Book Review – Aneeta Madhavan

My review of Rohini’s book
Of Swans & Songs:

The beauty & depth of the ordinary is what struck me as I read the evocative short stories that make up Of Swans & Songs. These are tales that could be about my family, your family and our everyday conversations, arguments, love, fears, inter generation clashes that Rohini Parnajpe Sathe has masterfully amplified into compelling narratives that has us the readers racing through the book. They are endearing stories rooted in India and yet so universal in their appeal. They seem simple and lull you into a sense of comfort and then wham, comes the twist with a punch! It takes skill as a writer to do this in a few short pages of a short story but Paranjpe Sathe does this again and again. I also enjoyed the magic realism weaving a thread through some of the stories. Having raced through the book I went back to re-read my favourites. There were several but I’ll talk about a couple here.

Anuja Grows Up brought back nostalgic memories of long, hot lazy summer holidays, bored squabbling siblings, exasperated parents, grumpy grandparents. But then family secrets come tumbling out of the proverbial cupboard, tension builds up & then… no spoilers, read and you’ll find out! The opening sentence of this story ”She looked down upon the water, grey barely flowing, a pretense of a river” sets you squarely in the life of a family that lives a life of pretense, denying a horrible tragedy that underlies their lives. The drama unfolds for the reader as young Anuja, an intelligent, caring, innocent but sharp young girl discovers the dark secrets of her family. Strong in narration and atmosphere, it was one of my favourites in this anthology.

Amma was one of the stories without a twist that I loved for its mellifluous cadence and flow much like the voice & music of the central character, Amma, a renowned musician. Amma’s character was beautifully drawn and I quickly got immersed in the flow of her day, her sadhana, her warm but strong personality, her relationship with her devoted shishya Raghu, her family members and with that of the narrator. The exquisite language brought alive scenes such as this “Eyes closed, shutting the world around her, Amma began with a deep breadth: Om. A resplendent shajida, deeply reasonating, yet exuding complete calm. Precise, accurate yet radiating outward, its ripples unraveling to the ends of the courtyard and beyond eclipsing all at first only to fill all sentience with the purity of sound.” The author’s love of music just shines through and she takes you along with her on a deeply satisfying musical journey.

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