Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Saris and a Single Malt

I'll  admit right away that I cannot be objective.  Sweta Srivastava Vikram is one of my favorite contemporary authors.  I cherish her work.  Over the past several years, I've had the privilege and pleasure of reading and reviewing a lot of her work--mostly poetry--and I've also interviewed her.  This past weekend, I was thrilled to learn that her article, Sweet Somethings, was published in the New York Times Magazine section (it's just a matter of time until one of her books is listed as a NY Times bestseller, I think).  This prolific writer is also the CEO and Founder of NimmiLife, which helps people reach their goals by increasing their creativity, productivity, and health.  Her newest poetry collection, Saris and a Single Malt, published by Modern History Press in 2016, is her most personal to date. It is fittingly dedicated to her beloved mother, who died unexpectedly in India in 2014. The poet's mother, the subject of this book, affectionately called Mummy and Mumma, is richly brought to life in these poems.

"For Mummy--wherever you are, I am sure the place has good whiskey and a beautiful collection of saris."

The book takes place in "real time", over the course of a harrowing thirty-six hours.  The poems in this collection are an autobiographical account of the poet's thoughts and emotions as events unfold during an extremely difficult time.  On May 30, 2014, Sweta and her husband, Anudit, caught a flight to New Delhi because her mother fell ill suddenly, and was rushed to the ICU at Medanta Hospital in Gurgaon.  "Poetry, pain, and prayers" accompany Sweta on this arduous and uncertain journey.  In Saris and a Single Malt, we are invited into the very core of this intimate experience, and we feel the poet's great pain and loss.  But although she is disconsolate and distraught after her mother dies, the poet still manages to describe her mother's beauty, with grace and eloquence:

"Motherless: I embraced poetry and Bhaiya.
Peaceful and beautiful: Mumma looked
like a poem wrapped in a lavender sheet."
 ~ May 31, 2014, Poetry, pain, and prayers, Sweta Srivastava Vikram 

As always, Sweta puts everything into her work.  Saris and a Single Malt is intensely personal, passionate, and profound.  In the poem "I Write", Sweta states that she must write in order to survive this ordeal.  She articulates her pain and agony throughout the book, beginning with the flight on May 30, 2014, and describes many parts of the experience, such as being at JFK Airport and on the plane, arriving at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, learning that her mother is gone, and some of the Hindu rituals that follow, in these poems.  I've been granted special permission to include one of my favorite poems from the book in this post.  This poem especially resonated with me.

 Forever Courage, Beta

I wear the butterfly pendant you gave me, Mumma.  I pull at it,
hoping the wings will set me free.  I want to get away from
everybody.  I want to know how to reach you.  I don't want to live in
the absence of your voice.  I wonder what you would say if I read
my plea.  Suddenly, I hear you whisper in the summer breeze. Never 
lose courage, Beta.  You've always been strong.  I swallow my angst.
Words, I tell you, they stay with me forever.

This sincere and courageous account touched me deeply.  I think that adults who have lost a loved one, especially a parent, will be able to relate to this honest and powerful work.  In the span of just over a year, in 2011 and in 2012, I lost both of my parents, first my mother, who had been diagnosed with cancer in 2010, and then my father.  Although my story is different than Sweta's, there are some similarities.  In 2011, I spent a long Memorial Day weekend worrying about my mother's health, waiting to hear news of her condition.  Soon afterward, like Sweta, I was in flight, traveling on a red eye from CA to NY while my mother was in the hospital, hoping to make it there in time.  Sadly, my mother passed away shortly before I arrived in NY.  While on the plane in the hazy, wee hours of the morning, I either dreamed or imagined or heard my mother say in her distinct voice something like "I am alright, Susan--please don't worry", and to this day I wonder if this was truly her message to me in her final moments. 

Although this book conveys Sweta's loss and sorrow, the poet also shares the joy of her close relationship with her mother.  She describes her mother's beautiful saris as "carrying the scent of sweet cardamom"  and smelling of  "cloves and single malt", her delicious cooking, and many other essential details. Saris and a Single Malt is a beautiful, heartfelt collection that is also a loving, poetic tribute to her mother.  In the Afterword of the book, Sweta talks about how she was able to better cope with her grief and find some peace after the loss of her mother.  It is a hopeful and helpful ending.

Many thanks to Serena from Poetic Book Tours for inviting me to participate in this tour and for providing a copy of this book.  For more reviews and features, please visit the other stops on the tour for Saris and a Single Malt.  I've linked my review to Serena's 2016 Poetry Challenge.

Thank you for reading.  Comments from my readers are welcomed and appreciated.

(PUBLISHING DISCLAIMER: “Forever Courage, Beta” excerpted with permission from the book Saris and a Single Malt, published by Modern History Press.  Copyright (c) 2016 Sweta Srivastava Vikram.  All Rights Reserved.)


  1. Thank you so much for your fantastic review and for being on the blog tour. I love Sweta's book and I cannot tell you how much I cried reading this collection.

  2. This sounds beautiful and harrowing in equal measure. I love the sensory images you've included as well -- the scent of sweet cardamom reels me in.

    1. Yes, it is beautiful and harrowing. Thank you for your comment, Melwyk.

  3. What a wonderful review and thank you too for sharing how personally this affected you. I lost my dad to cancer 15 years ago but I think it's poetry and stories that help us deal with that sadness. I'll have to add this collection to my list.

  4. I can tell how much you love this author and this collection of poems. I really want to try her work after reading your post.

  5. Wow, what a fantastic review! It think you're right that if you've experienced loss, then this collection will resonate with you. You described this book and your connection to the poems beautifully.

  6. It sounds like this was very moving for you. I love when a book makes an impression like that on me. Terrific review

  7. What an incredible concept. I'm totally intrigued by this talking place in real time.

  8. Thank you all for the kind comments.

  9. Hallo, Hallo Suko!

    I am thankful I am finally able to visit your lovely blog and see your thoughts on Ms Vikram's poetry! This was a collection I personally enjoyed reading - as much as I wanted to return the kind gesture you gave me by visiting & commenting. I miss visiting blogs - I'm hopeful I can find my time not so limited as Autumn comes into view. It would be nice to make return visits!

    I am so very sorry you've had to go through the pain of losing your parents! I do believe your Mum was reaching out to you - she wanted you to have peace knowing she was going to be alright. It's a gift she wanted to give you, as she knew how time was shortening... you can hug that close to your heart knowing she reached you and you heard her message. I believe in these things happening because I've had similar experiences. We're all connected to each other in special and unique ways. Esp when we love someone so very much as to feel overwhelmed by their loss when their gone.

    We've both endured loss and I think this is why the poems spoke to each of us in turn. I'm thankful for the tour, if only it gave me a chance to visit with you! I love how you get to read your favourite writer/poet when a tour comes up where you get to celebrate their creative voice! For me, this was my first exposure to her poetry - one reason I started hosting for Poetic Book Tours, to find a way to read contemporary poetry!

    I look forward to seeing more of what your sharing about the stories that touch your soul! Bless you for giving me your thoughts when you visited.

    1. Jorie, thank you very much for stopping by and for your thoughtful comments. These poems from the heart spoke to both of us, and will speak to many others as well.

  10. Great commentary on this collection Suko.

    Collected poems all relating to one subject can be very effective. The subject of this collection also sounds very worthy.

  11. Reading your account of losing your mother and father in such a short span of time brought tears to my eyes. Especially trying to get there in time. My Grandpa passed away in 2012. I found out he was at the end and tried to make it back to Michigan, but was too late.

    This collection of poetry sounds like it really captures human emotions perfectly. I've added it onto my to read list. Especially as you say this is your favorite author - I know she must be great!

    I hope you have a great Labor Day weekend!

    1. Thank you for your empathetic comment, Laura. It's certainly a touching poetry collection.

      Have a relaxing weekend.

  12. Thank you for the wonderful and moving review Suko!

  13. Great review! I haven't heard about this author before.

  14. Great post Susan. I have 'met' Sweta Srivastava Vikram via Instagram and have heard of her work. This sounds like a moving collection and one that resonated with you personally. Thank you for the wonderful review and for sharing your own story. xo

    1. Naida,
      Thanks for adding your voice to the conversation. It is great to connect with authors on Instagram and other social media. 😊

  15. What a nice review, it is always nice to connect to an author we enjoy reading. Thanks for all your visits to my reading corner.


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