’ are examples. Then, there are poems at the other side of the spectrum, very, very short poems that feel like jottings or sudden musings. ‘Words,’ ‘Traces,’ and ‘Monsoon,’ to name a few. But these are minor hurdles in a book that has no pretensions, where the poems are brave enough to show themselves as they are, and (as cliched as it sounds!), even wear their hearts on their sleeves. 

‘Wayfaring’ is sprinkled with memorable images, which uplift the book. I quote from a couple of poems: “To you I may be only a memory/to me you are a pause in my thought.” From ‘Trail.’ “Waylaid, the night snuggles in to the bed of morning…” From ‘Kinnaur Revisited.’ 

Many poems in the collection carry the shadows of the personal, as if they were first written to dispel the poet’s own tragedies. But they manage to move beyond the personal. They cannot be called autobiographical. It is like, Tikuli snatched those moments from her own or her immediate surroundings and buried them inside her poems. Other poems become keen observations from her wanderings, sharply detailed, turning them into her own experiences. The title is apt. And, taken in its entirety, this is what the book is trying to say – that everything is a sojourn, even movement within the tight bounds of one’s own emotions or domestic space. And, that nothing is permanent; everything dissipates. Life itself is an act of wayfaring. 

It is refreshing, in these times of loaded poetry, to sit on a quiet day with a book of poems that speaks in a pure, almost youthful voice, guilt free and with a steadfast gaze. There is no sophistry here. No trying hard to be poems that cry out to be intellectual. The poems are clutter free. They set the reader free. And in doing so these poems speak with a clarity that draws meaning for the everyday reader looking for some comfort and repose through poetry. It is this quality that gives Tikuli’s poems their sheen. 

Shikhandin is the nom de plume of an Indian writer, whose recent published books include a story collection “Immoderate Men” published by Speaking Tiger Books, India, and a children’s book “Vibhuti Cat” published by Duckbill Books, India.  Shikhandin has won awards and accolades for her poetry and fiction in India and abroad. Her work has been published in journals and anthologies worldwide.

More about Shikhandin at her Amazon Page, Facebook, and her publisher’s websites: http://speakingtigerbooks.com/books/immoderate-men/ and http://www.duckbill.in/author-page?aut_id=61 

Utopia Revisited 2050: We Journey into a Brighter Future by Bhaskar Sompalli and Prem Menon 

Reviewed by Mary Ann Koruth

Set in the not-too-distant future, Utopia Revisited 2050 tells the story of an Indian expatriate’s return to Trichy, his hometown, a city in India’s deepest south. Sid Manekshaw, a Silicon Valley professional, returns home in the unlikely circumstance of personal loss. Sid, whose life so far consisted only of successes—he owns a private jet and is the proud founder of a startup—is devastated as crisis after crisis hits him. He loses his wife and parents to accidents within the span of a year. Utopia Revisited challenges Sid to reexamine the value and worth of his life in the year 2050, in the face of changes that promise to make his world a far more livable and empowering place. These changes are presented to the reader as an array of solutions implemented to rid contemporary society of the ills and prejudices that plague it, ranging from gun violence and school shootings to racial profiling. The solutions are imaginative and satisfying to contemplate—it would take away from the story to discuss them in detail here. Among the most progressive is an unprecedented approach to designing guns. Guns in 2050 are built to have a ‘consciousness’. These ‘smart’ weapons intervene at the crucial moment before the trigger is pulled, to affect the shooter into examining the prejudices that drive her actions. With support for the second amendment showing no signs of weakening, what better solution than to redesign weapons to trick their owners into reconsidering decisions to wield them? In this way, Utopia Revisited 2050 is an attempt by its authors—both tech professionals based in California—to suggest that all is not lost in present day America. Thinly veiled references to Donald Trump sketch a picture of why things should have got as bad as they did, until three decades or so into the future, when technology begins to be harnessed to bring peace and civility.  

Sid is presented with a subtle choice—can changes such as these, and changes implemented on a grassroots, local scale, truly transform his experience of grief? Does a commitment to creating a better and more humane world enable healing even when one loses one’s nearest and dearest? If the living must go on, as he recalls his deceased wife telling him, then how can this living be made more bearable?  

The premise of the solutions described in the book is that society can rid itself of the mindsets and biases that result in discrimination and violence—by enabling technology, big data and innovative approaches to design everything from education to weapons. Sompalli and Menon’s utopian society relies on technology to bring out the best in people. No doubt, compassion and humanistic action is difficult or hard to achieve on a purely human level, with purely human effort. The result, inevitably, is conflict—from police brutality to teenagers acting out in extreme ways. Enter technology—microchips that dismantle prejudice, continuous tracking of the effectiveness of these solutions, large scale analyses of social change—to achieve a very practical deliverance from human limitations. “World peace was no longer a toast at the dinner table, but a well-tracked problem that could be optimized,” says a character in the book.  

This debut novella holds the creators of today’s tech miracles—with a reflexive nod to the book’s authors—to the highest standards. It is a work of optimism and sympathy. It dreams of a more perfect world. The story of Sid’s suffering—is narrated simply and unsentimentally. What endeared me was its confidence in the possibility of a world that takes our reliance on technology to a level that is above and beyond what we know today, towards a world truly transformed. Yet its emotional core is wanting. Sid strikes a deep friendship with a woman, an ‘amma,’ who is revered as a spiritual guide among locals. Their conversations sound sometimes like exchanges of information—so much so that sometimes Sid and Amma become vehicles for the authors to communicate their vision for a better world. This is not for lack of effort on the part of Sompalli and Menon, who nonchalantly admit in their notes that they are ‘tech guys’ making a writing debut. Though the word ‘amma’ set off alarm bells in me, the character herself turned out to be the opposite of what I imagined based on the god-women who might have inspired her. No spoilers here, except that she turned out to be an unusually refreshing candidate for anamma. A Ted talk gives the reader a view of an entirely reimagined world in 2050. Yet the use of a Ted talk—a monologue—as a story telling device is so much less effective than an actual recreation of circumstances. Was a novella too limiting in scope for a work that takes on so much? Or was the choice of telling the story in a novella simply more manageable?  

Through it all, Sid discovers aspects to his parents lives that compel him to reevaluate them as individuals. Like himself in the wake of their death, his parents too, sought out ways to bring meaning to their own lives. They looked outward and away from their own pain and into the pain of others, as a way of dealing with it—a gallant goal for anyone looking to mend things. 

 

Reviews Editor Mary Ann Koruth’s writing and reviews have appeared in The Indiana Review,The Rain Taxi Review of Books and The Hindu. She has written for TheAtlantic.com while interning as web editor, and has covered art and culture for other publications. Her love for the English language came from growing up in a family where fidelity to literature and grammar bore a moral dimension. She is currently a candidate in the Rutgers-Newark MFA in creative writing.

The Last Vicereine: Love in the Time of Partition by Rhiannon Jenkins Tsang 

Reviewed by Rituparna Roy 

Lady Edwina Mountbatten, wife of Lord Mountbatten, is the star of Rhiannon Jenkins Tsang’s novel, The Last Vicerine (2018). Released the same year as another fictionalized and much criticized historical drama, Gurinder Chadha’s film, Viceroy’s House, reviewing Tsang’s novel is unusually and inevitably a comparative project. Unlike the film, which historians deplored for the liberties it took when telling the story of the partition, Tsang’s novel being fiction is let off more easily. Yet, the question is what she does with her chosen subject.   

Nehru and Edwina 

The book’s cover of Edwina’s profile superimposed on a silhouette of Nehru is evocative; it is widely known that the two shared a special relationship. Their lives, quite unforgettably, have been amply documented through several biographies and Nehru himself was a prolific letter-writer who penned his autobiography from prison. His correspondences take up several volumes in the Nehru Memorial Museum and its Library archives in Teen Murti Bhavan, New Delhi. One had hoped for deeper insights into their relationship than those offered by Tsang. 

Nehru’s private correspondence with Edwina that was first housed in the Mountbatten family archives at Broadlands, and later in the Mountbatten Archives at Southampton University, where they were placed under embargo. Unfortunately, the author has not been able to gain access to this important primary material, which though acknowledges is a major drawback. She has been able to consult other Mountbatten papers at Southampton and that is precious. Reliance on Janet Morgan’s Edwina, Mountbatten, A Life of Her Own – in which a part of the Nehru-Edwina correspondence had been published is an advantage with caveats. Other sources such as the recollections of Alan-Campbell Johnson (Press Attaché to Lord Mountbatten) and Margaret Bourke-White (famous Life magazine photographer) add value to the novel; both of them are characters in the novel. 

Edwina and Pippi  

What emerges from Jenkins’ research is a story of Edwina told by an imaginary character who plays a close associate Lady Letticia Wallace, nicknamed Pippi. And in the world of the novel, both women work for the St John’s Ambulance Brigade during the London Blitz and build a bond. When Mountbatten is suddenly asked to replace Lord Wavell as the Viceroy of India by King George VI in February 1947, Edwina is morally bound to accompany him. But their marriage has long been a sham (with Mountbatten having a steady mistress and Edwina having had affairs herself) and she is no mood to keep up pretences anymore. Luckily, like her husband, she is allowed to choose her staff, and she makes the India mission bearable for herself by deciding that Pippi would be with her in the capacity of ‘Special Adviser to the Vicereine.’ The latter is a recluse in Oxford after losing her entire family in the war – her lawyer husband and their two sons . Edwina however succeeds in persuading the reluctant Pippi to accept her offer, and thus starts a new phase in Pippi’s life. Pippi accompanies the Mountbattens to India, staying with the Viceregal couple for the entire duration of their brief, and actually continues to stay even after they leave since she finds her new love in Delhi 

Pippi’s narration follows a straightforward chronological arc, a veritable ticking time bomb in five parts, with titles that detail the period, like Part I – ‘India Full Speed Ahead, February 1947 to late May 1947; Part II ‘Saints, Sinners, Lovers, Traitors, June 1947 to 15th August 1947, and Part V – ‘Marigolds, New Delhi, 22nd February 1960. We are left in no doubt about the historical narrative and we get to see and hear many of the big players in addition to Alan Campbell-Jonson and Bourke-White, we have George Abell (Private Secretary to Lord Wavell, and then to Mountbatten), Claude Auchinleck (Commander-in-Chief, India), Sir Cyril Radcliffe (the man brought in to divide India), Sir Evan Jenkins (Governor of the Punjab) on the British side; Nehru, Jinnah, Gandhi and Patel on the Indian side.  

That all of them are accessible to Pippi is fictionally plausible – because she is “SE to her Ex (Special Adviser to her Excellency the Vicereine), but her forced insertion into historical events is not always convincing. It is pertinent to note that all the major events in India in 1947-1948 have been covered in the novel — the Viceregal swearing-in ceremony, the Asian Relations Conference, the Viceroy’s visit to riot-affected Punjab, the Simla Conference, Independence day celebrations (in Delhi), the mass migrations following Partition, the Maharaja of Jaipur’s Silver Jubilee Celebrations in December 1947, Gandhi’s assassination in January 1948 and its immediate aftermath to the extent that one could just as easily read it as a book of narrative history, not necessarily fiction. The novel resembles in style, Dominique Lappierre and Larry Collins’ 1970s bestseller Freedom at Midnight, minus its narrative pace and thrill.   

Given Jenkins’ British sources, and the fact that the principal point of view in the novel is that of a member of the Viceregal staff, it is hardly surprising that what we get is a British perspective on the Indian Independence and Partition – one that is full of sympathy for Mountbatten and Cyril Radcliffe’s monumental responsibilities in the summer of 1947, and more generally, for the predicament on the British side; Tsang’s perspective on riot-affected victims in the Punjab and Delhi is far less emotionally engaging. Though Pippi meets Rajkumari Amrit Kaur – Gandhi’s personal secretary and a social worker of standing and plays an active role in post-partition relief work, along with the Vicereine, we don’t enter the lives of the people they work with, a disappointing omission given that a wealth of literature spawned by the partition was at Jenkins Tsang’s disposal. 

We don’t enter Edwina’s emotional life either; this is the most disappointing aspect of the novel: the novel has not delivered on its promise. SE to her Ex” is an excellent ploy on the part of the novelist to give the Edwina story from the inside, but more is needed to sustain the reader’s interest. We learn about the Viceroy’s house (its people and routines and the radical changes introduced in its protocol by the Mountbattens), but not the Vicereine’s much teased-upon affair with Nehru. Here is Pippi, in one of the early chapters, chancing upon the Vicereine and the Congress leader at the Asian Relations Conference dinner party:  

I went out on to the terrace. It was then that I saw them – Edwina and Jawahar. Caught in a halo of light from the stage, they sat in the centre. In that moment everything that was happening seemed to be spinning off them, happening because of them, and in some way connected to them. Edwina was sitting on a sofa, watching a performance of Indian dance. He was cross-legged at her feet. It was written on their faces, in the turn of her head and the angle of his back against the sofa, pressing too close to the hems of her skirt. Whether they knew it or not, it was unveiled for all the hundreds to see. Shocked, I realized that this was what those red-faced schoolboys, Alan Campbell-Johnson and Krishna Menon, had been gossiping about the other day.  

I was looking for more moments like these when I could actually see them together, but they come again only at the end of the book, with Nehru officially bidding farewell to the Mountbattens in 1948. Since such moments would have been rare and unofficial, and their correspondence largely inaccessible, reimagining their relationship in flesh and blood required a leap of artistic imagination that Jenkins does not venture into. Though she says in her acknowledgements: “I am of the opinion that a sufficient period of time has now elapsed to make it possible to tell the story of the great friendship between Jawaharlal Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten in a fictional format,she plays it safe.  

Pippi and Hari 

What the novel does deliver on is a romance between Pippi and Hari Rathore. Hari is a doctor by profession, but also a nationalist, a close friend of Nehru’s. Hailing from a privileged family of Rajputana, he returns to India from Cambridge and dedicates his career to serving the needy of his country. In 1947, he is a widower in his late 50s, with a son settled in the US, and a married daughter and grandchildren living in Lahore. He marries young, and is unable to connect with his even younger, superstitious wife before a brain tumour takes her away. A short affair with a socialite ends abruptly. In Pippi, Hari finds the companion he needs – a mature, educated, sympathetic woman who shares his ideals and lonelier than he.  

Pippi and Hari’s love story halting, uncertain at first, but finally life-affirming is beautifully told, with many arresting moments: their very first meeting during Mountbatten’s durbar’ in 1947, their second sudden meeting at Nehru’s York Road residence the morning after the Asian Conference, and their visit to the Qutb Minar while spending a day with friends at Mehrauli are some of the most memorable potraits. It is their relationship that drew me into the novel.  

The novel came alive for me in the sections that center round them. However, immediately after an emotional momentum is built, political musings, summaries of events, and historical telling take over. The romantic anticipation is lost in the process. And by the time one meets them again, one has to re-invest oneself in their story.  

Of the two parallel love stories in The Last Vicereine, the imaginary one between Pippi and Hari is rendered more imaginatively and successfully than the historical one. Though the novel appears to want to be about Edwina and Nehru, the story is Pippi’s, and had Jenkins Tsang been attentive to this, a different novel with the title “SA to her Ex” might have been her truer calling. 

Rituparna Roy has taught at the Leiden University College (LUC), the Hague & the Leiden Institute for Area Studies (LIAS). She is the author of ‘South Asian Partition Fiction in English: From Khushwant Singh to Amitav Ghosh (AUP: 2010) & co-editor of the ICAS volume,’ Writing India Anew: Indian English Fiction 2000-2010′ (AUP: 2013). Her articles, interviews and reviews have appeared in The Wire.in, Scroll.in, The Punch Magazine, Our FrontCover & Kaani. Her fictional writings have been published by The Punch Magazine, Lebowski Publishers & Jaggery and a maiden collection of shorts, ‘Gariahat Junction’, is forthcoming. 

 

The Runaways by Fatima Bhutto

Reviewed by Praveena Shivram 

Fatima Bhutto’s The Runaways has words that dance to a music of their own, with tunes that once you catch – which you invariably will– sweep you into irresistible beats that throb with great urgency. Set between 2014 and 2017, with compelling characters – young, restless, full of glorious and tragic lives – caught in the web of politics and religion and their social implications, The Runaways is awash with such detail that you physically breathe in the world. Here, thoughts singe and burn, personalities crackle and simmer, and choice, that all pervasive thing, is like circumstance’s dangling noose, at once dangerous and inevitable.

The novel begins with Anita Rose leaving Karachi, her neighbour and comrade Osama’s words, still ringing in her ears: This city will take your heart… You don’t know what Karachi does to people like us. Take your heart, do you hear? And right there, a quiet sense of fear creeps in, and the motif of escape, central to the book, makes its first appearance. Escape, which, you will quickly learn, is intoxicated on its own sense of freedom, much like Anita’s old neighbour, who, forever with a glass of sharab in his hands, spews lines from Hafiz, Ghalib and Faiz, which Anita diligently notes down in her little red notebook. He calls her “lion” and that is what the first part of the book is also titled, “They Call Me Lion.” Bhutto has fashioned this book like a jigsaw puzzle divided among the three characters – Anita Rose, Monty and Sunny. Timelines, even though set within a specific time frame, do not matter here as Bhutto effortlessly moves from past to present, from yesterday to tomorrow, from Anita to Monty to Sunny, and even though it is confusing at first, you submit to its rigour.

If Anita’s life represents the journey of moving from the slums of Karachi to its more urban working-class town of Gulshan, then Monty’s life is the other extreme of Karachi, belonging to a world that holidays in London, that can indiscriminately hire and fire servants, and that can have the luxury to choose the life of superficial austerity (in Monty’s mother’s case) or a life of superficial hardship (in Monty’s case). Monty’s life has turned upside-down when he has met the mysterious Layla in school, a new admission, constantly smelling of cigarettes, a reader of Urdu poetry, a purposeful, ferocious rebel. He falls deeply in love with her. The first thing she asks him when they meet is: ‘What do you know of the world?’ and you can feel the ground beneath Monty’s feet being pulled away and there is nothing left to do but fall. In Bhutto’s words, here is how the scene unravels: When he spoke to her, she noticed that his pupils dilated, like coffee spilling in slow motion, until you could no longer see the light brown of his eyes. ‘What do you know about the world?’ Layla shot back, running her tongue along the seam of the cigarette. ‘What gives you the right to have an opinion about anything?’ And without meaning to, Monty gave the only answer someone like Layla would respect. Nothing, he replied. I don’t know anything.

And, then, there is Sunny, in Portsmouth, UK. The most misunderstood of the lot, the one carrying his immigrant father’s sedate bitterness most consciously, feeling most tangibly his Muslim roots, and grappling with the many-hued layers of his sexuality, and eventually choosing, within this morass of confusion, a path of no return. Bhutto saves a large part of her compassion for Sunny, almost as if she knows he is too fragile, where even one word that misses its mark could break him. Several times, you hold your breath as you watch Sunny struggle and flounder, and then are filled with dread when Oz, Sunny’s cousin, arrives and begins to tell him about the fight for the Promised Land. As you enter part two of the book, titled “And We Were Born Again”, that exclusively chronicles Sunny and Monty’s long trek through the desert as ‘jihadis’ fighting for the Ummah Movement in Syria, you read Sunny’s version with more care, you read his Twitter feed and Facebook posts with alacrity. Sunny is so deeply lost that he is willing to kill a large part of himself to be found, to be seen, and in this engagement with his pain, he discovers a semblance of order.

When their paths cross in part three, ‘Truly They Speak, Only Those Who Have Seen The Truth’, you begin to feel the anguish of endless hope and faith. When Anita asks Osama, ‘How do I stop it? How do I stop this city from eating my heart?’, and Osama says, ‘You fight. You take theirs first.’ you start to feel the descent, the descent into a void of heady freedom, freedom that is old by virtue of its birth and new by virtue of its constant, small, everyday deaths, evident even in the abbreviated versions of their names – Mustafa becomes Monty, Salman becomes Sunny, Ozair becomes Oz, Ezra becomes Feroze, and Anita becomes Layla. One of the triumphs of Bhutto’s novel is that even the characters that stand outside this circle are so richly detailed that they never seem incidental to the plot. Each one brings something precise and sharp that changes lives, so that, by the time we come to the fourth part, “The Land of Milk and Honey,” we are spent, having fallen in and out of the vastness of this landscape contained so precariously within Anita, Monty and Sunny’s young fists.

Bhutto, with her own history – of being raised in Syria and Karachi, being niece of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and deeply troubled by her father’s death who was killed by the police in Karachi – brings a sense of vulnerability to her writing, that is powerful and yet devoid of conceit. In the end, when we read, And at that moment Sunny thought Monty – whose face was slightly tanned, the bridge of his nose burnt from the sun – was somehow more beautiful than when they had first met, we know, with the inevitability of thunder following lightening, that this is true for the book as well – it resonates with a beauty we do not expect in the beginning when Anita leaves Karachi and the moon hangs low in the night.

Praveena Shivram is a writer based in Chennai, India, and currently the Editor of Arts Illustrated, a pan-India arts and design based magazine. She has written for several national publications, including The Times of India, India Today, The Hindu, The Swaddle, Biblio: A Review of Books, Asiaville, and Culturama. Her fiction has appeared in the Open Road Review, The Indian Quarterly, Jaggery Lit, Desi Writers’ Lounge, Spark, Chaicopy, and Helter Skelter’s anthology of New Writing Volume 6. She is a single mother of two children and an occasional powerlifter. Read her work at www.praveenashivram.com

A Roll of the Dice by Mona Dash

Reviewed by Ghada Ibrahim  

A Roll of the Dice is a book that resonates with sadness and joy; altogether an amalgamation of ardent fervor, a mother’s love, and the world’s gentle sway in the direction of good fortune. It is a story of motherhood and resilience and the power of hope. Mona Dash’s memoir narrates her ill-fortune of being a genetic carrier of the Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID) virus – a fact she learned the hard way: losing her first born to it.  

Despite this, Mona is determined to pursue motherhood. With several odds stacked against her and stacked high, she gambles with life for another chance and wins. Determined in her pursuit, Mona leaves her hometown and moves to London to start afresh. Surrounded by better medical resources and an even stronger determination, she leaps into the world of maternity, hoping and praying for a miracle.  

Once I picked up the book, I could not put it down. Nose glued between the pages while commuting to work, on buses and in cabs, every fortunate moment I had to myself was spent burrowing deep into this courageous and heart-touching story. The memoir plucked at my heart and took me on a journey of humor, grief, and palpable excitement. With every new development in Mona’s life as a mother-to-be, the story grew on me. 

Mona’s hope to conceive and raise a child who could potentially lead a normal life took her from India to London on a toilsome journey which lasted an entire decade. Her story is the clearest depiction of the unpredictability of life; of how situations can bounce between numbing joy and crippling sadness. Some of the many lines that stuck with me from the book are “They say that grief is like a little stone in your shoe. You don’t always feel it but you know it’s there, ever-present and, from time to time, it bites into your soul to remind you that all isn’t well.”  

In moving to London, Mona found a new home which was what she needed the most to begin anew. While being a difficult decision to uproot from one’s homeland, it was not the case with Mona. She writes, “the freedom I felt was the manna I craved.” Despite migrating to a completely foreign land and diving headfirst into a culture that stood poles apart from India, the warmth and love received from people made her feel like she belonged. During the strenuous and endless hospital visits, she developed unbreakable bonds with doctors and nurses who despite being surrounded by illness, disease, and death, displayed a warmth she had hardly experienced back home.  

At the peak of her misery, Mona never gave up hope. From struggling with endometriosis and sitting through fertility checks to juggling her job and a premature child at the brink of death, her resolve shone through like a beacon in the dark. Devoid of self-pity and chockful of fearlessness, Mona’s story serves as a guide and solace for parents experiencing infertility, dealing with premature infants or children with SCID.  

It is powerful, enriching and an explosion of emotions that envelope you in a fierce embrace. It is a story that is bold and speaks its truth, loud and clear. From amongst the messages that one can take after traipsing down Mona’s memory lane is the need for being thankful, for friends whom you can call upon in times of desperate need, for continuous advancements in medicine, for the gift of being normal.  

Ghada Ibrahim is currently pursuing her undergraduate degree in Psychology. Aside from being an avid reader immersing herself in the literary world, she likes to live with no regrets. She has been blogging and writing since the age of 15 and aspires to become a published author one day to share her love for all things literary with the rest of the world.

A People’s History of Heaven by Mathangi Subramanian 

Reviewed by Aravind Mitra 

A People’s History of Heaven is an unusual title for a work of fiction, but it aptly works for Mathangi Subramanian’s debut novel. It doesn’t deal with incidents and events of the people buried in the pages of Indian history, but gives voice to the life stories, hidden past, and biographies of women who have been the subjects of patriarchy, gender norms, and domestic problems. Subramanian’s creative universe defies several ideas of novel writing. It cares less for a strong plot, the appearance of the characters is random and except for the slum called Heaven, nothing connects the inhabitants. Subramanian’s debut is an ambitious and an innovative attempt that extends the frontiers of Indian writing in English by addressing several concerns that are relevant to the present societies 

Swargahalli, a slum, is a blot on the beautiful geography of Bangalore. It is an odd landscape amidst the tall buildings, sprawling bungalows, and a busy airport. The authorities want to supplant Swargahalli with a swanky shopping mall and this effort is halted by the slum’s residents. This vapor thin storyline of power and resistance becomes interesting, unique and a strong social poetic commentary because of Subramanian’s characters. The narrative unravels the lives of five girls addressing a few issues that plague women’s life. Within a limited time frame, the novel reveals the past and conjectures the future of the flawed characters. Subramanian carefully crafts Heaven’s universe with women who belong to two different generations. Banu, Deepa, Rukshana, Joy, and Padma are not only young school going residents of the slum but also the representatives of the lost selves of Neelamma Aunty, Banu’s ajji, Selvi Aunty, Gita Aunty, and Fatima Aunty. The young women promise to continue the struggles of their mothers and grandmothers.   

Deepa accepts her blindness and chooses her partner. Her rationality is limited to replicate the societal norms and she says, Well I have permission from my husband to be here, so there’s nothing you can say.” In several places, she represents her mother’s unrequited love. Rukshana’s assertion, “I don’t dress like a boy. I dress like myself,” reminds her mother Fatima’s words to one of the representatives of the health department, “These people come and talk to us like we don’t know anything.” Banu’s unrecognized skills, “Poverty might make our lives ugly. But, in Banu’s drawings, our survival is full of beauty, are similar to Banu’s ajji’s way of saving many women in the slum from their violent husbands and miscarriages.  

The novel is a people’s history, a history chronicled to reflect several ideologies that project an egalitarian society. The characters’ lives become only a tool to prove Subramanian’s intentions. The novel’s language is musical, quite literally, as ‘rhythms’ and ‘symphony’ keep on recurring. Subramanian’s linguistic experiment is quite innovative and there are no parallels in the recent past except for Mohan Rao’s The Smoke is Rising. Many feelings are expressed in precise sentences abruptly punctuated with commas and periods. What makes her dialogues very innovative is that in the chapter ‘Frangipani’, the characters are called by the things they are associated with, “Earbuds says”, “Cricket Bat mumbles” and “Spectacles says. The inner worlds of the young girls flow in a meandering riverlike sentences, “Truths flat and round that fit in your palm like five-rupee coins.” Sentences are flavored with Kannada and a couple of Hindi words and carry a lot of references to popular cultures. Subramanian’s experiment is praiseworthy but doesn’t suit the context and the world she intends to create. Her ironical nomenclature Swargahalli is too Sanskritized to be the name of a slum. Poetic narration is too beautiful to be called conversations and result in inconsistent descriptions.  A confident narrative voice declares, Women who were fiercely loved, cruelly abandoned. Who woke up every morning with fists clenched, knees tensed, ready to fight. Desperate to live,” only to be contrasted with a statement like, “Everyone in Heaven is always losing all the time.” Swargahalli is populated by migrants, people hoping for a better life and orphans. Subramanian’s highly philosophical, artistic, poetic and aphoristic language does not infuse life into these characters.   

To provide an inclusive universe, Subramanian forces the characters to easily accept gender differences and alternative sexual choices. Crucial scenes like Banu’s ajji witnessing her husband’s secrets get only a few paragraphs. The language, the characters’ journey and experiences are not organically related to the context but to the author’s convenience.    

The scene of a foreigner clicking Swargahalli’s picture reflects the novel’s condition. “The foreign woman doesn’t call the newspaper. She doesn’t bring help. She doesn’t do much anything at all besides framing the photographs she took and hanging them in a gallery.” As the foreign woman remains alien to Swargahalli’s conditions, the narrative voices unknowingly distance themselves from the pain and agony of the slum. However, this history is a must for it genuinely tries to build a subaltern voice through various characters and hopes for a better future.   

K Aravind Mitra is currently teaching in Government First grade College, Napoklu. He studied in English and Foreign Languages University and the Central University of Hyderabad. His reviews, articles and short stories have been published in The Hindu, Prajavani, and online platforms. Now, he is trying to read classical Kannada epics to write a book on Halegannada.

A Bombay in my Beat by Mrinalini Harchandrai 

Reviewed by Sushumna Kannan  

Mrinalini Harchandrai’s Bombay in my Beat is an evocative book of poems with well-used words and thought-through ideas. It explores the city through myriad organicallyemerging categories such as gender, class, politics, ecology. Yet, the articulation of the aural sensory realm and experience trumps in this work like in few other poetry collections. One might think that to write about the city (especially Indian ones) naturally engages with the visual more, but no, not here. The aural world is inaugurated anew and how!  

Cities everywhere are now officially a crucial part of our identities. “Where are you from?” is the question we ask to understand another person, replacing almost any other form of introduction, especially the odd, uncouth, “who are you?” By finding out where one is from, we seem to imagine the person in the city and know a part of them and their experience instantly. Your city is the keycode to your culture and being! It is also not surprising anymore to speak of cities as having their own character and personality. They seem to make us even as we make them—a simultaneity that is rare to find even in our most cherished relationships with other humans or with ideas.   

Harchandrai uses the above-outlined place of the city in our milieu as her starting point and delves into deeper explorations. She excels at exploiting images for conveying two different ideas at a time in her runon lines. Her first few poems capture the city as a series of sounds in an amazing wealth of words that are definitely not synonyms. The reader realizes with awe that there are indeed these many words related to sounds in our languages. Harchandrai also springs surprises on readers with ideas and images that begin one way but end up in an another. This is exciting and intellectually stimulating. Each poem is filled with twists and turns that keep the reader going. Harchandrai also makes new words and verbs that you want to quickly start using, such as:as water sheets roads.” The contemporary and updated slant to her language is unmissable, we hear in the city, “a balloon-seller’s sales pitch.”  

Harchandrai’s clever use of words reminds us why poetry is hailed as the greatest form of writing. Poetry achieves in a short space on the written page yokings that otherwise seem impossible. Harchandrai’s poems are unusual but bring believable and truthful forms of expression. In a number of poems, the city and its sensory drama pervades, yet a quick aside on a deep subject leaves us with an unexpected poem. We realize how much there is to say with the city as the locus. After all, it is the setting for the way our world unravels starting every morning. Yet, the city is not the subject of all poems, it is where we derive our stock of images from and shape our perceptive capacities with, as in 

bombs cracker and blast
from up near heaven
slam building-top ambitions. 

We realize how inevitable the city is to our living and how its intangible aura offers unparalleled and singularly impressionist experiences. It would not be surprising anymore if we plan our cities not for functionality but from combining scientific perspectives that tell us what variety of objects, colors and structures humans need to see and perceive to build their sensory abilities optimally. We might well be at a stage where we cannot un-think cities anymore. After all, the most nomadic of our renunciants now have relatively stable housing, within a city!  

Harchandrai’s unexpected deliveries are not over-clever, there is a noticeable simplicity to all the poems; her sentences are taut and well-timed: she wastes no time or printing ink to make her points. The changing weather of a city with an impatience for and critique of rapid and uneven urbanization is captured like this: 

a caravan trail of clouds
rolled in
looking for parking spots
neon graffiti stood their ground
arms crossed, dryly nonchalant

the dripping tongue
of a homeless dog
meeting only iridescent tar puddles.  

From the homeless beggars at traffic signals, cafes, clubs and temple bells and patriarchy to noting changing cultural values, Harchandrai covers a lot of the experiences that are compulsorily an aspect of any city-dweller’s life.  

Lady driver!” his complaint palpable
in his grimace
I send him a hex
eye voodoo.
Writing about migrants, class and cultural difference, she gives us a quick glimpse that says a lot: 
Morals, walking like a man
swishing loosely knee-length
in my tailored skirt,
their women layer
for measured movement. 

Harchandrai mourns the loss of love in one-liners occasionally and notes the impossibility of survival without embracing conceit in Bombay in the title-poem, which is written like a rap song: 

The buzz is constant, like flies on meat
today’s Jogeshwari gypsy, tomorrow’s Alibaug elite,
a chance to just be, just see, what fate you’ll meet,
damn it, can’t slam it, Bombay’s the heart note in my beat. 

In another poem, she writes: 

Postcolonials ponder
which came first, Mumbai or Bombay
or Bom Baia or Mumbai?
Chicken-egging takes metropolitan proportions 

She writes on moral police, capturing how the policeman blushes instead of those caught in the act of PDA beautifully. The city here is not an impersonal one, it is characteristically Indian, it is specifically Mumbai:  

She stole one
and got caught rouge-handed
by Moral Patrol,
as the pandus passed by
in their righteous safari,
pairs of eyes glinted

through the bushes,
dogs and elephants and giraffe
mesmerised by daylight robbery
of a kiss in the Hanging Gardens. 

Harchandrai’s voice, wherever impersonal, in small doses, comes more from being well-traveled and not from hasty assumptions about universality. Her own location is quite clearly upper middle class and she makes no attempt to hide it. In this sense and in many others, she writes what she knows. Harchandrai captures all the woes of the city in succinct images that leave you nodding in agreement and wishing there was more of these smoothreading lines. There is occasionally a wry laugh at the collective urban self, yet I would call the poems mostly uplifting. There are emotions, of course, of slight hopelessness but they are not overpowering or excessively sentimental.  

Harchandrai’s work is reminiscent of T S Eliot and Johnathan Swift’s poems, especially the latter’s, “A Description of a City Shower,” which is a critique of the anonymity and the self-centeredness of city-dwellers—a divide that is exaggeratedly present in India through language, culture and clothing. Decades later, it seems we are not done with critiquing the city yet; we have to of course critique it when it grows grotesque and cherish it when it enriches us. It seems we have replaced nature with the city as subjects of our poetry—after all, we replaced the one with the other in reality! 

Harchandrai’s poems have a lot of references to music; the writer knows her writing and her music too. A must-read for fans of the neversleeping nishachara city and the form of poetry.    

Sushumna Kannan has a PhD in Cultural Studies. Her research on the South Asian devotional traditions and feminist epistemology focused on the medieval saint, Akka Mahadevi and her vachanas. She has published her research on bhakti, dharmashastras, ethics, women’s writing in Kannada and English as well as on translation theory. She is currently working on a couple of book projects and translation projects. She is currently Adjunct Faculty at the San Diego State University, San Diego, USA. For more of her writings, see: www.sushumnakannan.weebly.com 

Green is the Colour of Memory by Huzaifa Pandit

Reviewed by Sahana Mukherjee

Huzaifa and I wouldn’t have met had it not been for a seminar he came to attend in Kolkata. He stayed in the city for a week and we happened to meet every other day – I was mostly a listener throughout, completely taken in by his ability to recollect (and recite from heart) couplets after couplets of poetry with such effortlessness. Huzaifa had poems up his sleeve.
I have read Green is the Colour of Memory almost three times now, sometimes with my friend, but mostly, alone. Huzaifa’s poems speak the language of silence and it’s often when severely exhausted after an inexplicably lonely day that I have picked it up again and again to read through the pages. And, on such days it has brought me a strange comfort to read the last couplet of his last poem, “Hysteria”:

“The parchment of my heart
is empty, quite empty.”

We are what our homes make us – broken, maimed, whole in pain, half in happiness. Huzaifa and I come from very different homes and homelands. We have grown up differently. We have learnt to compose poetry differently. We don’t have the same stories to look back to. So, where do we find a common ground? For, surely, we do. It’s probably because we have been whole in pain and half in happiness for a while now. But, then I can’t tell. We often mistake the idea of a common ground for something that arises out of the similar, the commonly familiar – what if it comes from difference? What if we find a common ground only when we learn to accept difference? Thus, it is with my comradeship with Huzaifa and his poetry. Our daily lives are often so incomparable that we come halfway despite all barriers to share stories of resistance and solidarity.

To say Huzaifa’s poetry is political and stop at that would be an injustice to his language of politics – a language that is rooted in the historical past and present of Kashmir and being a Kashmiri, but also rooted in other identities. Huzaifa’s time in Pune as a student reverberates in his poetry. One identity comfortably slips into another as he writes down his words in English – a language, for most of us, not our own yet. In his poem, “Train to Bombay”, Huzaifa writes:

“My imported accent
smelt of foreign currency…”

It’s interesting how he chooses to write that it is his “accent” that is “imported”. His language isn’t. He goes on:

“I forgot all the memories
of high school geography
so forfeited my right
to feign nationality.”

For all the rhetoric of Kashmir being an “integral part of India”, the way a Kashmiri speaks sounds “foreign” to those in Bombay. This idea of foreign-ness isn’t limited to speech alone as Huzaifa suggests in the next line; his “fair skin” and “brown hair” are also seen as markers of difference. But, he asks the perfect question:

“Would they slap betrayal if I confessed
my fair skin and brown hair were
painted by the icicles of Kashmir
rather than the European sun?”

The first time I read this poem, I was reminded of one particularly sultry afternoon when I had accompanied Huzaifa to a fairly unpopular bookstore in Kolkata. He had bought close to ten books and while paying, the accountant – who had been eyeing him for a long time with a bemused smile on his face – had asked him, “Where are you from?” And, Huzaifa, in his poetry-chanting tone, had replied, “How does it matter where I come from?”

The image of the city is something I find very intriguing in Huzaifa’s poetry. The poet speaks with the city and it is brought to life – a life otherwise unnoticed, inconspicuous. In his poem, “Reading Faiz on Deewali”, he writes:

“Beneath this cloak of fog
lies hidden the lost city of dead lights.”

A city that lies hidden, a city that is lost, a city of dead lights is brought to life by the poet for a series of questions that no one has an answer to. Diwali is a festival of lights, but the only light that this poem mentions is either dead or “exiled”. The series of questions begin with remembering prison-houses:

“City of dead lights, who will draw the map to the prison
of exiled lights?”

For a reader outside Kashmir, sitting comfortably in his/her bedroom, this association may seem out of place. But, this is the only association accessible to the poet for whom Diwali is but a “fog-stained sky” where clouds loom “like an overheard babble/of heartbroken sighs, dry blood and destitute tears”. The commonly understood idea of a festival is overturned in this poem, for, Huzaifa’s idea of it comes from a “policed world”.

In another poem, the city is said to have had a language once. But, now, “your beloved is barricaded/in meshed screens of silence/it has been a century”. At a time when the city would also speak, the beloved “was the muezzin”. A muezzin is one who gives out the call for azaan. His voice prepares the city for prayer, but on a “curfewed Friday”, one must pray alone – even the sound of a sigh shouldn’t reach the streets.

One could go on and on about Green is the Colour of Memory for it evokes jarring images of heartbreaks, curfews, despair. Most importantly, it tries to reach out with its own language of silence, resistance, and love and one need only walk halfway to take its hand in one’s own. I’ll end with one of Huzaifa’s poems, a favourite, “On Visiting My Old Classroom”:

“I grew up aimlessly
and too slow.
I might be ageing
for light fades quickly.
Yet I have harboured
a notion of an art.
As I grew up
I numbered my years.
I still keep those numbers
and stare at them.
They lie beside me
for old ghosts
do pay a visit, sometimes
to their graves.”

Sahana Mukherjee is currently pursuing research as an M.Phil scholar at Jadavpur University. She is the 2017 Charles Wallace Fellow at the University of Edinburgh in Creative Writing. Her poems have previously been published in The Sunflower Collective, The Four Quarters Magazine, Galway Review, Café Dissensus, Vayavya, Voice and Verse Poetry Magazine and more. Her first book of poems, August Ache is expected to be out shortly.

Eating Wasps by Anita Nair

Reviewed by Yamini Vasudevan

Sreelakshmi recalls an incident that occurred when she was four years old.

She is tempted by the bottle of honey in her grandmother’s cupboard. The delicious sticky food that is added with medicines to make them palatable, dribbled on bananas as a treat, or mixed with warm water to cure a cough. Sreelakshmi longs to taste the honey as it is but she barely gets more than a “lick-worth…a drop that was sweeter then sweetness itself.”

With a child’s view of the world, she decides that since honeybees make and eat honey, they must be full of the delicious, viscous liquid. Off she goes—deciding that she would rather get the honey on her own. What results is her opening her mouth eagerly and clamping down on a bee—but, in the place of imagined sweetness, the disgusting taste of an insect’s innards fills her mouth. She later finds out that she had actually eaten a wasp.

Lest the child runs off eating bees or wasps again, Sreelakshmi’s grandmother offers her the bottle of honey and tells her to take as much she wants. The girl shoves a spoonful into her mouth but all it does is to bring back the taste of the wasp.

Sreelakshmi never eats honey again.

Once she killed herself, Sreelakshmi should have been gone. But a deliberate act by her former lover ties her back to the mortal realm, and she finds herself weaving in and out of the lives of a few women, deftly drawing out their hidden secrets and stories, even as she herself lingers within an old almirah as a fragment—literally—of her former self.

Through her, we learn of how Little Megha learnt a terrible lesson about how not all affection is to be trusted; of Najma’s acid-ravaged face—testimony to a life torn apart to shreds; of Brinda’s disappointment that success in spades was not what it seemed to be; and the dregs of Urvashi’s affair, which now seep into her life as cusses and threats over the phone….

There is also the underlying thread of Sreelakshmi’s own story—and we are constantly reminded, even as we delve into people’s lives, that she is waiting to share her own tale with us. Finally, the story unfolds—a tale of feelings not reciprocated, of society’s disapproval, and the eating away of one’s will, which ultimately leads to her taking her own life.

It soon becomes clear that, like Sreelakshmi, the women learn their lesson about illusions the hard way—when bitterness floods their mouths and the memory of an unpleasant taste refuses to leave their tongues.

Anita Nair, with her trademark combination of a strong narrative, and elegant but grounded language ensures that the reader is left with little choice but to turn the page. The stories lead from one to other, linked only by the movement of a relic that holds Sreelakshmi’s spirit (and voice) within. The stories draw the reader in deep—so deep that one sometimes has to pull away from the pages, take a breath and shake off the rising feelings of anger, disgust or sorrow. Given that each of us could as easily put a name from our own lives and circles to each one of the characters makes it even harder to view the stories as just fiction.

One, of course, is also reminded of the time when what seemed to be a promise of sticky sweetness ended up leaving a bitter aftertaste—and robbed us of our naïve innocence in its wake.

The stories point also subtly reinforce the fact that inflexible social norms, hypocritical double standards, and the biased unkindness of the outsider who peeps in from the fringes are but constants, no matter which day and age or country we may be living in. The ripple of a rumour along the neighbourhood, the sharing of a video on social media—the forms may have changed, yet much remains the same.

Through it all, Nair gently reminds us that, no matter what, there is no halting in our tracks. In one way or the other, people pick up the pieces and move on. They may sever a relationship or cling to hope, throw off their veils and brave the world, or even walk away from it—whatever it is, they make a choice in the light of the bitter memories that dog them.

And every choice requires courage. As much courage as it takes to eat a wasp.

A writer and editor, Yamini Vasudevan has worked with some of the biggest names in the publishing world. She is currently working as VP – Branding and Communications at SARAS Works.

Prior to that, she was Managing Editor of Culturama – an Indian cultural magazine for expatriates living in India. Her previous work experiences include terms at The Hindu Business Line (Chennai), Harper’s Bazaar (Singapore) and The Singapore Women’s Weekly (Singapore). She was also co-author of the book Singapore Indian Entrepreneurs: Dreams to Reality (2004) which was published by the Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Yamini’s writing spans political/historical narratives and analysis, qualitative business issues, travel and lifestyle – and her articles have been published by top newspapers and magazines.

Fiction is a long-standing love, and she has published several short stories for children and adults. Her short story, ‘Beautiful’, was also the winner of the 2013 Indireads Short Story Competition in the Romance Category. She also has a romance novella due for publication.

You can read more at her LinkedIn page or at her website.

Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal

Reviewed by Shirin Shamsi

As a person of Pakistani heritage, I was especially thrilled to hear of Soniah Kamal’s Unmarriageable: Pride and Prejudice in Pakistan and couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy. I eagerly delved into its pages and found it a compelling and enthralling read. Those who have never read Pride and Prejudice will find that Unmarriageable is a unique novel that stands on its own.

Written with the playfulness and irony of our beloved Jane Austen, Kamal cleverly weaves the familiar with the unfamiliar. Instead of the Netherfield Ball, we are given the NadirFiede wedding, which lasts three days – with the Mehndi, Nikah and Walima – as a traditional Pakistani wedding with all the old songs like Chitta Kukkar Banere to boot! It is quite refreshing to see the contrast and similarities of Pakistani culture with Regency England in relation to marriage, class, gender and double standards.

The Binat family are living in the small fictional town of Dilipabad, having left their luxurious life in Lahore after suffering financial loss.

Thirty year old Alysba Binat- to her mother’s constant worry and dismay- is still unmarried. The story opens in Alysba’s classroom of ninth graders discussing Pride and Prejudice. The story unfolds in Lahore, Islamabad and some parts in Karachi. Kamal skillfully creates her own unique characters that have the essence of the original, but something more modern. Kamal takes on all of society’s ills, including racism, ageism, post-colonial-beauty-standards and the blatant double standards of society towards men and women, with her adept satirical eye. Her use of literary and artistic references throughout the book provide depth and many layers to an already engaging read, amidst the luxurious and colorful backdrop where sizzling samosas are consumed with plates brimming with biryani. I enjoyed the play on names and the social commentary on the stark class differences and the superficial worry about “Log kya kehenge” – what will people say. Even though we laugh at Alysba’s mother whose actions are recognizable, as any desi who knows an “aunty” would recognize, Kamal reminds us that though we are laughing at her, she does it all out of a desperation to see her girls married, even if their happiness is not guaranteed. There is sincerity in her desperation.

Alysba’s tries to teach her students to think critically, to know there are alternative choices for women. She is as compelling, memorable and endearing as any classic heroine who knows her own mind and is not willing to settle, even if it means taking on the world and being judged.

There is something infinitely gratifying in finding that the hero and heroine connect on their love of books and their passion for social justice. I found it fulfilling and assuring to see how the author tied up all the threads of the story together, in a surprising and very satisfying finale. I must own that for me the ending was so perfect that I got very emotional. A fitting tribute that the last lines of this book are the first lines of the original. It leaves one perfectly content after closing the book. Superbly written.

Shirin Shamsi was born and raised in the UK, and now makes her home in the Chicago suburbs.  Laila and the Sands of Time is her debut middle-grade novel.  Shirin has raised six children- three human and three cats- all of whom have provided much inspiration for her stories.  When she is not writing, Shirin enjoys reading, oil painting, and spending time with family.

In The Sanctuary Of A Poem by Salil Chaturvedi

Reviewed by Ghada Ibrahim

There are some poems that one reads and simply forgets in the sea of poetry that surrounds us. Then there are other poems that one finds themselves returning to, time and again to experience a wave of emotions. In The Sanctuary of A Poem by Salil Chaturvedi is a collection of poems that wrap themselves warmly around you and beckon for you to delve deeper into the pages that house them. It is poetry that brings out emotions that a callous world has forced us to bury ages ago. A beguilingly bewitching poet, Chaturvedi weaves simple words into intricate poems, which create a great escape. In his book, nature meets humor, everyday anecdotes prance into the arms of touching tales and the desire to immerse yourself into more engulfs the reader.

The cover art is the first stop on this mesmerizing poetic journey into Chaturvedi’s mind. In the simplicity of the artwork and the peculiar nature of the frog, one expects luring eccentricity. His poetry speaks of how the world around us, as we know it, is odd and beautifully so. And despite all the strangeness, it is still perfectly ordinary. Chaturvedi opens our eyes to beauty in the seemingly mundane and points out the unusual in what is perceived as incredibly usual.

From his poems, some fast favorites that simply clung to memory instantly are “Deliver a Packet To Me,” “Catnap,” and “Words Are Falling.” These poems struck a chord with me when I read them and stirred something in my heart, which left me longing for more. In “Catnap,” the words “it seems like there is someone else living inside me” is exactly how it feels when the words reach out from the book and pull us closer. Chaturvedi’s style of poetry is like a soft voice in our head that sing us to sleep. The distinct style that he possesses is one that sets him apart from a number of other poet’s works.

The rich depictions and narrations combined with intrinsic details of life in India allow the reader to step into Chaturvedi’s world. We catch flights that don’t exist and book tickets that cost nothing, to be transported to the shades of babul trees and bright mustard fields. We can hear the roaring of the shallow streams and weedy deep gullies sounding from the spine of the book. The journey that Chaturvedi takes the reader on is one that is nothing short of being magical.

The balm of Chaturvedi’s poems pull one into a world unlike any other, yet firmly remind us of the world we live in and the unbelievably bizarre nature of it all.

Ghada Ibrahim is currently pursuing her undergraduate degree in Psychology. Aside from being an avid reader immersing herself in the literary world, she likes to live with no regrets. She has been blogging and writing since the age of 15 and aspires to become a published author one day to share her love for all things literary with the rest of the world.

Reviews

A Bombay in my Beat by Mrinalini Harchandraiy

A stimulating read

A People’s History of Heaven by Mathangi Subramanian

Innovative and fresh!

A Roll of the Dice by Mona Dash

A bold memoir full of hope

The Runaways by Fatima Bhutto

The Last Vicereine: Love in the Time of Partition by Rhiannon Jenkins Tsang 

Slightly disappointing

Utopia Revisited 2050: We Journey into a Brighter Future by Bhaskar Sompalli and Prem Menon 

Telling us how technology could solve problems

Wayfaring by Tikuli 

Refreshing and unpretentious