Friday, December 22, 2017

Twisted - Shravya Gunipudi

“Imagination is just distorted reality.”
Shravya Gunipudi

‘Twisted’ captures the reader’s imagination from the first page of its prologue itself. Ria, the attractive protagonist, is involved in an accident that leaves her a trifle confused about her life and the people populating it. She begins seeing visions which leave her even more confused as repressed memories of childhood spring up.

“Somehow, after the accident, it feels like all my memory is there, but it has been jolted out of its place. The bits of memory are floating around in my head and it is up to me to put each part back where it belongs.”

Ria’s son, Dhruv, means the world to her. However, she is not as sure about her husband, Jay, whom she addressed by another name after the accident – Anuj. As visions assail her, the intensity of her emotions haunts her. Her psychiatrist, Lekha, and her close friend, Sanjana, try and get the missing bits of her memory back. When she meets her neighbour, Tanmay, she is further shocked and unsettled. Many interesting characters populate the pages of Shravya Gunipudi’s thrilling book – Uncle Raghu, Aunty Haritha and Sheela, Gaurav and of course, Jhansi, Ria’s exquisite sister.

Jhansi tries to reconcile Ria with her father, the father who left her alone with her mother, and moved away so that he could take care of the former. There are many hidden resentments within Ria’s heart at his so-called betrayal. Her mother’s words resonate in her heart.
“Sometimes we are so consumed by hatred that we forget how to love.”

What are the secrets that have turned Ria’s life into a mystery? What is the connection between Lekha, Tanmay, Anuj and Jay? Why does everyone around her try and protect her from the truth of her past? Who is the mysterious Gaurav and how is he involved in the whole web that has been spun around her? Why does her dead mother make sudden, whimsical appearances before her? 

‘Twisted’ tells a tale that keeps the reader on tenterhooks, as it takes a winding path that has a shock at every turn. Shravya Gunipudi’s style of narration is masterly especially since a plot, so psychological and convoluted, could have confused the readers out of their wits. Instead, it has clearly defined guideposts that aid them on.

For those that love psychological thrillers, this is a masterpiece. As it is for those who enjoy a good story!


Sunday, December 17, 2017

A Royal Affair by Preethi Venugopal

What happens when a beautiful English lady and the attractive scion of the erstwhile royal family of Sravanapura fall in love? Having met at Oxford, Prince Vijay Dev Varman is deeply attracted to the blue-eyed beauty, Jane Worthington, who is an Indophile determined to savour everything about his fascinating country, India.

Jane is a free bird who abhors restrictions. Her natural curiosity and open nature create ripples in Vijay’s heart, but lies and deceit make them break up, not once, but many times over. In fact, misunderstandings rule their lives and they end up playing hide-and-seek with their emotions.

Jane gets a promotional transfer to India, where she has to lead a team and anchor a documentary on the ancient monuments constructed by the Hoysala kings in South India. She also has a mission to fulfil there, to find her grandfather Bill’s twin brother, Daniel, a soldier in the British Indian Army who had gone missing in 1947.  Daniel, who had always been a hero in the family, had been seen in Bangalore and Grandpa Bill is determined to go to find him. However, his weak heart cannot take the momentous news and hence, he implores Jane to find Daniel and bring him back home.

On the other side, Vijay has now got engaged to Tejaswani, herself a royal as well as a bright management student, and the daughter of a successful businessman. It is purely a business venture as a pragmatic Vijay, who has had his heart broken, now believes that “Love, the most treacherous and ephemeral emotion, left in its wake only broken hearts and tears.”

However, fate has different ideas for them. Jane lands up in an impressive five-star hotel in Bangalore that is owned by Vijay. The two bump into each other and he promises to help her to find Daniel, agreeing to let bygones be bygones. The story moves on at an even pace as the two dig up yesteryear dancer and film actress called Rukmini Rai, and painstakingly try and put together the events that led to the mystery.

Finally, Jane goes back with Vijay to the grand Sravanapura palace, where she meets his charming sister, Kritika, as more of the pieces of the mystery are pieced together.
Who is the mystery woman whose portrait hangs in the royal gallery? How is Daniel connected to the Sravanapura family? How badly did the ensuing scandal affect relationships, and what role did Indrani Devi, Vijay’s grandmother, play in it?
Is Jane fated to be a scapegoat in the whole royal affair? Will she finally be able to fulfil her beloved grandfather’s final wish? Can she overcome the obstacles in the way of her love for Vijay? After all, handling heartbreak is never easy.

Preethi Venugopala spins a wondrous web of romance and suspense which holds the reader in thrall. She gives the reader an idea of the history of Sravanapura, a 500 year-old kingdom, which had proclaimed independence from the Vijayanagara Empire. Preethi also embellishes her story with various Indian details, like a Krishna Leela performance, the essence of an Indian biryani (in fact, food plays a significant role in the book!) and the excitement of wearing the perfect Indian outfit with all its adornments, all of which make her story come alive to its readers.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Avishi by Saiswaroopa Iyer

Saiswaroopa Iyer


Long before the times of Draupadi and Sita
Immortalised in the hymns of the Rig Veda
But largely forgotten to the memory of India
Is the Warrior Queen with an iron leg, Vishpala

Brought up in the pristine forest school of Naimisha, Avishi reaches the republic of Ashtagani in search of her destiny. When Khela, the oppressive King of the neighbouring Vrishabhavati begins to overwhelm and invade Ashtagani, Avishi rises to protect her settlement. But peril pursues her everywhere.

Separated from her love, her settlement broken, with a brutal injury needing amputation of her leg, can Avishi overcome Khela?

If stories about ancient India, especially those with strong women characters interest you, then Avishi is a story you must read!

Guest Post:

How did you decide to write a story about a warrior queen with an amputated leg and how did amputations work back then? It must have been a gruelling process in itself. Is this described in your book?

I discovered Vishpala while writing Abhaya where a young Abhaya is told the story of a certain inspiring female warrior from the past by her father. I was intrigued to find that the Rig Vedic hymns that mentioned Vishpala were actually the first reference to prosthesis in world literature. Even the international medical journals on the topic start with mentioning the Rig Vedic reference. For a brief period, I was appalled that we in India don’t celebrate this fact well enough. I strongly believe that stories choose their storytellers. It was up to me to explore that fascinating world and tell the story to respect the character who manifested to me.

Having a whole ancient world to reconstruct is not an easy job. It required me to be doubly sure of the topography, vegetation, tools and technology, metals and material available in those times. It also required me to challenge my comfort zones as far as creative liberties went. Coming to the process of prosthesis and amputation, there is enough material available about the history of prosthesis. The historical process of amputation did take the agony of the patient into consideration. With some effort, I could find sufficient information.

You can, of course, find the description in Avishi. And yes, it IS a gruelling process for the amputee as well as the doctor. The additional complication in Avishi was that the doctor supervising the amputation was the troubled lover of my protagonist with his own arc and journey. There was this huge emotional angle too.

In fact, this was the crux of the story that cemented the core of the characters to me as the writer. The woman who could withstand the ordeal and rebound could not be an ordinary warrior. The man who had the nerve to try a nascent invention on his beloved could not be an ordinary doctor. Their individual arcs had to unite here after a roller coaster ride of union, separation and reunion, besides the main plot. Some well-wishing critics felt that I was harsh with my male protagonist, SatyaJ. The innovator in him convinced me that his was not an easy journey. His journey challenged my creative comfort zones and I enjoyed delving into his complex character that had a lot of ancient science.

Thank you so much, Saiswaroopa, for sharing your thoughts with your readers. All the best and may your book soar!

Read an excerpt here:
The structure under the outcast control looked like an autonomous garrison. It was on the Southwestern corner of Vrishabhavati hidden by wild growth and as heavily guarded as the city square. Avishi counted two doors as Vyala carried her inside. From the inside, it did not look as dilapidated as from outside. The guards here were the ‘out-casts’ as the world called them. Unlike the guards of the city, they did not cover themselves with leather torso. Instead they wore loin cloth in various darker shades. Small and big weapons, strings made up of various animal teeth, tusk work and beads made up their ‘jewellery’. To Avishi, it looked atrociously out of proportion. But she also noticed the level of coordination with which the ‘out-casts’ functioned. Like they were trained to fight in an army.
“Untie her.” Vyala instructed Manduka, his forehead revealing wrinkles of dilemma. Manduka was happy to comply. Except for a few scars on his shoulder, the man had an enviable physique. But it was his nose that Avishi felt was the pronounced feature of his face. It was as though it was abruptly turned crooked by his right nostril. She could see that the Outcast Lord made no attempt to hide his displeasure about the predicament she presented him. What worried her more was that she found herself incapable of even walking to the closest stone seat and had to limp leaning on Manduka. The wound seemed deeper than she had imagined it.
“We don’t kill women.” He began and paused noticing her unimpressed glare.
“Is that supposed to impress me? Is that supposed to cover up the other crimes you commit for that monster Khela?”
Vyala shook his head, a resentful smile appearing on his lips, but for only a moment. “Whatever we, the outcasts do would be a crime in the eyes of others…you are?”
“Avishi, the Ganamukhyaa of Ashtagani.”
“But he said that you are a traitor’s...”
Avishi glared back at him showing no inclination to explain. She saw Vyala sit on the stone seat next to where she sat.
“If Khela does not find a proof of your death soon, we would have to incur his wrath! An atrocity against the outcasts would not even be seen as a transgression by anyone.” His lips pursed for a long moment.
Avishi wondered if he expected a solution from her. Something she would have to help him out if she had to escape alive. But before she or Vyala could speak, a sound of heavy anklets was heard. Avishi turned to her right and saw a young woman, not older than seventeen autumns scurry and then clutch at her bulging belly. Her arrival only seemed to increase the gloom on the faces of both the men.
“Brother Vyala, did he not come with you?” Her shrill voice made Avishi think she was even younger than she looked. And impregnated at this age?
“Go back to your room, Majjari.” Vyala hissed.
But Majjari was in no mood to heed her brother’s words. She eyed Avishi, her head tilted to left and brows knitting. Her eyes then brightened.
“So, he sent me a slave!”
“Slave, do you know how to groom my hair the way Queens do?” Majjari approached Avishi taking her arm. “And mind you, slaves don’t sit when their mistress stands!”
Avishi had decided that her patience was at its tail end when she saw Vyala hurry and pull Majjari away, making her wince at his grip.
“Listen, you disgrace! Nobody is going to slave for you! Scurry back to your room and dare not show that inauspicious face of yours again!”
Majjari shook his arm away with a hiss. “Wait till I become the Queen, you, worthless dog!” Her tone broke. “I shall make Khela punish you! I bear his prince! Mind you!” The fierce frown stayed on her forehead long after she countered her brother. Avishi saw Manduka intervene and lead Majjari away with endearments that one would use with a toddler.
Vyala’s shoulders slumped.
“You let Khela impregnate your own sister.” Avishi shook her head at Vyala. “Lord Vyala, where do I even begin?”
“You are nobody to judge us Ganamukhyaa. Khela promised us a slow integration with his military if…”
“You loot and kill for him? He gets the spoils hiding behind the dread of Dandaka?”
Vyala’s jaw clenched. “You’ve never been to Dandaka, Ganamukhyaa Avishi. If you did, you would… Why in the name of Mother earth am I even justifying myself to you.” Vyala gathered himself signalling at two other outcast followers. “Take her inside and treat her wound.” Turning to Avishi for a brief moment, he added with a tone of finality. “I shall do my best to not kill you, but I can’t afford Khela’s wrath on my people. Not now, Ganamukhyaa.”
Future still hung in balance. Avishi had to come to terms with the fact that any attempt to escape from here will only complicate things for her. And she truly needed her wound to be tended. The knife that wounded her might have rusted. Tears of frustration threatened to flow out of her eyes. She told herself to bide her time and regain her lost energy.

Grab your copy @

About the author

Saiswaroopa Iyer is an IITian and Venture Capital professional turned author. Her debut novel Abhaya, published in 2015, was a tale set in the Mahabharata period, exploring the legend of Narakasura Vadha. She likes to focus and expand on ancient Indian stories with strong female characters.

      Stalk her @     


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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Happy Children's Day to My Little Sparkle!

It has been a while since I wrote about my little sparkle, and what better day to do so than on Children’s Day?

Of course, by the time I wished her, it was almost eight in the night, maybe because my brain had taken a drain in the midst of all the packing we had been busy with. My daughter, Priyanka, put up a post wishing her little Zoya with the following words:  "Happy Children's day to my little munchkin and all the other cuties out there.You make life fun, crazy, adventurous and tiring - all at the same time." 

The first thought which whizzed through my mind when I read this was, "Just like her Momma!" When Priyanka was growing up, she too made life fun, crazy, adventurous and tiring for us, and we loved every moment of it. the whole roller-coaster ride! 

Zoya is one and a half years old, and time is flying by. A hundred different expressions cross her face in the span of a minute; sometimes curious, at other times, complacent. When she doesn't like something, her lower lip juts out, a giant tear hangs precariously as she assumes a mutinous attitude.

Just like her Momma whose lip used to almost touch the floor when she was unhappy or annoyed. She would stomp off into what we dubbed her 'kop bhavan', a hangover from the serialized  Ramayana, in which Queen Kaikeyi used to storm off into her opulent 'kop bhavan' when she was disgruntled with her hapless husband.

As Zoya traipses across the shopping mall, her sharp eyes dart around, falling on all the fascinating sights that surround her - the people, the lights, the colours and the noise. Priyanka once sent us a video in which we could see the little Missy going "Wow!" "Wow!" "Wow!" at every new thing she saw. She had an audience, of course, all amused at the sight of this tiny creature making her appreciation so obvious.

Her favourite spot is any eating joint, where she sits pretty on her own little baby chair, and eats French fries, chicken nuggets and noodles, taking sips from a straw that delves into a deep glass awash with juice.

Just like her Momma, who used to strut across the Army shopping centre, making a beeline for the ice cream counter. Once there, she would say clearly, "Bhaiyya, ice cream, please!" The said bhaiyya would promptly hand her a cup of vanilla ice cream, her staple, confident that her father would come and pay him for it.

Or the times when we would be playing Tambola at the Deolali Temple Hill Institute, and she would pick up her 'soffink' (soft drink) even before her dad picked up his not - so - 'soffink'. Dad's barbeques were legendary, and our little Miss would warm her hands before the fire, waiting for her piece of chicken to cook.

Music has played a significant role in all our lives. So, while we are thrilled when Zoya sings the English alphabet or 'Johnny, Johnny!", we are in raptures when she actually lisps 'Edelweishh, blesshh my Oya evva!" because Priyanka and I have sung 'Edelweiss' so often to her. The  moment we wait for is when she goes high like a little tweety bird.

Just like her Momma,who would dance to any music she heard on her chubby little legs. But the song that made us, and most specially her maternal grandmother tear up, was 'Kuch Na Kaho' from 1942 - A Love Story. At the age of eight or so, she would sing it, going higher and higher till she hit the crescendo perfectly. She even won a prize in school once after a rendition.

I am often amazed at the twinkle in Zoya's eyes, as though she has a secret joy within herself that lights up her entire persona. She is not yet two, but she has a wonderful sense of humour that sparkles forth through the mirror of her soul, her smiling eyes.

Just like her Momma, who also has large brown eyes that smile out when she wants them to. As a baby, she too was a good-natured soul, generous and particularly adept at shepherding kids younger than her, a trait that was appreciated by many a weary mother. At other times, she had a healthy streak of mischief that made her the perfect tomboy.

Like mother, like daughter! Isn't that what life is all about? Whether it is a question of the genes being passed down or a soul being reborn, it seems a miracle to see our little granddaughter follow so closely in her Momma's footsteps. Our hearts fill with joy when we see the beautiful bond that shines forth between Zoya and her Momma.

 And when she sees her Dada, who is busy holding down a strenuous job and doing his MBA at a frenetic pace, she goes crazy and hurtles into his arms, refusing to let him out of her sight. 

You wonder whether it is possible to love anyone that deeply, but then, my husband and I have been along that same path ourselves, as have our parents before us. And when Jodi Picoult says, "Parents aren't the people you come from. They're the people you want to be, when you grow up," it suddenly makes perfect sense.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Back Off, Back Ache!


“Ouch!” And that was it! My back decided to misbehave just as we were in the throes of packing, all set to move from Chennai to Kerala. It was not as if I had turned into a contortionist or anything like that. Oh, no, I was too smart to do that. And why, you may well ask!

It was around five years back that, in the flush of youth (ahem! ahem!); all right, I take that back. Around five years back, when hues of lurid burgundy had taken over the black in my hair, I decided that it was time I turned towards a healthier lifestyle. What could I do to get there without too much of a struggle?

Eat healthy? Well, that was a tough choice, because carbohydrates, proteins, sugar, oil and salt, I loved them all to distraction. Walking? Definitely a better choice if I could get off my back and move outside into O2.

Incidentally, to avoid misunderstanding, O2 happens to be the name of a health studio, (location undisclosed), which flashed its logo like a giant octopus spreading its tentacles around to snare in unsuspecting customers, like me.

So, there I was, running for all I was worth on the treadmill, my headphones blaring music into my ears, and as I looked around, I realized that all kinds of people do make up the world. There were the svelte types and the rock hard abs that appeared and disappeared like fireflies. One moment they were draped on the mat, and at others they were slithering up the wall like lizards. OK, I didn’t really mean that! But, they were all over the place and in my face, and looking too good to be true.

Then, there were the weight watchers like me who had enough weight to watch, and more. We groaned and moaned, twisted and turned, ran and cycled for all we were worth. We wrung out wet towels with our sodden feelings, hoping against hope that we would soon reach the pinnacle that we were aiming for... fitness.

A month crawled by, and so did I; I crawled to the gym, I crawled on the mat and I crawled down the weight chart, as I lost two kilograms when I should have lost ten. Weight lifting was also part of the training. Unfortunately, a weight trainer took a look at me and decided that I was equipped to lift more weights than I could. I did so, and I heard an ominous crack.

I had hurt my back! No doubt about it!

The crawling continued. Now I crawled to the physiotherapist’s clinic, and had traction to iron out the cricks on my back. It took me a week of that and a month of medicines to undo the harm the over-enthusiastic trainer had done me.

I also went for an MRI for my back, which entailed me lying on my back, clad in a hospital robe that was held up by a string and sheer will power, and listening to various wheezy sounds as the machine recorded every vertebra and ridge on my backbone.
“Please don’t move, or sneeze or turn, Ma’am!” came the warning. “Or breathe, perhaps!” I added to myself, as I strained not to move a muscle.

The verdict was alarming. Not the end-of-the-world alarming, maybe, but definitely, my-life-was-over alarming.

Of course, that was the end of O2 as far as I was concerned. No one else was concerned, of course, except my poor husband, who was the butt of my whines and tears. He bought me a gel belt which I could heat up and place on my back when it got too sore.

The prescription was simple. No bending forward, no lifting up any weights at all and no sitting at the computer. The last was the most difficult of all, for my entire life, personal and professional, depended on my work on my laptop.

 And now, five years later, my back creaked in protest and I was petrified that I would have to undergo the treatment all over again. Out came the gel belt, along with an ice pack, with which I blew hot and cold. Our apartment smelt like a Tiger Balm factory as I rubbed on ointment after ointment, hoping that my back would miraculously back me up.

Finally, we decided to go to a doctor, and he took one look at me and rattled out the three symptoms that had held me captive for the past one week – intense intermittent pain, inability to turn from side to side when lying down, and stiffness in the early mornings. While I nodded in bemusement, he prodded me gingerly on my back and then made me lift up my legs.
Finally, he uttered the magic words that made my heart sing.
“It’s just a muscle strain. No disc damage!”
Apparently, I had been having the wrong medicines and ointment! Lesson learnt: never self-medicate.

Did I need to go back to him after the week of treatment?
“No, no, not at all! This is only like a fever!” he exclaimed, and ushered us out with perfect courtesy, probably because there were half a dozen patients waiting patiently for him. It was then that I noticed a glass panel facing his room, through which the aforesaid waiting dozen must have been peering in at the sight of me lying like a beached whale, all the while being prodded by the good doctor. Some mode of entertainment, I deduced, as the television outside was wireless, literally hanging on a single frayed wire!

Needless to say, I was so pepped up by the good news that I spun around like a top when I got home, and am still doing so, medicines and all.

For, as the saying goes, “If you rest, you rust.”

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Doodler of Dimashq – Kirthi Jayakumar

“The moon had been appeased. The sea grew gentle again. The butterflies danced in the space between the two. Peace had been made.”

Ameenah, a child bride from Dimashq, or Damascus, yearns for peace her entire life. However, peace is as elusive as a little bird on a tree just beyond her reach. Apprehensive at first when she marries Fathi and moves to Aleppo, she finds happiness with him, his parents and his grandmother, who she “would make my own, cherishing that bond dear till my last breath.”

Fathi keeps his promise to Majid, her brother, and sends Ameenah to school. However, Ameenah has a special gift, the art of doodling, of bleeding ink over the sheet in ornate lines and intricate designs. Through her doodles, she attempts to make sense of the violence that is soon to become a constant part of her life as she gets embroiled in the Syrian war, losing the ones she loves most in life. From then on, it is a constant struggle to use her doodles to give solace to children who have felt the sorrow of loss.

It is easy to fall in love with Fathi – he is gentle, understanding and kind, a lover of beautiful poetry with which he woos his child bride. Above all, he has Tete, his grandmother, “as old as the hills” with “that timeless quality that wisdom had – ever silent, but present, always reliable but never seeking to be sought.” When Tete tells Ameenah to pursue her hobby, and do whatever she wants, our hearts melt at her understanding of the young girl’s passion.

“You have a heart; you have a voice. You have a story that you keep adding to, everyday.”

Ameenah’s life is buffeted by the winds of destruction as the war in Syria continues its killing spree. However, she comforts herself by saying, “Wounds have a way of settling, even if only enough to let you function and move on with life. Nothing changed in the world around me. Life was spiralling on, like a feather caught in the wind, being blown about this way and that.”

When another brutal blow orphans Ameenah all over again, little Maryam comes into her life. “Do two alones make a together?” She turns into the one bright spark that urges Ameenah to stay strong, as resilient as a creeper that bends, meanders, dances and waves about to fill the spaces that she is forced into.

It is now that Ameenah begins to doodle pieces of her heart that had “names, faces and stories behind them”.  She throws herself into the task she has chalked out for herself, “the dream of being able to bridge grief and peace of mind with doodles”.

How simply Kirthi Jayakumar drops the name of Rami at various junctures in the book, till he lands up in Aleppo, looking for the girl who doodled to keep peace in the middle of war. The doodler strives to find her own life, and love, in a brave, new world. Is the war finally over for her? Will she be able to follow her dream to tell the world what destruction looked like, and how she had left her doodles behind at Dimashq, at Haleb and finally at Latakia?

Kirthi Jayakumar has a poignant voice that plays on one’s heart like a lyre, soft and serene at places, but which suddenly rises into a crescendo, creating raw sounds that wound with the graphic images that go with them. She writes beyond her age, a wise soul who is rich in experiences and compassionate beyond words.  

“The storm does nothing to you until you are in the eye of it – for it is then that the calm settles, and you see the destruction it brought in its wake, and you will see the destruction it would leave as it leaves.”

Thursday, September 28, 2017

A Window to her Dreams by Harshali Singh

“She stands at the window every night, a bystander to the life that surrounds her.”

The haveli with the hundred doors, a silent sentinel that has stood over the decades, speaks of despair absorbed, heated discussions, reminiscences, of a family that “has gone through its own trials and tribulations.”

The head of the Sharma family, Arun, is the breadwinner, passive and resigned to his fate. His wife, Uma, is the real strength behind the family, full of gumption and emotional fortitude, as she protects her offspring in various ways. “He handled the world outside the wall and she, within.”  

Aruna, Bhavya and Charu are born in quick succession, but it is only when Dheeraj is born that Uma feels usefully productive, for she has produced the heir apparent. However, then comes God’s gift to Uma as Etti, Fanny and Gina make their appearance.

Aruna, the eldest, separates from her first husband, the cruel Rafi after his “never-ending onslaughts on her persona”.  The window of her dreams, (“it was a part of her”) is her own corner, a swirly grill in blue, where she had woven dreams of a soul mate. She marries Bhuvan Thakur, a safe and steady man, “to validate herself to a judgmental world”.

Bhavya is “an epitome of uniqueness and diversity”, and the sisters have gone through an ordeal which pushes them apart. When they meet again, they are both apprehensive, “unsure of how to deal with the water under the bridge… and yet not.”

Harshali Singh writes with feeling of the various vicissitudes that the exuberant family goes through, as Gaurav, Bhavya’s colleague, enjoys “the affectionate bonhomie, the lack of formality, the strange warmth and proximity of this large family. He could sense undercurrents, but they were buried.” And that is exactly what the book is about, undercurrents between Aruna and Bhuvan, between Arun and Dheeraj over the latter’s career choices, between the sisters, and over wise little Charu, who sees more than she actually sees.

Aruna, who carries the baggage of her first marriage, is like a fragile flower. Just as she begins to bloom again, her past threatens to catch up with her. Bhuvan treats her with gentleness, this beautiful girl “one minute transparent like glass, the next instant an opaque mirror.

The characterization is subtle. Bhavya, the warrior princess; the troubled young Dheeraj who “had plans to make and dreams to catch”; Charu, “wraith-like, with enormous, beautiful, silvery eyes” who was born with “a gift and a curse”; the stoic Uma, who makes difficult choices despite her bleeding heart; Suresh, Arun’s childhood friend who is part of the family now and Arun, whose forbidding exterior shields the love he bears for his family. Rafi comes across as the villain of the piece as his presence hovers across the book, a reminder of the malevolent effect he has had on the vulnerable Aruna.

Harshali Singh’s imagery brings the story to life. “To her, the blue swirls represented waves in the sea or a soft zephyr bestowing a feeling of openness and beauty. Transporting the person who stood at the window to any imaginary world that only they had a gateway to.” These words bring the cover image of the book to life, suggesting that much thought has gone into its choice.

As the blurb suggests, does Aruna take control of her life and save her marriage? Or does her past shackle her all over again? Do read ‘A Window to Her Dreams’ to find out.
 I received a copy from Writersmelon in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

 Questions to the author, Harshali Singh

 1. Would you term your protagonist, Aruna, a strong woman? Do give your reasons, either way.

2. What made you decide upon the haveli as a character in the book? I think that was a brilliant touch.

3. Who is your favourite character in the book? For me, it would have to be a tie between Bhuvan and Uma.

Thank you, Harshali, for an interesting read! Here's to many more books!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

A Warrior Woman For All Seasons

Do people get better at what they do as the years go by? Does a warrior woman get more mettlesome as more and more thunderbolts are thrown her way? If so, Mrs. Nalini Chandran must be one fierce warrior, at the age of eighty!

When did it all begin?

Did it start when she was a young girl, travelling around the country, finding wonder in everything she saw? Her father was a Railways employee, and he enjoyed taking his family around by train. Nalini and her brothers looked forward to these journeys, and they watched the world whiz by as they sampled the train food thalis that changed with every station they crossed. Her mother was the disciplinarian, who tamed her children with love, but her father was the one Nalini hero-worshipped, as he guided her into reading the classics, Shakespeare, the Bible and beautiful poetry.

Nalini learnt Kathakali for seven years at a time when girls were not encouraged to go on stage and make spectacles of themselves, as a few envious souls put it. She gave several shows in Mumbai, blossoming out into a dancer of rare repute.

Her first major battle against the world came when she fell in love with Eashwar, a boy who was her closest friend, an ally who understood her. His only crime was that he belonged to a family of slightly lower standing in society. However, love knows no barriers, and despite stiff opposition from her grandmother and her aunts, Nalini went ahead and married the love of her life. Her parents stood by her, but her grandmother took seventeen years to reconcile with her favourite, but headstrong granddaughter.

Eighteen years of marital bliss later, and three daughters who were deeply loved, Nalini had to face the unkindest cut of all, the death of her beloved husband, Eashwar, at the age of forty-two. She was a young widow of thirty-nine, and her daughters were still studying, the youngest one just seven at the time. Just a year ago, Eashwar had suggested that she start a school of her own in the tiny town of Thrissur, in Kerala. He was due for premature retirement from the Army himself, and had plans to do poultry farming and live a relaxed life with his beloved family. Unfortunately, Fate had other plans.

So, this young widow stood strong in a town that was, at that time, still conservative enough to throw brickbats at her. While there were a number of people who supported her, there were the diehards who condemned her ‘mummy-daddy’ school, mainly because she believed that, while the mother tongue was absolutely essential, every child had to learn English as well, if he or she had to survive in a world in which barriers opened up if there was a common language.

Many were the times when she had young men standing with black flags at her gate, protesting in violent syllables, even as they struggled to brave the heat of the sun. It is then that the humanitarian in her would take over, and she would saunter to the gate with glasses of cool sambharam (lassi). “Here you go!” she would smile. “Quench your thirst so that you may have the strength to continue shouting slogans.” Needless to say, she won over a number of them with that one gesture, reminding one of the well-loved quote by Abraham Lincoln: “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

Thus, the warrior woman battled on, living for her school, turning discipline into a catchword, busy in creating students who were not bookworms, but true citizens of the world. She coined a slogan that exemplified her school. “Let the peal of harmony be the appeal of all religions!” This was something she believed in implicitly, as all religions were given equal importance by her. The school choir could burst into melody at any given moment, and render bhajans, carols, mapla pattu (Muslim songs) and patriotic songs at the drop of a hat.

One would have thought that this grand lady could have rested on her laurels at the age of seventy, ten years ago. However, an unexpectedly vicious storm was awaiting her, and once again she had to take up the cudgels, this time to fight for her own school, the institution that she had built out of her blood, sweat and tears. It is a fact that beginnings are always tough and take a lot of strain and upheaval; however, once an enterprise is thriving and running on its own steam, there are countless usurpers who are ready to take credit for its success.

This is exactly what Nalini had to go through. One fine day, she found that a handful of people, whom she had full trust in, had turned against her, and wanted to oust her from her own school. This time, she was badly hurt, almost broken, but her indomitable will and the support from her true friends came to her aid. Besides, “this crazy old teacher”, as she often referred to herself, must have done something good, for without exception, almost her entire band of teachers, the parents of her students, and many of the townsfolk stood staunchly by her, and kept her afloat. Maybe, it was a homage to the way she had nurtured all their children and brought them up as young adults well able to stand on their own feet.

Today, at the grand age of eighty years young, with a slew of awards under her belt, Nalini hopes that her battles are behind her. Her beloved school is considered one of the top ICSE/ISC schools in the country. Her principles and her methodology are being followed by many other schools, and around fourteen schools in Thrissur itself have principals who have been trained by her, no small feat by any standards.

What is it that keeps her going even now? Maybe, it is an amalgam of many beautiful qualities: her will power which does not allow her to give up, her optimism (“Remember the tea-kettle; it is always up to its neck in hot water, yet it still sings”), her amazing sense of humour which allows her to find joy in the tiniest of things, and of course, her multi-faceted personality that makes her excel at poetry, drama, dance and choreography, academics and sports.

But above all this, it is her innate goodness that makes her so well loved by all. This is exemplified in one of her favourite poems, titled ‘Abou Ben Adhem’ by Leigh Hunt, where the moral is beautifully clear. "I pray thee, then,/Write me as one that loves his fellow men." For that is what Nalini Miss or Nalini Valiyamma (big mother) does best of all! May her tribe increase!

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