Strong as FIRE, Fierce as FLAME: untold stories of women rebels

When Meera finds herself getting ready to be the child-bride of her husband Krishna, a day before her thirteenth birthday, little did she know that destiny had planned big for her. A marriage that takes place when she is only four years old and a life that she leads with her parents knowing that soon she will have to depart for her in-laws’ house; reduces her role as a silent spectator to her own life-changing decisions. Strong as FIRE, Fierce as FLAME by Supriya Kelkar tells the fictional account of Meera on her way to her in-laws’ house and how the political volatility of 1857 changes everything for her.

The year 1857 is a crucial year. The Revolt of 1857 is considered as the first major mutiny against the Raj, it ignited the flame of independence and freedom amongst Indians in the society. It is a pivotal juncture in the social history of the country where emancipating thoughts were being propagated to destroy century-old social evils. It is also a time when native Indians in galore either worked at the bungalows of British East India Company officials serving the memsahibs and saabs; or got themselves employed as sepoys at the troops.  A vital community that formed during these times of distress was that of the rebels. Hidden in guise among the Britishers were those who wanted freedom and were ready to use strategy and violence to achieve it.

Meera’s story revolves around this socio-political scenario where she flees from her house and befriends Bhavani, a girl only a few years older than her. They work at Captain Keene’s residence in Indranagar. While Bhavani is here to find her older sister, who works as an Ayah, Meera just tags along with her; till she realizes it’s more about finding one’s sister, it’s about finding freedom. A timid Meera coping with her personal loss and learning more about the atrocities of the East India Company is in two minds about her involvement in the struggle.

Strong as FIRE, Fierce as FLAME is the story of common women and young girls who show incredible courage in trying to free their country but find no mention within the pages of textbooks. What strikes immediately during the narrative is how Kelkar draws a list of what girls were not supposed to do in the 1850s and then goes on to defy each point through her protagonist Meera. From Sati and unequal education to ear-marked profession and dependence on male members of the family; are all shattered when Meera runs away from her house in search of a new and better life for herself. She sheds her timidity and tries to carve a future of her own without having to follow the dictates of any male members. She does experience some weak moments remembering her mother when chance kindness is shown to her, but strengthens her heart and fixes her mind toward her goals.

The novel is filled with metaphors each time reflecting the emotional status of Meera. At times it was the story of a mother sparrow who defends her child against all odds reminding her how her own mother was meek and could not go over her father’s words to give her equal rights as young lads. Once through the act of flying kites, the novel tells us that sometimes it is tough for kites to defend themselves against many other kites in the air, but in the end, with the maneuver’s keen strategy one kite excels and that kite is the symbol of freedom. It is also through drawings that Meera finds out how the British view the Indians. This parallel visual narrative gives continuity to the storyline by making the readers imagine the contexts in front of them through basic visualization.

Scholastic has been a premier publishing house for introducing youngsters to revolutionary thoughts and ideas and this book published by them is no less, for the young and the old. It goes into the intricate composition of the community and through actions and linguistic metaphors paint the picture of freedom that the Indian community longed for from the very beginning. A must-read book especially for teenagers and children to open their minds about the Indian independence struggle and the role of young girls and women in it.

No. of Pages: 283

Publisher: Scholastic  

Availability: Amazon / Flipkart

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