Strong as Fire, Fierce as Flame – a searing peek into colonial India

‘Strong as Fire, Fierce as a flame’ whisks us in to the world of young 13 year old Meera, living in a quiet village in India in 1857, as Indian soldiers rebelled against the British. While the story starts with the little girl’s apprehensions about her move to her husband’s house, a boy she was married to when she was just 4 years old, things take an unexpected turn when she is widowed just a day prior to her thirteenth birthday. Aghast at her father’s firm stance that she should bring honour to the family by following her husband on the pyre with the horrific Sati, she is even more disappointed and betrayed by her mother’s interpretation of being ‘stong as fire’ as an all accepting , sacrificing woman who would not fight for her only child’s life. Why couldn’t she be fierce and blazing like the flame? Risking it all, she manages to flee from the house, and is helped to safety by Sepoy Charan and another small girl Bhavani, who is looking for her sister.

As she follows Bhavani, she ends up working in Captain Keene’s household as servants, with Abbu in the kitchen. As Meera slips in to this new life, she resolves to use this opportunity to work until she has enough money to buy a home for herself. She learns from the encouraging Abbu, the cook who has sacrificed health and years and the tireless patience of a little pankawallah boy Vinay, who continues to fan the officer in the peak heat. She feels a connection with Memsahib, who has lost her only daughter and spends her time sketching. A little bird Lal, chirping away happily in its cage seems to echo her current joy even with as she followed orders, just like she would have done at her home or her husband’s home. Things take a turn as she realizes Bhavani and her sister are helping the rebellion and looking for an important piece of information. Meera faces the tough choice of trying to secure her own future by enjoying her privileges of trust or dare to risk it and help the cause of the mutiny. The bond she shares with Memsahib, gently reminds her of her days with her mother. But then she discovers something in Memsahib’s journals that leaves her ashamed , shocked and betrayed, something that makes her realize why she needed to care about the freedom struggle and that the rebel’s cause had to be her cause as well. Read the book to find out…

This is a brilliant piece of historical fiction by the mazing Supriya Kelkar highlights many facets of the vicious colonial mindset and spotlights the dangers of stories that look at colonial India as exotic backdrops for animal tales, rural tales and travelogues that leave out the lives of the people of India whose lives were completely altered by the British colonization. Captain Keene’s toast to the corpse of India or the collector buying a baby for a few coins , flogging of a servant, the struggle with famine and starvation will certainly make you wince, especially when you read the author note, that these are based off real events. With the endearing and empowering tale of the little Meera, her influences like Meerabai, Rani of Jhansi, her friend Bhavani and Sepoy Charan, author Supriya Kelkar has once again written a stellar piece of fiction that will make children understand social ills like Sati, dowry , the denial of education for girls and other aspects of patriarchy and the anger and pain of the freedom struggle during Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 , more than any history text book can. A strongly recommended read for anyone 11+

Grey Matters Discussions

Women and Patriarchy

How much have things changed for women? Mansplaining and glass ceiling certainly still exist even in the most advanced of countries and child marriages, dowry deaths and denial of education to girls are still rampant in many rural areas.
Very recently , a simple right of lighting her husband’s pyre by Mandira Bedi to save her 10 year old from the pain of setting fire to the funeral pyre was met with both ire and ‘an act of courage’ , when it should have been nothing more than a simple equal choice.

Of Patriotism and fighting for a cause

Meera and even Bhavani don’t realize the need for understanding the country’s cause as their own, until it touches their own life experiences.

…Consider the dangers of people who say “I don’t know much about politics”, or “I don’t care about the struggles and revolts of X” , or simply don’t even care to vote in a right that we fought so desperately to get

…What role does patriotism play in one’s life? I was shocked when I realized my then 7 year old did not know the pledge, as it was not part of school routines now. We have issues with people standing up for the national anthem , a song that should inspire you to stand straight and glow with pride. Is there an inherent danger in continuously preparing kids to “go abroad” rather than learn and give back?

…Sometimes, people consider the help they are privileged to share, as “charity”, and with unfortunate pride. Memsahib mentions her boarding and care for the girls , as “kindness”. How can we develop and foster empathy and kindness as a gratitude for what we have been blessed with , rather than a reflection of choice.

Role Models and Shattering Glass Ceilings

Sepoy Charan is a brilliant plot twist. What can we learn from his attitude to rise above the society’s rules?

Of Own voices and perspectives distorting the truth

Memsaheb writes stories of Indians from her perspective . What are the dangers on not reading or even having #ownvoices? (Read author note on her feeling on reading Secret Garden)

…How many times do we see stories of African Americans , the Dalits , the transgender community , differently abled children told by others? “Ask us. Listen to us. Nothing about us, without us.” Watch Listen if you haven’t yet …

…A recent teen movie, adapted from a great book, Moxie meant to be a feminist empowering GenZ found itself reeking of privilege using the diverse and deep stories of bullying to rape of its supporting characters as mere symbols of inclusivity, presented as part of the main character’s growth rather than exploring their stories.

…Consider that many of the ancient Hindu texts that we blame for many regressive customs are written in Sanskrit, a language that many Indians can’t read or understand. What is the danger of reading someone’s interpretation in English?

#history #freedomstruggle #patriarchy #GenderBarriers #Courage #Discrimination #Families #Fiction #Friendship, #History, #India #MiddleGrade #Religion #colonization #britishrule #sepoymutiny #sati #religion #widows

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