Tag Archives: #bookreview

The Age of Religious Fanaticism: The Tonic

Newly released book The Tonic (Leadstart Publishing Pvt Ltd, 2020) is an intriguing story set in 1992, against the backdrop of the Babri Masjid demolition and the Bombay riots. Shuttling constantly between the past and the present, the story shares some vivid imagery of the city of Mumbai, complete with its local trains, chawls, high-rise condominiums, and “cutting chai” culture. The novel’s 30-year-old author, Mayur Sarfare, is a Professor of Mass Media at Mumbai’s Usha Pravin Gandhi College of Arts, Science, and Commerce. Passionate about subjects of metaphysics and philosophy, Sarfare regularly hosts events and moderates panel discussions. 

The story runs between a diverse cast of characters. Raem Andrew, who lost his parents in the 1985 bomb blast of a Delhi-bound Air India flight arriving from London, stands out due to his unusually fair complexion and blue eyes. When he moves to a Muslim dominated locality, Raem befriends his neighbor, Masher P Bhasker, a young student with a speech disorder. Masher’s father was burnt by religious fanatics for being a Hindu who was in love with a Muslim woman. Further, due to his stammer, Masher is often bullied and mocked by his classmates. Raem and Masher relate to each other, as they are both outcasts in society, something that becomes a strong basis for their friendship.

Destiny begins to change for them when Raem’s uncle, Sam, gifts him a box of cryptic Bolivian chocolates. The chocolates work like magical pills, giving them extraordinary courage and confidence to do things that they normally could never imagine. Masher manages to correct his speech under their influence, and Raem wins over the girl of his dreams.

However, when Masher’s mother and mute Hindu girlfriend are killed in the 1992 Bombay riots, he is overwhelmed with grief and despair. Decades later, their lives collide with Reymerg D’Souza, a militant atheist cum media tycoon,  who believes that religion is an infection of the worst kind—it has crippled man, robbed him of scientific temperament, and stultified progress. Thus, his mission is to eradicate the malaise of religion altogether. Over the years he has been secretly masterminding the abduction of various celebrated spiritual leaders belonging to different religions in an effort to execute them.

“The foundation of faith is fear. If there is no fear, there is no faith.” The book is filled with several such philosophical outbursts, and could easily work as a racy script for a thriller film or web series. When Reymerg plans a wicked and twisted silver jubilee commemoration of the infamous riots, by scheming something so sinister that could endanger the lives of millions, and it is up to Raem to prevent this colossal damage.

 “The riots didn’t just take a lot of lives; it took with them a lot of hopes, dreams, and ambitions.” The book throws light on possibly hundreds of such untold stories about the notorious riots and the havoc they wreaked in the many lives that they touched. Overall, it is a passionate statement on contemporary religious fervor and the sheer power that it wields upon human minds.  


Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer and editor based in New Delhi. She is the author of ‘Wanderlust for the Soul’ and ‘Bombay Memory Box’. 

Books I Embraced, Devoured, and Loved In 2020

This year—destructive, unrelenting, heartbreaking —has affected everyone differently. From early in the crisis, I’ve repeatedly heard that many people have struggled with the inability to focus, which includes reading. To combat that during the Stay-At-Home and Phases orders, I sought books that would buoy me, make me laugh, and/or educate me. My hope is that by sharing these titles, you, too, will find something to embrace, devour, and love. Books are listed in author-alpha order, and I believe there’s something for everyone.

 Hungry Hearts

by Elsie Chapman and Caroline Tung Richmond, eds. 

Hungry Town Row is a place where 13 interconnected young adult short stories are set in and around mom ‘n pop eateries featuring cuisines from around the world. Recurring characters populate the stories as they experience family, love, and magic plus delicious food made with heart. Sangu Mandanna, Sandhya Menon, and S. K. Ali team up with ten other #ownvoices YA writers to produce mouthwatering stories.

Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors & Recipe for Persuasion

by Sonali Dev  

After having devoured Soniah Kamal’s brilliant novel Unmarriagable: Pride and Prejudice in Pakistan last year in one sitting, I craved other contemporary adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels. Dev’s Austen-centric trilogy, “The Rajes,” tells the stories of thirty-something cousins. Trisha in PP&OF (#1) is an uncompromising neurosurgeon of renown in the Bay Area, and Ashna in RFP (#2) is a chef desperately trying to keep her self-confidence and late father’s restaurant afloat. Filled with love (and food) and angsty romance (and food), both are delightful, fun reads with plenty of depth and intriguing backstories. Incense and Sensibility (#3) is due to come out July 2021.

 The Atlas of Reds and Blues

by Devi S. Laskar  

Laskar’s stunning debut novel, based on an incident that occurred at her own home, never discusses racism. However, the incidents in the protagonist’s short life offer abundant fuel for discussions that society must undertake. This story of the unacceptable, unforgivable treatment persons of color—especially women—are forced to endure even now in the twenty-first century is powerful reading.

 A Burning

by Megha Majumdar

Told by three connected characters—a young woman determined to move her family out of the slums, an endearing hijra who dreams of becoming a Bollywood heroine, and a frustrated PT teacher—Majumdar’s remarkable debut novel begins with the firebombing of a crowded train. From there it handily confronts social media and mob mentality, manipulation of the truth, and destructive paths to supposed greatness.

 10 Things I Hate About Pinky

by Sandhya Menon  

Menon’s fun final entry to the award-winning “Dimpleverse” trilogy combines the entertaining “opposites attract” and “fake dating” tropes with hyperlocal environmental issues. As always, her characters earn their happy ending while experiencing the victories and failures required to shoulder responsibility as they mature into adulthood.  

A Feast of Serendib: Recipes from Sri Lanka

by Mary Anne Mohanraj

Getting back to food, there’s nothing more comforting than a cookbook that brings the love of sharing food onto its pages. Mohanraj’s is a volume of family history plus tips and hints about where to purchase hard-to-find ingredients, what to substitute in a pinch, and options for preparing the snacks, entrées, sides, beverages, and desserts. Kitchen-tested, family-approved recipes left me drooling and eager to start cooking something new.

 Choosing Hope: 1 Woman. 3 Cancers

by Munira Premji

In a span of three years, Premji was diagnosed with three late-stage cancers. Inspired by a bracelet given to her that reads, “Once you choose hope, anything is possible,” she embraced the concept. Choosing hope strengthened her resolve during countless chemo sessions, hospital stays, and the long wait to have stem cell transplantation. Premji’s an inspiration not only to other cancer patients and survivors but also to the rest of us – reminding us to stop, breathe, and embrace life.

 This Is One Way to Dance—Essays 

by Sejal Shah  

Shah’s compilation offers twenty-five of her essays chronicled by the year written (1999-2019) and is an exploration of the sharp corners of the hypervisibility and invisibility she bore—identity, race, acceptance, foreignness in her own country. The result is Shah’s inspiring autobiographical search for identity in her birth country, a country that prides itself on its diversity yet persists in designating “Other” to strip away one’s non-white distinctiveness.

Sugar in Milk

by Thrity Umrigar

Umrigar’s second children’s book this year updates the story of her Parsi ancestors’ journey from Persia to India, where they sought a new home. Kindness, goodness, and diversity between citizens and immigrants alike is the theme that makes it so appropriate for today. Despite being tagged for ages 4-8, the book can be enjoyed by all ages. Gorgeous illustrations grace every page.

 Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World 

By Fareed Zakaria

Zakaria dives deep into social, economic, and political lessons we should have learned from previous epidemics/pandemics (but didn’t); how human impact (earth, sky, sea) furthers the chance of larger events; and how politics (worldwide) plays a role in prevention and mitigation. Zakaria’s bottom line is that there is much to do at all levels to understand and prepare, but yes, it can and should be done.


Jeanne E. Fredriksen lives in both Carolinas where she is a long-time contributor to India Currents, a Books for Youth reviewer for Booklist magazine/American Library Association, and a member of WCPE-FM The Classical Station’s Music Education Fund committee. She always wears a mask in public settings, avoids crowds, believes in social distancing, and washes her hands. 

Mother-Son Duo Deliver a Message of Gratitude

After their first children’s book on diversity, We Are One which was published in 2017, San Francisco Bay area-based mother-son duo Pinky Mukhi and Param Patel are back with their new book on diversity and gratitude I Am Grateful. Pinky, who works as an I.T. professional, loves working with children, teaching them Gujarati, and engaging them with stories, arts, and crafts related to festivals celebrated by different cultures. Her curious nine-year-old son, Param, is interested in arts, computer games, music, reading, and sports.

A simple tale told through bright and colorful illustrations by Devika Oza, the book is a journey into the daily lives of children and what they feel grateful for. The story trails a day in the life of a child, examining all the things he has around him to be grateful for—his parents, grandparents, school, lessons, teachers, art, music, playtime, bath time, books, stars, trees, and flowers—in other words, the little things that we often take for granted.

The book was conceptualized when Param was six years old and is based on a conversation with him about what he feels thankful for. When Param was eight, he along with his mother, added further to the story by imagining what children in different nations may appreciate. They then decided to include in the story some of the countries Param had visited and the continents he had studied about.

For this reason, the book is sprinkled with some charming illustrations of various well-known landmarks in different countries–such as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Sydney Harbor Bridge, the Taj Mahal in Agra, the Stonehenge in the UK, the Masai Mara Reserve in Kenya, the Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro, the Bamboo Forest in China, the Cappadocia in Turkey, Mount Fuji in Japan, and the Keukenhof Tulip Gardens in the Netherlands. 

The book ends with these powerful lines, accompanied by pictures of children belonging to different cultures, with their palms folded in prayer:

“I am grateful for love.

I am grateful for friends.

I am grateful for Mother Nature.

I am grateful for sunshine and moonlight.

I am grateful for food.

I am grateful for home.

I am grateful for learning and stories.

I am grateful for toys.

I am grateful. I have everything I need!”

After a month of Thanksgiving and Diwali, the book which is sure to resonate with children between the ages of four and nine, serves as a much-needed reminder of optimism and gratitude, especially during these challenging Covid times. 


Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer and editor based in New Delhi. She is the author of ‘Wanderlust for the Soul’ and ‘Bombay Memory Box’. You can access all her published work under different categories in various publications here: www.nehakirpal.wordpress.com

Each of Us Killers: Vignettes of Immigrant and Indian Lives

Jenny Bhatt’s debut collection of stories, Each of Us Killers brings us a sampling of experiences of a writer who has lived and worked in India, the United Kingdom, Germany, and now resides in a suburb of Dallas. Bhatt has worked as a writer, literary critic, and translator. Her translation of the Gujarati writer Dhumketu’s fiction is forthcoming from Harper Collins in India.  She is also the host of the podcast Desi Books. Each of Us Killers is Bhatt’s debut collection of short stories but several of these stories have been published in reputed journals; two of the stories were nominated for the Pushcart award, and the title story “ Each of Us Killers” was nominated for the Best American Short Stories, 2018. These biographical facts help to contextualize the experience of reading Bhatt’s collection of stories. Even though it is a debut collection, it brings a range of lived experience, experimentation, and stylistic variety, which announces a seasoned practitioner rather than a newcomer to fiction. Another important fact to note is that Bhatt’s publisher, 7.13 Books is an independent publisher, one that is likely to promote authors whose subjects and aesthetics are different from the mainstream presses, increasingly dominated by five major corporations in the publishing industry.

Bhatt’s collection portrays the complexity of immigrants’ lives but is equally at ease in offering vignettes from life in Indian cities. Unlike many diasporic writers whose representations of India seem dated because they draw on memories of India left behind several decades ago, Bhatt’s stories seem to resonate deeply with contemporary realities in India, particularly its uptick in religious and caste-based violence. The last two stories in the collection “The Waiting” and “Each of Us Killers” depicts the continuing everyday oppression faced by Dalits in India.

“The Waiting” is narrated through the voice of the ghost of a dead Dalit wife witnessing the continuing sufferings of her distraught and mentally unhinged husband. By the end of the story, the voice changes to that of the ghost of her husband in limbo after his brutal murder by the henchmen of the village sarpanch. While this story adopts the conventions of vernacular folk ghost narratives, the title story “Each of Us Killers” takes the form of investigative journalism exploring the reasons for the death of a Dalit man by consuming a bottle of acid. The investigation uncovers the brutal burning alive of a Dalit girl which is the catalyst for the brother’s suicide and the traumatic memory that ravages the community. This story is particularly poignant in the wake of continuing Dalit violence in India today, the most recent example of which is the rape, murder, and hurried cremation of Manisha Valmiki in Haathras. 

The violence unleashed on vulnerable groups is a trope that emerges even in stories set in the United States. The first story of the collection “Return to India” also takes the form of interviews that a police officer conducts in the process of investigating the death of a South Asian American man. The quotidian details of his life emerge from the testimonies of his office acquaintances, his unfurnished bare apartment, his occasional drinking binges, the loneliness following his divorce leading to the final testimony by the guy who shot him in what appears to be a drunken altercation fueled by casual xenophobia and easy access to firearms. Bhatt is gesturing at the precarious nature of immigrant lives in the xenophobic climate of Trump’s America.

Not all the stories in the collection evoke the tragic sensibility of the first and last stories in the volume. Some like “Disappointment,” and “Life Spring” turn disappointment in love into paths for liberation and growth.  In others, like “Separation Notice.”  Bhatt playfully rewrites Hindu mythology by crafting a letter terminating the services of Lord Vishnu for his inability to serve as protector of mankind. Bhatt is attentive to the multi-religious diversity of Indian citizens and offers a glimpse into the life and troubles of an aging Muslim food vendor in “Time and Opportunity,” whose young employee from his own community is stealing his profits. In “Neeru’s New World,” Bhatt seems to be depicting the tragic fate of a young maid in a rich household about to be blackmailed or sexually exploited when the story reverses course and the young girl is able to secure an ally to help her break free from the power of her oppressor.

The collection is rich in its exploration of socio-economic issues.  It also effortlessly experiments with a variety of forms like the ghost story, investigative journalism, retelling of myths, among others. As is inevitable in a collection like this some stories are more powerful than others, but overall this is a thought-provoking collection that successfully evokes diverse milieux and prompts readers towards an empathetic understanding of topics beyond the immediate familiarity of urban bourgeois life.


Lopamudra Basu is a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. She grew up in Calcutta and currently lives in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

Each of Us Killers: Stories by Jenny Bhatt.  7.13 Books Brooklyn, September 2020.

Fresh Insight Into the Making of the Mahatma

Uma Majmudar’s Gandhi and Rajchandra shine a light on the seminal yet often overlooked influence of Shrimad Rajchandra— a Jain mystic, poet, and businessman—on Mohandas Gandhi.

Neither his critics nor his admirers would dispute that Mahatma Gandhi’s status as a historical figure is virtually godlike. As Lord Mountbatten, India’s last viceroy, said in his tribute, “Mahatma Gandhi will go down in history on par with Buddha and Jesus Christ.”

Given such standing, it is hardly surprising that the human side of Gandhi has largely been downplayed in discussions about his life and message. It is easy to get the impression, after all, that Gandhi came into the world already as a Great Soul. Clearly, there is a tendency for us to presume that he was free of the internal struggles and challenges which so commonly characterize the lives of us “everyday people.” These kinds of impressions are unfortunate; they ultimately keep us from seeing that Gandhi’s life story includes much that we all can relate to as well as successfully apply to our own life situations. In Gandhi and Rajchandra: The Making of the Mahatma (Lexington Books) Uma Majmudar does much to fill this dearth of insight.

In Gandhi and Rajchandra, Majmudar explores the distinctive, indeed unparalleled, influence of the great Jain businessman, mystic, poet, and scholar, Shrimad Rajchandra, on Gandhi. She, in fact, compellingly makes the case that without Rajchandra, the man who the world would eventually revere as the Mahatma could never have come to be.

In discussing Rajchandra’s influence, Gandhi wrote, “I have met many a religious leader or teacher . . . and I must say that no one else ever made on me the impression that Rajchandbhai did.” While many scholars have emphasized the significance of Western intellectual giants, such as Henry David Thoreau and John Ruskin, have had on Gandhi, the impact of Rajchandra on his life is not as well known. Though it is indisputable that Gandhi’s influences were eclectic, this work shows that he was, above all, groomed and fermented by cultural currents that were distinctly Indian.

Author, Uma Majmudar

Majmudar comparatively discusses the role that various “heavyweight spiritual champions” played in the Mahatma’s development and concludes, “Rajchandra alone would have the distinct honor of winning Gandhi’s heart and soul.”

She states: “The distinct contribution of Rajchandra as a teacher was to be the first faith figure to recognize Gandhi’s yet unarticulated spiritual aspirations and to help them grow… By his own example, Rajchandra taught Gandhi how to conduct one’s business with truthfulness. Also, from the poet, Gandhi first learned the art of integrating the spiritual, ethical, and worldly spheres of life with equilibrium and without sacrificing the main goal of Self-realization.”

Majmudar nicely provides a comprehensive historical narrative of the evolution of Gandhi’s relationship with his beloved teacher and mentor. Along the way, she illuminates particular struggles Gandhi coped with while he was on his way to becoming one of the greatest, most influential spiritual and social leaders in human history.

Members of the Indian diaspora can find, in these pages, a genuinely relatable Gandhi who (particularly when in South Africa) encounters serious difficulties in maintaining his own cultural identity, while at the same time seeking to incorporate the best aspects of the dominant colonial culture that was aiming to change him.

Majumdar cogently shows the indispensable place Rajchandra had for Gandhi in resolving such challenges. In the first of the two Appendixes provided, she reproduces 27 questions, along with the responses they evoked, which a religiously conflicted Gandhi posed to Rajchandra. These exchanges occurred after Mohandas had arrived in South Africa and encountered relentless pressure from non-Hindu friends to change his religion. Majmudar shows the vital significance this dialogue had for the formation of Gandhi’s identity by citing his own assessment of it:

“(Rajchandra’s) replies were so logical, appealing, and convincing that I regained my faith in Hinduism and I was saved from the conversion of religion. From that moment onwards, my respect and admiration for Rajchandra increased by leaps and bounds and I considered him to be my religious guide till he died and even after.”

In addition to underscoring points related to inter-religious dialogue, this Appendix provides a helpful context by which the reader can better understand those aspects of Gandhi’s life (most notably his attitudes toward human sexuality) that have long struck others as eccentric.

While the area of Gandhi studies has been saturated by many great works that are worthy of our attention, Majmudar gives us a genuinely unique and valuable addition to this always relevant field.


Sanjay Lal, author of Gandhi’s Thought and Liberal Democracy (Lexington Books, 2019), is a senior lecturer of philosophy at Clayton State University in Morrow, Georgia.

This article was originally published in Khabar Magazine.

Murder in Old Bombay: A True Story

Murder in Old Bombay, a debut mystery novel written by Nev March and published by Minotaur Books is based on a true story.

In 1892, parts of India are under direct British direct rule and Bombay is the center of British India. Captain James Agnihotri, an Anglo-Indian, is recuperating in a Poona military hospital after a skirmish in Karachi, the still unvanquished North-West Frontier. Agnihotri is granted an honorable discharge from the army because of his injuries.  For one year he is reinventing his life as an investigative journalist by browsing daily newspapers and committing Sherlock Holmes detective methods to memory.  

Meanwhile, a sordid crime grabs his attention: Two Parsi women fall from the busy Bombay University’s Rajabai Clock Tower in broad daylight! Certain that this mishap was not a suicide and touched by the understandable grief of the young widower Adi Framji, Captain Jim approaches the family to investigate this heinous crime and bring the culprits to justice. Being ex-Army, Captain Jim is well equipped to deal with treachery, roadblocks, dead ends, and deceit but there is more subterfuge to this plot than meets the eye! The warmth of the Parsi family is endearing to Jim and he approaches the task at hand with selfless sincerity. But there are no apparent clues and danger lurks in shadows of the guise of tall men with sloping shoulders, and possible monkeys on the roof. After interviewing local witnesses Jim travels to Lahore and to the state of Ranjpoot in search of the murderer. Armed with motley disguises this “Sherlockian” detective unmasks several miscreants and has close encounters with death himself much to the perturbation of Adi Framji and Jim’s self-appointed “Watson”.   

This award-winning lyrical narrative is a delightful multilayered treat that lays bare the lonely childhood and yearning for a family of several young children of that tumultuous time. Jim Agnihotri was fortunate because he was brought up in a convent by a priest with “kind” eyes but what was the fate of the brave little girl “Chutki” who calls Jim “Bao-di”? Jim’s gentle nature and his loyalty to the task at hand has “ Sir Galahad” strokes!  The reader empathizes with his post-traumatic stress disorder, boxing induced head injuries, and subsequent memory lapse.  We also root for the success of the romance that brews between Captain James and the Framji debutante, lady Diana! But will the extremely exclusive Parsi elders accept this unlikely alliance between a  Parsi princess and a “half-bred” man. Will Jim uncover the real motive behind the “fatal fall” or will this inquisition unravel another unimaginably evil plot to amass money for priceless merchandise?  

Author, Nev March

I particularly enjoyed Nev March’s lyrical style with a vibrant depiction of the glittering  Gatsby-like colorful lifestyle of aristocratic Bombay. Although the splendor of sprawling mansions, refined customs, luxurious soirees ignore the dismal fate of the Indian men and women impoverished by British tyranny, the wealthy sensibility is intoxicating! Formal sit down dinner times with delicious Parsi entrees, (eggs on a bed of Spinach, lamb curry) followed by frothy desserts leave me pining for my mother’s simpler but equally wholesome spread. March effortlessly transports me on a summer breeze to my childhood days spent walking the lanes of old Bombay fringed with Gul-Mohar, Jacaranda, and Pink Trumpet trees.  Lady Diana’s inquiring mind and the amorous physicality developing ever so softly between the two lovebirds is pleasing.  It recreates a delicate Victorian air of tension: pining eyes, a tilt of the head, delicate fingers, a sharp elbow, a curved clavicle, a soft embrace. I miss that magic and admire the ease with which the author transcends present-day to a mysterious past and solves the mystery to boot. Three cheers not by drib or drab but sheer grit! I absolutely love the cover design and We would be honored to invite Nev March to India Currents for a one on one interview.


Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India, and works as a pathologist in Decatur Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner.

Reflections of the Raj in the Spirit of Multiculturalism

As we enter the season of “Devi Paksha”, the spirit of Feminine Divine in the Fall, regaling at the cotton ball clouds in the clear blue sky, gentle morning breeze smelling of fresh dew, rustic reconnaissance in our agile senses, the vision of a city emerges very vividly in many minds connected to India: Calcutta (now called Kolkata), the city that took exquisiteness of the decadent to a whole different level! Everything is about the bygone out there.

Perhaps, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, Calcutta is a mix of many things, all at once. While the mangrove forests been submerging in the Bay, the foothills of the Himalayas merging with the rising mists for thousands of years, footprints of many people, their ethnicities, spirituality, aspirations, and accolades adorned the soil of the land. One such seeker was Job Charnock who settled the harness of British East India Company in the city some 365 years back. The community found a home away from home, absorbing it foot by foot, building the city brick by brick. In the words of contemporary historians, Calcutta was inspirational to London, ushering a century of opulence, immersion, and multiplexity in the United Kingdom. Needless to say, people from Calcutta always relish Europe in their ethos. 

It was the most coveted gift of the season when the publisher of India Currents, Vandana, handed me this rustic book to review: Old Picture Postcards from the British Raj. Chronicle of real postcards collected and curated by Madan Gopal Mukhopadhyay, compiled over generations, capturing people and places from Calcutta and the rest of India during the Colonial era. My heart danced to the tune of sepia-tinted images from the city of my birth.  The book depicts nooks and alleys of the city in photographic representation, documenting urban and rural edifices and lifestyles seamlessly. There’s a surprise element in the end. 

A page from Old Postcard Pictures from the British Raj.

“At the end is a special set of postcards, more than a century old, featuring photographs of Indian royalty by the renowned photographer, Carl Vandyke.” 

The author was born in Calcutta before the Partition, graduated from the prestigious Calcutta Medical College after which he came to the US to study and pursue his career as a physician. An alumnus of Howard University and Yale University, Madan Gopal has had many distinguished achievements as a doctor, author, social luminary, and patron of arts and culture. This book is dedicated to his progenies, “Perhaps the images of this book will remind them of their roots in the future”. 


Soma Chatterjee is the Diversity Ambassador for India Currents and a Board Member for Silicon Valley Interreligious Council representing Hinduism on behalf of HAF

Where Books Come Alive

Rehana Munir’s novel Paper Moon (Harper Collins, 2019) is every book lover’s delight and is filled with vivid descriptions of Bombay’s streets and pavement bookstalls, such as the Strand Book House at Fort that sells remaindered books at student prices. Clearly, an expert on nostalgia, Rehana’s writing keeps springing up vivid images of the city in the 1990s.

She sets the scene with phrases like: “Matinee shows at Sterling Cinema and peanut-crunching evenings at Marine Drive. Nawabi chicken pizza at Intermission Restaurant in Metro cinema and blazing afternoons at Azad Maidan” and “Pav bhaji at Khao Gully. And that bizarre neembu paani, blitzed with ice, chaat masala and industrial amounts of sugar.”

The book’s protagonist, Fiza Khalid is a student of English Literature at St Xavier’s College, who often spends time with her boyfriend Dhruv Banerjee in the lending library—complete with its dim lighting, hidden corners, friendly chairs, and a sleepy librarian—in other words, a hideout for “hurried embraces and long-drawn sighs.” For “stolen kisses in the chapel and bad Chinese in the canteen” and “showdowns in the woods and making up in the arches.”

Quite unexpectedly, Fiza inherits money to set up an independent bookstore from her estranged father whose cherished dream it was to do so after retirement. In no time, fantasies dominated by books begin to fill her mind. “Shelves filled with volumes of Faber & Faber poetry, which she had never been able to afford. The elegant grey spines of Vintage Classics. The cheery orange of Penguin.” Fiza decides to name the bookshop Paper Moon after a jazz tune with smoky vocals, wistful lyrics, perky melody, and piercing image of Blanche DuBois from A Streetcar Named Desire. As she begins researching the world of the bookshop business, she comes across a decrepit yet charming mansion to lease out as the space. Fiza then gets a French designer to curate the bookshop’s interiors, complete with lamps, rugs, cushions, mats, used books on a handcart, and seating between revolving bookracks.

As she goes on a book buying spree to warehouses of various book distributors, she pays homage to many writers: “Virginia Woolf, Iris Murdoch, Muriel Spark—the holy trio were some of the first to jump in. Milan Kundera followed Amitav Ghosh, Dostoevsky chased Mario Vargas Llosa in some kind of mad hatter’s literary tea party. Nick Hornby and Sue Townsend added some laughs. Darwin and Nietzche kept the rest in check.”

With its own café in no time, the well-loved bookstore soon becomes a happy retreat for book lovers and anyone looking for a quiet, reflective moment in an increasingly difficult city. During the course of time, Fiza also realizes that running a bookshop is so much more than just the books. Moreover, it leads her to discover much about her own life and her family’s hidden secrets. It also takes her to the literary capital of the world, London, to attend the “Mecca for books”, the London Book Fair.

A book about “days of miracle and wonder, of family, lost and found, love chased and escaped”, the story is a must-read for someone who has ever dreamt of setting up a bookshop, or simply anyone passionate about books.


Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world.   

Houston Doctor is The Boy Refugee

The Boy Refugee is a seminal work, a one of a kind book by Dr. Khawaja Azimuddin, a well-known gastrointestinal surgeon from Houston, Texas. One could ask why this fact is important to mention in a book review, but the answer is clearly within its pages.

This book is non-fiction, one which details a segment of a journey, that of a young boy of about 8 who spends over two years of his life as a Pakistani prisoner of war (POW) along with his family in the town of Roorkee, India. This saga started in the year 1972 following the birth of a new country called Bangladesh (former East Pakistan) in December 1971.

During the year 1947, when the British hurriedly left their partitioned empire, lines were drawn on the basis of religion and two countries namely India and Pakistan came into being. It turned out to be a bloodbath. History repeated itself in 1971 but these timelines were drawn on the basis of language while another country was born out of Pakistan named Bangladesh. Many perished during this time as revenge often overtook reason well into the year 1972.

Khawaja Azimuddin’s minority Urdu-speaking family was on the losing side of the resulting historical events. The regional and global chess players were also in the picture as the movement by the Bengali majority, which gave many sacrifices, achieved its goal of independence with India’s direct military action. And the Urdu speakers in the area, many who preferred a united Pakistan, suddenly became unwanted refugees like Author Azimuddin, in the land of their birth.

“This book is dedicated to refugees all around the world,” states the writer right from the onset.

Sometimes the biggest challenge for non-fiction writers is how to make their book interesting enough for readers. The fact of the matter is that very few books have been written on Bangladesh’s independence in 1971 and its aftermath by those that lost (or from those who were not in any position of influence at that time). And none have been written from this particular viewpoint that of a 10-year-old boy (at the time) who was caught up in one of the furious funnel clouds of history.

This is where the reader will discover a truly unique book. Dr. Azimuddin today is accomplished in many ways and has helped many of his patients in fighting cancer in Houston, Texas. But in this book, he is an innocent kid taking us on a journey from Dhaka (Dacca then) though most of northern India to Roorkee. Through his childhood lens of wonder, we get a look at war, camp life, human relationships, and survival. His parents, siblings, and friends all have a major role in The Boy Refugee, but one cannot forget his “Little Green Suitcase” of notes and memories which one can describe as equally fascinating.

He lets us share his observations through such sentences here: “The Abduls, our house helps, were among the Bengalis. I was quite sad that they had left and without them, I felt very alone in our huge house. I went out to the backyard to play with my pet pigeon, Kabooter. I’d had six pigeons but a few weeks ago, all but one of them had flown away. Perhaps they too had sensed a need to return to their families. Kabooter was the youngest and had stayed behind, he was very attached to me.”

The innocence of youth reveals many truths in the book. The role of the Indian troops in safeguarding some of the Urdu speaking community after the birth of Bangladesh gets some mention: “The Indians knew that if they abandoned them, the Biharis would be killed in masses, and fearing international condemnation, they felt obligated to protect us, at least for the time being. And so, by a twist of fate, our enemy became our savior and protector.”

On the creation of a new country and its aftermath, its real impact on the Biharis can be felt through this work too: “During these days of confusion, no one knew exactly what to do or what would happen next. We knew that East Pakistan was no more and that, we Biharis were not welcome in Bangladesh. But West Pakistan was far away. Essentially, we were stateless.” (A reminder here to our readers that many of these Biharis are still living in refugee camps today in Bangladesh).

There are competing narratives on what really happened in the years 1971-72 in former East Pakistan. There was considerable loss of life as a new country, known today as Bangladesh was born. Parts of this book will not please some large groups, depending on which narrative they adhere to. But we all know that a 10-year-old boy can be as frightfully honest as he wants to be on sharing his observations. Dr. Azimuddin has not written this book from the perspective of any one country. His lens throughout its pages is overtly human and in parts really absorbing.


Ras H. Siddiqui is a South Asian writer and journalist based in Sacramento.

A Purple Lotus Blooms From the Darkness

Empowered” is a gutsy and gritty adjective that some women have the luxury of being heralded with. But do all these women set out to be “empowered” or do circumstances simply tread them along a trailblazing path, which perhaps was the only path available to them, towards something as basic as self-preservation? 

Author Veena Rao, in her debut novel Purple Lotus, unravels the journey of one such woman, who embarks on a seemingly normal journey but is forced to summon her inner strength as she plunges into valleys of anguish, to eventually elevate herself to summits of triumph. 

Purple Lotus unfolds the life and times of protagonist Tara, much like the title flower that rises from the mud, blooms out of the darkness, and radiates into the world, in a soothing tone of absolute resolve to remain unaffected by the sludge that surrounds her.

The choice of the title plays quite a pronounced role throughout the narrative, both literally and symbolically. Tara, the lotus (literal translation), finds herself in muddy waters right from the get-go, when her beloved doll, Pinky, goes missing during the family’s move to Mangalore. Even as she bears the brunt of missing her friends and her priced doll, she watches in helplessness as her parents move to Dubai in pursuit of a bright future for the family, leaving behind Tara with her aging grandparents and a schizophrenic uncle in Mangalore, while taking her baby brother with them. 

Amidst desolation, Tara ironically finds solace from her uncle in his moments of clarity when his mind is not bogged down by the disease. Tara even finds love in its warmest of forms in Cyrus Saldanha, only to be forced to let go when her parents return to Mangalore.

Rao submerges Tara in more of life’s slush in the form of Sanjay. The seed of abandonment seeped into Tara’s being at a tender age reaps its bounty as she is bound in a loveless and abusive marriage with Sanjay, a groom her parents picked for her, mostly because she was getting beyond the “marriageable” age and he was willing to marry without any bridal dowry (gifts). Her trials continue to mount as Sanjay’s indifference gradually turns into violence and Tara is forced to accept the kindness of American strangers to fight Sanjay, only to be pressured by her patriarchal family to make peace with her circumstances. 

Tara begins to bloom, when, in a moment of truth, she discovers the prominence of her own esteem and worth, turning towards the light, setting herself free from conforms of her community as she reconnects and eventually marries her childhood love, Cyrus.

The journalist in Rao shines through in the last chapter as she wraps up the novel with a fitting “article” by Tara that confronts a victim-shaming society. “Not all monsters are egregious. Some stay hidden in plain sight,” writes Rao’s Tara, pointing to not just to the perpetrators of crime against women, but also a spiteful society in general and a venomous close circle of the victim, in particular, that crushes the victim’s spirits, driving them into a deeper abyss of despair. 

Purple Lotus, an emblem of peace of tranquility, maintains a calm undertone throughout, staying faithful to its symbolic title. The wave of calm is evident in many instances, such as the incident where Tara forgives a friend who intentionally hurt her in childhood, when the friend admits it was her fault, despite the immense pain it had caused her at the time. Rao’s strength in writing is her ability to maintain the mellow milieu even as she powerfully propagates empowerment, confronts social stigmas, and deals with deeply disturbing feelings of dejection, rejection, and desertion with grace and poignance. Rao scores extra brownie points for the character development of Tara and her ensuing transformation. Never rushed or overtly dramatic, the growth is refreshingly organic and effortlessly relatable.

I particularly enjoyed the bonding between women, who, despite their own shortcomings, offer courage, companionship, and care to each other, forging sisterhood far beyond blood and borders.

The streets of Mangalore and Atlanta come alive, as does the food of the regions served up by its inhabitants, sometimes hearty like the abundant love and support she relishes, and sometimes spicy, like their harsh attitude she endures, all of which become companions of Tara’s tumultuous journey. 

This charmingly simplistic chronicle explores the many dimensions of the human mind and mindset of society, and the consequences of each, which may turn out to be tragic or triumphant.

“I take heart in the knowledge that the monsters around me do not sully me, because the names they have for me are not the names I have for myself,” Tara writes about herself.

In the age of social media, where kids are bullied, and adults are shamed by nameless cowards who hide behind their firewalls, and sometimes openly, just because they feel entitled to do so, could use the same realization to emerge victorious amidst the very soiled “victimization of victims”, as Rao puts it, and bloom into a glorious, serene lotus, a rare purple lotus even. 


Jyothsna Hegde is a City News Editor at NRI Pulse newspaper and an independent software consultant. She holds a master’s degree in Computer Science and has served as faculty at Towson State University. It gives her immense pleasure to share triumphs and tribulations of the indomitable human spirit through her writing. 

Former IC Intern Releases Anticipated Book

Shruti Swamy’s debut collection of stories A House is a Body is a highly anticipated volume, after the potential displayed in the publication of her stories in journals like the Paris Review, Prairie Schooner, Kenyon Review Online among others. She is also a two-time winner of the O’ Henry Prize. It might interest our readers to know that Shruti worked as an intern at India Currents long before her fiction became widely known.

Short stories as a genre are more difficult to market than long fiction forms like the novel or even the non-fictional genre of the memoir. In the South Asian American literary archive, short story collections that have had a profound effect on audiences and changed our expectations forever include Bharati MukherjeeThe Middleman and Other Stories and Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Interpreter of Maladies. More recently Neel Patel’s If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi also earned the distinction of becoming New York Times Book Review’s Editor’s Choice and NPR Best Book of the year. Swamy’s collection although firmly rooted in the tradition of diasporic South Asian American writing is charting new and unexplored territory.

What distinguishes Swamy’s collection is the persistent presence of trauma, loss, female vulnerability, and fulfillment in a transnational and transhistorical contexts.

While some stories like the last one in the collection “Night Garden,” invoke a very specific geographic landscape, others like “The Siege” and “Earthly Pleasures” seem to flow effortlessly between the genres of realism, mythology, and magical realism.

In “Earthly Pleasures” Swamy plays with the theme of unrequited love of a lonely female artist for a celebrity named Krishna, invoking the myth structuring the Bhakti tradition of India: Radha’s love for her divine and unattainable lover, Krishna. This unrequited love gets replayed in the medieval poet/ devotee Mira’s longing for Krishna which produces a flowering of her poetry. Similarly, Krishna is an earthly pleasure for Swamy’s protagonist Radhika and also her creative muse and obsession.

In “The Seige” Swamy weaves a story that resembles an Indian fable where an old queen is abandoned by her husband and loses her sons in battle.  This story may be read entirely as a fable, a throwback to an earlier pre-modern, feudal world of female victimhood, but it connects thematically to several other stories of spousal abandonment in contemporary North America. For example, “The Laughter Artist” and the title story “The House is a Body” as well as the final story “Night Garden” dwell on themes of husbands leaving their wives, sometimes on the abyss of despair and destruction. In both these stories, the husband or male partner who has left is a shadowy, indeterminate presence, but the effects of this abandonment are registered on the traumatized family.

In “The House is a Body,” the abandoned wife goes through the distracted motions of caring for a sick daughter whose skin is burning with fever, even as a wild California forest fire forces her to pack the detritus of her broken life and memories as she waits to get rescued, while almost succumbing to a desire to be destroyed by the fire.

In “Night Garden,” we witness a woman’s bond with her dog who protects her home from the attack of a cobra, holding steadfast to his task of guarding the home over the course of a night. The implicit comparison is evoked between the loyalty of the woman’s animal companion juxtaposed with the fickleness of her human partner who has abandoned her.

Swamy’s exploration of loss is not limited only to the loss of romantic love. In some stories, she touches on the loss of children or the loss of parents. In “Mourners,” a young infant is barely aware of the trauma of the loss of her mother which is being processed by her father and aunt. In “Didi,” in a rare moment of grasping his daughter’s fears, a father reveals to her the loss of her older brother in gestation. Even more unfathomable is the loss of a brother in “My Brother at the Station,” where a sister stalks her brother’s ghostly presence from the station to an apartment, only to realize that she could not cross the threshold and do her parents’ bidding and “beg him to return home.”  Sometimes, the elegiac quality of loss changes to the more jagged depiction of domestic violence registered on the bodies of women, in “Neighbors,” hidden by sense of shame and not acknowledged by other women even when revealed.

The most joyful story in this collection is “Wedding Season.” which is an unabashed celebration of a lesbian relationship between a South Asian woman and her white female partner who are attending a heterosexual wedding in India. Even though they have not come out to their families, they revel in their surreptitious intimacy interspersed among the wedding rituals.

Swamy is masterful in her use of spare prose to evoke the most harrowing psychological experiences. Her stories span a variety of styles and genres from realism to mythic representations. Reading her stories is akin to reading poetry or entering into a dream state. Her characters seem sometimes to be indistinguishable from story to story.  They are not sufficiently varied and sometimes seem unidimensional in their experiences as survivors of trauma. Swamy is skillful in depicting characters on the brink of psychological collapse, but she rarely provides any experiences that offset their abjectness. Perhaps in the future, we will see more of her satiric commentary and sly humor which is offered fleetingly in “Wedding Season.”

The India Currents team is filled with pride to see Shruti Swamy’s burgeoning career after her time with IC and is here to cultivate the next generation of writers. Reach out to [email protected] if you’d like to work or intern with India Currents!


Lopamudra Basu is a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. She grew up in Calcutta and currently lives in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

Fighting Cancer, Choosing Hope

In 2012, Munira Premji was an active woman filled with the joy of life. Her career was satisfying, her marriage was wonderful, and her grown children’s successes filled her with happiness. On February 3 that year, however, her life changed dramatically with a diagnosis of Stage 4 non-Hodgkin lymphoma coupled with Stage 3 multiple myeloma. She fought both cancers fiercely, understanding that there is no current cure for multiple myeloma. Then in 2015, just when she felt ready to live the life she had to put on hold, she was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. Now, in her book Choosing Hope: One Woman 3 Cancers, Premji shares her journey as not a victim but as a champion.

Premji is an engaging writer whose job as an HR rep worked in her favor when she was able to acquire a new cancer drug she needed at no cost through her employer. Still, her anxieties about the cost of treatments, medications, procedures, and care are never withheld as she and her family navigate the Canadian health system. She makes it clear that cancer is a costly disease on many levels.

At her daughter’s urging, Premji began chronicling her journey by blogging, keeping family and friends updated, expressing her emotions and drive to survive while documenting the processes she endured. The entries—included in the book—also reveal a courageous and resilient woman. Her anecdotes are set in the chemotherapy clinic, the hospital rooms, and her home with an extraordinary mix of humor, appreciation, and seriousness. Some are amusing, others are painful or introspective, and others celebrate the bonds between cancer patients during treatments, while in the hospital, and at support group meetings.

Although she doesn’t recount every chemo session, drug, healthcare worker, or needle stick, she gives the reader plenty to absorb. Premji is a realist, yet she remains positive when discussing foggy “chemo brain,” recalling each time her hair fell out, or reliving her struggle to produce enough stem cells to warrant surgery. To her credit, she always moves forward, even when her world looks bleaker than the day before.

Choosing hope merged with her faith when one of Premji’s chemotherapy nurses presented her with a bracelet that read, “Once you choose hope, anything is possible.” 

Premji embraced the concept, which strengthened her resolve during countless chemo sessions, hospital stays due to febrile neutropenia, the long wait to have stem cell transplantation, and the days in between chemo when she’d feel anything from energized to simply unable to move out of bed.

She’s an inspiration not only to other cancer patients and survivors but also the rest of us to stop, breathe, and embrace life. 

Premji continues to maintain her blog, has a YouTube channel, and in June of this year, she happily checked off a bucket list item by launching a podcast, Choosing Hope: Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things.


Jeanne E. Fredriksen lives in both Carolinas where she is a Books for Youth reviewer for Booklist magazine/American Library Association and a member of WCPE-FM The Classical Station’s Music Education Fund committee. This review is dedicated to her brother, Ron, who has been battling multiple myeloma.