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Strong as Fire, Fierce as Flame

As I turned the last page of ‘Strong as Fire, Fierce as Flame’ by Supriya Kelkar, I couldn’t help but wonder about what I learnt in my history classes at school. I have a vague recollection of my history and cannot remember it having any impact on my understanding of what those before us went through to get us the freedom we now enjoy.

Both Supriya Kelkar’s books, AHIMSA as well as 'STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME', bring the freedom struggle alive in a way that children, especially Indian children can feel and connect with their country's history through a very real and relatable characters.

Set during the 1857 uprising, the book narrates the story of little Meera who seems safe tucked away in her little village in north India.

Meera is only 12 years old and on her 13th birthday will leave her home to move to her husbands home. But on the eve of her wedding, her husband is killed in the riots in Delhi and young Meera is expected to commit sati...jump into the flames of her husbands pyre, and join him in the afterlife. Unable to accept this fate, Meera runs away from home right into the arms of the bristling rebellion, finding work for herself as a servant at the house of a British Officer.

Saving her salary in a little pouch along with jewellery that was her wedding dowry, Meera dreams of freedom and a house of her own. But as she forms new alliances and friendships along the way, her idea of freedom is questioned and challenged. Will she hold on to her idea of personal freedom or will she go along with the rebels who are looking at freedom in a larger context. Is she able to step into the fire?

The book is a compelling, engaging read, beautifully written and as I turned over the last page, I was left wanting more.

The author uses Meera’s idea of freedom from the conservative, regressive ways of her family to explore the larger idea of personal freedom, enhancing our understanding of the flame that burned for freedom within those who fought for our freedom all those years ago.

Our textbooks fail to instil in children, a pride in our history, so much so that they’d much rather spout details of the Holocaust or some foreign history over the hard won freedom of our own country.

This book is a must read for any child 10 +. A wonderful addition to history curriculum being taught in schools and raises questions and discussions about the way our history is told, about who is telling the story, subservience to other races, subjugation of women, the power of women. What does being ‘strong as fire, fierce as flame’ mean to a woman? What do we do about the patriarchy we encounter even today?

This is one of the finest books I’ve read this year and I have read a few.

I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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