Sunday, 19 October 2008

‘Shiva’s Fire’: The words are dancing like Lord Shiva’s tandava

It’s hard to describe this novelette in a few words; I just admire it too much. First of all, I’m very fond of Lord Shiva, and it was my original driving factor to buy the book. Second, the book is about a twelve year old girl (named after Lord Shiva’s cosmic consort, Parvati, of all names!) who is very fond of dancing, and always wants to dance. The third: well, I’m weak towards India-themed books, for the spices, curries, and the jingling of payal (anklets) are usually mixed with spirituality at a certain level.

This book did not disappoint me at all. It took me a while to read it, for I had many things to do, and perhaps because the story did not pick at a quick pace anyway. But after the first chapter, everything flew quickly and amazingly. I was particularly amazed at how Suzanne Fisher Staples brought Shiva and His tandava (dance) to life through many levels: from the sandalwood statue that had captivated little Parvati since her first day in this world, through the veena that suddenly humming in every time Parvati lit a fire, and through Parvati’s determination to dance. Having learnt Bharatanatyam myself (though, alas, I am by no means a devoted Devadasi), I am familiar with various dancing terms in the book. The book went further to evoke my longing for dancing, as I read how Parvati suffered through all physical and mental difficulties to perfect her dance. Learning Bharatanatyam is not easy, let alone mastering it!

I was a bit confused with the time frame of this story. First, I thought it was during the 18th century or something. Then, the cars and busses were mentioned, and I thought the story took time during the first days of India’s independence. But then, much much later, I found out that the time frame was a few years after India’s 50th independence, or about 1997-1999, about the same time the story was written.

As I said, I am very fond of India-based stories. Yet, though I haven’t read a lot, I found that most of the books that I read would have an ample dose of irony and suffering in it; most probably because I didn’t take the Indian chick-lit. Thank the Goddess that it was not the case with ‘Shiva’s Fire’. It started with suffering, but it ended with happiness and liberation. When a boy named Rama was introduced into the story, I was bracing myself for another typical runaway-bride story: that Parvati would have to choose between dancing and the boy. Suffice to say that it did not happen that way; the authoress managed to avoid the cheesy tendency.

So, 5 of 5 stars for Suzanne Fisher Staples and her ‘Shiva’s Fire’. And here’s to the wish that Suzanne will write the sequel, for it would be fun to read about a 20 years old Parvati.

Pic: softcover edition of 'Shiva's Fire', obtainable from

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