“Don’t you ever touch the fire,
you’ll get hurt, you’ll get burnt.”
grandma warned;
golden orange flowers
fluttering in the breeze’
how can they hurt? how can they burn?
she touched them as grandma turned;
up surged the pain,
scream pierced the air,
fingers turned yellow,
red, purple, blue,
brown and black in hues;
scars remained a while,
skin turned back to pink.
As wheels of time turned
fires alluringly burned,
embers glowed and turned
into burnt sienna and umber;
tinder triggered sparks,
sparks triggered bursts
oils smoked, aromas wafted,
mustard spluttered,
greens steamed,
red meat roasted, white meat stewed.
Round and round in circles
second hand sprinted,
minute hand trundled,
hour hand crawled,
fires rekindled, flamed re-surged,
hurting, burning, scarring, healing;.
flames died down, embers turned black,
a handful of ash does remain
in the brown earthen-ware urn.
– Sara Mammen Calleeckal
(July 18, 2017)
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Rating: 9.3/10 (4 votes cast)

Venture into Yummy Land

SIT venture

Review of Samira’s S-I-T Venture (The 3 sisters’ monthly countdown series); Smita Jee; Illustrations: Neha Gupta, Mamta Agarwal; Smita Jee Publications 2015; pp 157

Literature gives us access to a range of emotions. It puts us through a number of exciting moments we might never get to experience firsthand. Children’s literature in particular helps mould these emotions and gives foundation to a child’s dormant aspirations. Samira’s SIT Venture is a children’s book adapted with a kiddie audience in mind and it is successful in portraying the silly but seemingly important dilemmas a child is faced with. The second book in the Three Sister Monthly Countdown Series, the book features the narration of an adolescent who aspires to be a chef.

It all starts with the seasonal Stay Indoors Tournament, better known as SIT, the event that every child of Cozy Heights longs for. However, Samira and her sisters land in utter confusion with a new rule in place which has limited them to participate in just one contest. After a long running debate with herself, she decides to participate in the cooking competition. What follows is a narration of her relationship with her family and friends and her preparation for the upcoming competition.

Samira’s SIT Venture is a fairly good attempt in creating a new world for children while teaching them (quite blatantly at times) about the world and its residents. Though the conversations between the children at times might seem too grownup, it is guaranteed that it will make your child scurry in search for the meanings of these new found words. What makes the book interesting are the simple yet delicious recipes which encourages a child to try them by themselves and create great dishes.

The explanations for rainbows occurred unnecessary to me as they are best saved for the future and it tends to spoil the fantasy world of magical rainbows and pots of gold for the child. Printing mistakes have been overlooked and certain pages have been reprinted and certain others, missing. It’s good to have a hardback cover for children’s books, for obvious reasons.

This book is successful in helping kids understand the value of patience and the importance in nurturing their passions. If your child is looking for a good read to sit down to on a rainy day, this is their go-to book.


Three on a spree

Review of The Three on a Spree; Smita Jee; Illustrators: Neha Gupta and Mamta Agarwal; Smita Jee Publications 2016; pp 180

Nothing is more golden than those days spent basking in the happiness of the mid-noon sun and those days spent caring for the deep wounds of a chasing game. Nothing is more golden than those seemingly never ending days of childhood when there were spring in our feet and when our eyes never rested. In an attempt to capture the beauty of the bygone days, Smita Jee uses her favourite trio, Samira, Shreya and Sarah and paints their vacation days which are quite the same for any child.

The holidays, annual sports day, Christmas and the family vacation are waiting for the three sisters and Sammy in particular has another special event in stock; her first school trip. With Sarah in Mickey World and Shreya excited for the sports activities, the sisters have chalked out their own vacation plans. The third book in The Three Sisters Monthly Countdown Series, The Three on a Spree narrates the individual and collective lives of the three sisters. From the teeth-chattering appointments with the dentist to the sheer excitement in shopping for Christmas, the book brings back good memories for adults and helps relate the same for children.

The DIY recipes always come in handy and this helps the book get a life outside the realms of fiction. The large font makes it easy to read helping the child attain a fast pace. However, the illustrations can be more creative as it is meant for young eyes, and the imagination quotient in the writing can be upped.

The POV shifts enable the reader to adjust and get into the minds of the three sisters in addition to helping him/her realise how different people can be. What might be most interesting is Sarah’s vacation days and her deep connection with her favourite cartoon characters. Her excitement reflects the innate childish goodness of all kids. An entertaining read for children of all ages, the book qualifies to be placed in the book shelves of young readers.

– Paavana Varma

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Rating: 9.5/10 (4 votes cast)

Raising Feminists

Dear Ijeawele

Review of Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions; Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; Knopf 2017; pp 80

– Shana Susan Ninan

Author and essayist Adichie’s Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions is definitely a manifesto to raise sons as Feminists, too. This you-can-finish-over-breakfast book is a reply she gave her friend who’d recently birthed a girl and wanted to know how to raise her daughter a Feminist. They’re straight from the heart and very practical. Adichie’s words are thought-provoking but simple. It’s not laden with Feminist jargon nor tricky sentences. It’s warming, one mother’s experiences shared with another.

It starts off on two solid starting points: the first one is a premise that ‘I matter. I matter equally.’ The second is a question, ‘Can you reverse X and get the same results?’ and the example she cites for the latter is a powerful one – should a woman leave her husband as a response to his infidelity. And that if she were to sleep with another man, would her man forgive her, then her choice to stay in the first place can be a Feminist choice, too.

The very first suggestion lays the foundation for all the 15, that you should be a ‘full person’, not just a woman, a mother. Not to be defined by only one of the many roles a woman dons. She herself is an accomplished woman but doesn’t let the accolades haze her womanly and maternal roles. Her works have been translated into 30 languages and has won many national and international awards for her Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun and Americanah.

Being in the last few weeks of my second pregnancy I can only identify very well with the third suggestion about gender roles. Blue and pink for boy and girl babies! In Adichie’s opinion, toys and baby accessories should be arranged according to age and ability, not colour. The fourth one is apt – ‘Being a Feminist is like being pregnant. You either are or you are not.’ The watch-phrases tell her friend to teach her daughter to read, and to find pride in the African people and culture, to look for Black heroes and histories.

The most important is to talk about sex in the language of children, no shaming just open talk. Teaching about sex is teaching responsibilities. So beautifully compared. Parents of girls should be able to talk freely and share about anything and everything from periods and virginity to romance and sex.


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Rating: 10.0/10 (1 vote cast)

Shreya’s Birthday Countdown


Review of Shreya’s Eighth; Smita Ganeriwala; Illustrators: Neha Gupta and Mamta Agarwal; Smita Jee Publications 2014; Rs 350; pp 71

– Shana Susan Ninan

The first book in the series, Three Sisters Monthly Countdown Series, Shreya’s Eighth deals with a month of activity in Shreya’s life just before she turns eight. Her sisters are four and thirteen and are quite a huge part of the fun festival. The eight child-friendly recipes in the book are a major highlight.

Cozy Heights, where the family lives, is a mini town and would be an ideal place for any child to grow up in. The foodie fun starts with a kitty party Shreya’s grandma is organizing. Easy recipes and cooking classes follow.

Shreya is a grand planner – she wants everything picture perfect for her eighth birthday. From the décor and colours to the food and fellowship. And this is something that all children love. Follow her as she goes on a month-long spree of plans and tick-offs.

As a Children’s Book, it would have been better and more reader-friendly if there were more lively conversations and dialogues than large chunks of narrative text. The big font size and wide gutters are good the young eyes. The birthday itself – games, gifts and surprises – make for a good and memorable read. The illustrations are interestingly detailed.

The author Smita Ganeriwala is a working mom, Chartered Accountant, writer, sportsperson and a musician. As an ardent foodie herself, she’s combined that passion with writing to weave beautiful stories for children.

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Rating: 9.7/10 (3 votes cast)


In the thick night,

the lamps are lit.

A lone drum plays

and then more.

Cymbals join.

He comes on stage,

in all the glory.

anklets in rhythm.

The regal head gear,

a face fiercely painted

and yet so divine…

body dark as the night.

the legs move,

hands gesture,

every muscle alive,

eyes capture.

Me in rapture.

The music rises

falls. rises.

Movements blur,

flows, blur.

His body glistens,

in fire and vigour.

my heart pounds.

His eyes ablaze.

Me ablaze.

As he swirls,

I shake with joy,

so pure.

I bow to THE divine,

so enigmatic.

The show is done.

i long to see him,

THE divine.

I meet –

a disrobing man




I return.

  • – Sajitha Rasheed

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Rating: 7.0/10 (2 votes cast)

Of Daughters and Women

Three Daughters of Eve

Review of Three Daughters of Eve; Elif Shafak; Viking 2017; Rs 477; pp 384

– Shana Susan Ninan

Turkey and Peri are metaphors for each other: flanked by a religious side and a more Western one. Always having to choose between religious ideals and liberal lifestyles. Elif Shafak’s revealing work, Three Daughters of Eve is a medley of three perspectives/ ideologies, three women who represent a larger section of society, within and outside Istanbul: a believer, a rebel and a confused soul. In fact, the three can be anyone – three men, young women, people of any religion or background. Starting at the present and going back a decade or more to their youth, the book kicks off at a lavish party in the capital of Turkey.

The three protagonist women end up sharing the same living space in Oxford University and a common course. All three are similar for the facts that they are highly independent, strong-willed and often live against societal norms. Peri’s life in Istanbul is much like the city again: a liberal father and a highly religious mother. And two very different brothers. Growing up in that household has been a tug of war for her.

Her study years in England are decisive and life-changing. For someone who keeps a ‘God diary’, getting into a course at the Oxford called ‘God’, would only seem natural. The seminar, led by the infamous Professor Azur, informs and debates more about the self than God. The students don’t choose the seminar, the professor screens them and hand-picks the few who’d attend it. He doesn’t force his opinions of the self or about god on any of his students or peers, but gives them various perspectives to look at.

The dramatic, Hollywood-like ending spoiled my reading and marred the beautiful feeling that had built inside me. As a reader who loved her previous works, this ending seemed a little hurried and very filmy. As opposed to, say, the dense poetry that’s

The metaphors are superbly crafted: my personal favourite being ‘the night was a swollen river’. And the reference to Eve in the title is a major thought-provoking usage. Why Eve? Had Eve borne any daughters? And why three? Since the story happens in 2015, it’s very recent and relatable. The ‘baby in the mist’ that Peri often witnesses in her dreams and otherwise is a source of mystery for the reader. And as the story progresses, it unravels beautifully.


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Rating: 6.7/10 (3 votes cast)

The page

The page lay open,
It had no name,
It had no color.
“will you be free
on Friday evening? ”
I blurted out blushingly.
“I live just for the moment,
can’t we make it today? ”
you replied nonchalantly.
I sad to myself
“today is an extension of yesterday and a prelude to tomorrow!
So welcome home stranger
and be my lord of the day!”
Then you say beside me,
watched my days and nights
bloom and glow into
glorious verses.
– Sara Caleeckal

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Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)

Drums of War, of History

Empress EMerald

Review of The Empress Emerald; J.G. Harlond; Penmore Press LLC 2016; pp 295

– Paavana Varma

Every once in a while you come across a piece of literature which marks its territory in your heart. From the romantic works of Austen to the fantastical themes that Gaiman provides, the list is endless. Written by J.G. Harlond, The Empress Emerald is yet another brilliant work that is certain to stay with the reader for quite a long time.

The protagonist of the novel, Leo Kazan is a Russian-Indian orphan; a thief and a talented linguist. Just the way a moth gets attracted to flame, Leo is drawn to everything that glitters. Discovering Leo’s talents is the District Political Officer in Bombay, Sir Lionel Pinecoffin who realizes that he is sharp-witted and capable even as a young boy. Leo’s talents in stealing, socialising and languages makes an excellent spy of him and thus he becomes Mr. Pinecoffin’s protégé. The story then follows Leo’s life through forty years over several continents and his adventures as a spy as he gets involved in international espionage and diamond smuggling.

The author is successful in painting an intriguing picture of the political instability in India at the beginning of the twentieth century. It is impressive how Harlond turns on the historical lane and makes the characters interact in the background of rising political turmoil. However, in addition to discussing political drama, she has skillfully interwoven personal events of the characters into the work which helps the readers delve into a new hitherto untouched side of the protagonist. We see this in Leo’s romance with Davina Dymond during his time in London which evokes a new found adoration  for him thus enriching the reading experience. However, moral values and principles are also judged when Leo has to leave a pregnant Davina as he has been assigned to go to Russia where the Bolshevik Revolution has taken place.

Harlond’s characters are near to the realistic as she refuses from rendering a thoroughly positive picture of them. She draws our attention to their good, bad and ugly sides. It is up to the readers to judge Leo as he decides to never depart from the strict requirements that come with his profession. The characters are as clear as they are vague for it never becomes certain what we are to make of them and this applies to the bitter reality of our lives too for it seems impossible to figure out the confusing set of people in our lives and at times, ourselves. The various numbers of subplots and tales can be a bit confusing but gives it ample time to come together as a finely devised novel making it all the more dramatic; the apt ingredient required for any piece of historical fiction.

Though the abrupt perspective shifts may, at times, set the reader off track, the language makes up for it. It is powerful and the author seems to have an eye for detail. Her vivid descriptions of the people and places are sure to take the reader on a magnificent journey through Spain, UK, Russia and India over a span of 40 years. At times, it even feels as though the words have been put into a reel because the wonderful panorama of the places has been portrayed in such an effective cinematic style.

This is a tale of love and separation, of faithlessness and treachery. We learn an essential truth from the novel that time can do a lot to people. It can hurt as much as it can heal. It should be appreciated how the author has captured a number of themes, countries and four decades in all of 295 pages. A thoroughly engaging work and an absolute page turner, the book is self-contained and teaches us a thing or two about the world and its residents.

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Rating: 10.0/10 (2 votes cast)

Scorching Heat

In this scorching heat, I sweat, I fume and I cry

This hue of heat is something irritating

The stickiness that wants to make me go naked…

The lily out was supposed to be purple, the heat could make it lavender

But oh my, it’s stuck at brown!

The little sparrow quenched and danced every day in the bird pond I had,

And today, look at it, went to my neighbours pond,

The scorching heat had drained my pond, but then it was my bird pond for my sparrows and it had some more…

Everyone thought the scorching heat made me mad…

But me in gratitude… the scorching heat was a shield..

My emotion could be camouflaged, my sweat, my fume and my cry…

The nakedness…. The scorching heat… could share the blame…

– Satish Menon

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Rating: 7.5/10 (2 votes cast)


Next What!

I wonder now, next what!

Is it a cross road , a junction or crossing?

Is it a left, right, straight or reverse…

Or is it just a wait for the signal to turn green…

Or a junction jam….

Why are they coming over, and why are they not

Why are they talking and about, and why are they not

They say they are saints, and I insist I am the one..

They say they have powers and proximity to miracles..

And I believed them and betted my lot!

And it just happened again that they raised their hands

And behind covers they have a hearty laugh..

A relief that the miracle has happened and

They play a new game in all…’

Experience they have non, but me was born with all

Had never to go through any first time, for I had to know it all

Ha… Experience they have non, but me was born with all

I wonder now, next what!


– Satish Menon

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Rating: 8.5/10 (2 votes cast)