A Book Review of Blues by Masooma Memon

Hello everyone! Today I will be reviewing another superb entry from Daastan’s A War Within competition: Blues by writer and blogger, Masooma Memon. Before we dive into the analysis let’s just appreciate this beautiful book cover. It really does capture the essence of the story.


Waneeza Z. for Daastan Publishers


Depression is an abyss. An abyss with sharp, scintillating canines that can swallow you whole.

She knows about it because she had been devoured by it once. She has come a long way, and at most of the nights she feels proud of herself, but some nights the memory of it is strong enough to pierce her skin and shatter her once again. She was nine when her parents went separate ways.

She thought she could survive that, but what she didn’t expect was that a dark, hollow abyss was waiting to engulf her just up the road.


My Thoughts

When I talked to Masooma about her story she told me it was about depression. I admit it made me hesitant to read it because I generally don’t go for sad stories. We all seek happiness in our lives, right? Most people don’t enjoy hanging around depressed people because they don’t want to be dragged down with them. I thought Blues was going to drag me down with it. Boy was I wrong!

I didn’t need to go past the first few lines to fall completely in love with the writing. The author is gifted at spinning sentences that push the limits of your imagination and allow the meaning of those words to penetrate deep inside your mind. I was enchanted and totally sucked into the story from the beginning.

The narrative is in the first person which may put off readers who don’t enjoy this point of view in fiction. The writer has cleverly woven in diary entries which enhance this form of narrative. We follow the protagonist’s journey into the past as she leafs through pages of her old diary. The growth in her character is evident from the stark contrast between her past self and present self. The story starts with her making new beginnings determined to change for the better. Unlike many she is not afraid of her past and decides to face her demons head on. We can see that she has come a long way from days filled with hopelessness, self doubt, denial and loneliness. She reflects on the thoughts of her younger self and tries to spot the mistakes that made her fall so deep into the darkness of depression.

In the past, she felt imprisoned by her broken family. Her entire life was consumed with the grief and rage that comes with being a neglected child. That’s what she thought as she let her anger eat away at her common sense. It was clear whose fault it was but being stuck in her confused thoughts she directed the blame in the wrong direction. She allowed herself to be defined by her circumstances and her actions followed the path to self destruction.

With time she learned to escape from her pain, accepted the ugly truths of the world, appreciated the ones who never gave up on her, was grateful for what she had and most importantly, believed that she was not helpless or worthless. Living in a world that constantly seeks to put you down, it’s hard to believe in your value. Through Blues, the author shows us that there is always an escape from depression. It is usually a place you create yourself by holding fast to pessimism and thinking of problems rather than solutions. When you unearth the power of change that lies within you there is nothing that can stop you from moving forward towards the light. It is you who has to take the first step or else you could be lost in the darkness forever.


Overall Opinion

Beautifully crafted, Blues is an inspiring tale that serves as a lesson for us all.


My Rating



Have you read any of the short stories published this year at Meraqissa store?

A Book Review of An Abandoned Leaf by Neeraj Brahmankar

Hello readers! Besides my Whimsical Wednesdays series, where I post a detailed book review every week, I will be sharing reviews of shorter publications like short stories I have read. Daastan is a relatively new publishing platform of Pakistan that organizes short story competitions in both Urdu and English categories. I participated in “A War Within” (English category) and made it to the Top 15. Today, I will be reviewing the first entry I read from this year’s batch of short stories: An Abandoned Leaf by Neeraj Brahmankar. Congratulations on clinching the 6th rank this year, Neeraj. May you enjoy more success in the future 🙂



Cover by Waneeza Z. for Daastan Publishers


A War outside is visible, but when it is within you, even if you bleed, no one sees it. There was a war between his mind and vocal cords.

Some people are fortunate enough to be born with a healthy body. Some are born disabled. He struggled to speak, due to stammer.

“An abandoned leaf” portrays the life events of a boy who despite having chaos in mind and outraged with pain, tried to flow like a meandering river.

Passing through a stage of resistance to abject surrender, he fought a long battle against the stammer, and words were like leaves buffeting against the wind of stammer.

Now even after battling with all his demons, he is left with nothing but a blurry childhood. Will he ever be able to revive what is lost?


My Thoughts

An Abandoned Leaf by Neeraj Brahmankar is non-fiction and written with a first person narrative since the author relates his story. It may sound a bit like an autobiography as he shares his struggle with stammering, which he developed as a child due to an illness.

The book opens with a quote by Einstein that pretty much sums up the message the author is trying to convey through this story.


He explains that every person has their own special strengths so they should not be compared with others and made to feel inferior for not having a particular ability. To add to that everyone has their own idea of “normal” and “perfect”. The expectations are equally strong from each side but all demand different things.


In this case, his disability was something that most of us don’t think twice about because we have to put in zero effort to give our thoughts a voice. He describes the importance of speech in human expression and reveals how hard it was to even say his first name. It’s not difficult to imagine how such a disability robs a child of confidence and self-worth. A child lives to please their peers and elders. The theme of the contest, “A War Within”, fits here as “the endless battle between my brain and my vocal cords”. He says that even if he managed to speak, his words weren’t invited by most people. However, all wasn’t gloom and doom as you join in the joy of his first success: shouting his name out loud during an interview for a school admission.

This is the point where he decides to take control of his life and not let his stammer dictate his progress. The author’s dedication to rising above his disability is truly inspiring not just for the disabled but also the rest of us who give up at the first sign of failure. He narrates his struggle with “different shades” of his stammer. You can see that it is way more complex than it appears from the outside. If you have ever wondered what life’s like for a disabled person then An Abandoned Leaf will give you a whole new perspective. The invisible war within the author mentions is not something others can see peering in from the outside. Whether you realize or not how every little comment opens up a world of hurt for them, it is unacceptable to be insensitive about something that’s not in their control.

His perseverance and hard work led him to not only overcome his stammer but excel in public speaking. Meanwhile, he also became a wonderful writer and poet. The young boy who struggled to speak became fluent in several regional and global languages. He found solace in music playing the harmonium where words seemed inadequate to express the depth of his feelings. He was bullied and taunted at every turn by others but his family and some teachers stood firm by him. It just goes to show how far a person can go with a few kind hearts and understanding minds.

The author delivers a powerful message to the disabled to become the masters of their own fate. This story is an eye opener for teachers, family, friends and the rest of us who look down on the disabled. Many do not bother to extend a helping hand or worse, humiliate them. This is a very common attitude that needs to change. You learn about the first hand experiences of the amazing man who was pushed down repeatedly but never lost hope or gave up on his dreams.


Overall Opinion

The writing is beautiful, personal and has a strong impact on the reader. I don’t read non-fiction that often but this is one piece everyone should read regardless of your preferred genres. It’s not just a story of a stammering boy but a mirror that shows us how ugly we appear to such people. There is so much we can do but we don’t even bother saying a kind word. Like the author said, “Love is all that they need” and The Beatles agree 🙂


My Rating



Have you read any of the short stories published this year at Meraqissa store?

Riddles in the Dunes (Third Place Pakistani Readers Fantasy Short Story Competition 2016)


“Listen closely child to the tale of Mikamah, the goddess of wisdom. For her self-serving ways, she now suffers a fate worse than death they say. Perhaps she was not that bright after all. At a time when gods walked amongst humans and shifters in the desert realm of Yaransa, Mikamah was a celebrated deity. Combining the body of a lion, wings of an eagle and the torso of a woman she fashioned the first sphinx. Breathing her essence into the creature gave the female a unique form of wisdom: premonition. The catch was that sphinxes could only reveal those secrets in the form of riddles. In Mikamah’s sight, only those smart enough to solve them were worthy of possessing those secrets. The other gods and goddesses were alarmed as potent secrets were gained by those with nefarious intentions. They pleaded with the vain goddess but she rebelled and was finally defeated. Stripped of the amulet holding her power, she was cast into the deepest pits of the Underworld where she languishes to this day.”

The little girl stared wide eyed and slack jawed as her mother concluded the story. The young woman smiled affectionately at her daughter, “Close your mouth Lina or the locusts might jump in!”

Admonished and concerned the dark haired child pressed her lips together tightly. “Why is my precious flower turning blue in the face?” Malina’s father strode into the tent and settled down next to her pallet.

“Pa the locusts want to eat me!” the five year-old exclaimed throwing herself into brawny arms that snuggled her closer.

Her mother shook her head in exasperation while her father declared, “Only if they get past my deadly fist!”

A serious debate followed between father and daughter comparing the speed of fists to that of locusts.

Assured at last and yawning like a sand cat, Malina was tucked into bed and fast asleep when alarmed cries forced her awake. Her parents were nowhere to be seen in their humble nomadic dwelling. Horses stomped big hooves in the sand right outside the faded cloth causing her to whimper in fear. As gruff voices in a harsh dialect sounded closer and closer, she climbed into the large wicker basket set aside for blankets. Suddenly she heard her mother scream and her father bellow in outrage. Both backed away from an unseen threat stumbling through the tent flap. Before Malina could fly into her mother’s embrace, wild looking men with wicked curved weapons charged in. Before she could inhale to scream, identical crimson streaks laced across the air spattering the grimy tent fabric and the wooden poles that once held her home together. The child’s mind could take no more horror and she succumbed to blissful darkness.


Someone clutched Malina to their chest rocking her back and forth. Bleary amber eyes registered her grandma’s arms wrapped unyielding around her. The tears finally burst forth soaking them both in renewed grief. They along with two men, who had been visiting the nearby city of Ramin, were all that was left of the Kabali tribe. The rest had been slaughtered in their beds like cattle hunted by wolves in the night. The Harashi tribe had their vengeance for some ancient indiscretion no one remembered and Malina became an orphan. Once the funeral rites were observed, Ashbel bundled up her granddaughter and returned to Ramin. Her elderly friend, a kind schoolmaster took them in and soon Malina was learning to be a scribe while Ashbel minded an herb stall in the Great Market.

“I wish the rest of my students were as bright and eager as Malina”, Behlur remarked. “Such a creative spirit she is with her quick wit and queer puzzles.”

Ashbel froze arranging herbs and struggled to smile in reply at her old friend. After he walked off, she packed up for the day and hurried home to her granddaughter.

“Nana, look at this book I found today!” the eleven-year old trilled in greeting. Malina’s love for mythology had resulted in an entire collection of strange books like one she now held out.

“Lovely, dear”, Ashbel kissed her cheek. “Do put the kettle on. Will you?”

She had dreaded this day ever since Malina’s mother, her daughter-in-law, had confided in her about their true heritage.

Dropping in the seat next to her, Malina sighed dreamily, “Oh! How I wish I had claws like Marion or wings like Gaili.”

Listing the fascinating traits of her shifter friends, Malina’s voice slowly trailed off noticing the increasing alarm on her grandma’s face.

“What’s the matter, Nana?” she placed a gentle palm on her furrowed forehead.

The wrinkled hands grasped the smaller ones warmly. “Lina, it is time you know who you are”, Ashbel begin hesitantly.

“Who I am? Why I am Lina!” the child’s wide smile died out when Ashbel’s somber expression remained.

“Do you remember the bedtime stories your Ma told you about hunted sphinxes and the evil goddess?”

A shaky nod was her only response.

“They are not legends child, but history; the history of your people.” Ashbel continued.

Malina had always longed to be like her exciting shifter friends but this? This was scary. Panicked tears leaked down her golden face and she ran out of the house towards her favourite thinking spot by the Hamrum River. When Ashbel joined her hours later, Malina’s tears had dried and she appeared pensive.

“Your Ma also had a special message for you,” her grandma pushed back a stray lock. Malina perked up at that and her grandma recited.


“Mirror to heart is mind,

Soul to body they bind.

Blind are ye accursed vain,

Wiser to fear than disdain.”

At Malina’s perplexed expression, Ashbel gave a watery smile, “She said you would figure it out when the time came.”

Hand in hand they walked back determined to face whatever came as family.


Standing at Behlur’s doorstep, nineteen-year old Malina reflected that her Nana would be there now if the gods hadn’t called her away three years ago. Life had been hard without her to teach Malina control of her growing abilities especially shape shifting.

“Promise you won’t breathe a word of this to anyone Lina”, she had made her swear.

Malina had kept her word since but hiding such secrets had cost her many friends growing up.

“Jazzem is a well respected professor at Sarus University. Make me proud,” Behlur gave her a parting hug sending her off to the capital as a scribe to his long time friend.

When the caravan stopped to rest in the quaint town of Laleer, Malina happily browsed book stalls at the weekly market. Suddenly aware of a man breathing down her neck, she whirled around but a pungent cloth was pressed to her mouth stifling any protests. Darkness engulfed her and she fell limp in his burly arms.

“Ah! The heat was too much for my little sister.”

Syn inwardly cringed at Jef’s lame tactic.

Thrusting the girl at him, the eagle shifter ordered, “Load the bitch up in the carriage and let’s be off”.

Syn was really getting tired of that low life acting like the boss but he cursed at the mercenary’s back and did as told.

Glancing at his unconscious burden he lamented, “Too bad we can’t be friends darling. You’re kind of pretty.”

Scowling at the unfairness of the universe, Syn guided the horses to their hidden destination.


Malina jerked awake in pitch black. While her eyes adjusted, trembling hands felt around for clues making contact with a rocky surface on all sides but one. Gripping metal bars, she realized it was a cell of some sort. Sensing her shifting ability blocked by a spell of some sort, she was resigned to act like a damsel in distress.

“Help!” she yelled.

Her voice echoed off invisible surfaces leading her to conclude she was trapped in a cave-like prison.

“Shut up!” a gruff voice complained coming closer along with a lit torch until she could make out the sharp features of the speaker.

“Enough Jef! Zellis is on her way”, a clear deep voice announced.

It came from a younger man around her age, who appeared bored but his alert gaze said otherwise.

A haughty older woman in scarlet robes swept in addressing her scornfully, “You? You are the sphinx?”

Malina’s blood turned to ice in her veins.

“I am Zellis, high priestess of Mikamah’s Temple,” the woman gestured at herself regally studying her with reptilian eyes.

Rattlesnake shifter, Malina noted uneasily.

While she stood mute with panic, the priestess droned on about how the priesthood had fled underground after Mikamah’s fall.

“You will locate her lost amulet and mighty Mikamah will return to finish what she started,” Zellis commanded.

“Why me?” Malina titled her head curiously.

“Pathetic as you are, you are the last descendant of the first-born sphinx, ungrateful wench!” Zellis spat out viciously. “The goddess told me where to find you when we last communed in ritual. Her connection to your blood is strong.”

Lunging forward, her lethal nails piercing Malina’s neck, the priestess hauled her by the collar and demanded, “Tell me where the amulet is!”

Malina’s gaze grew unfocused even as an otherworldly voice issued from her lips:


“Power that seek the bold,

Sleeps in death’s embrace cold.

Watch as dark devours light,

Beckoning to those with the Sight.”

Smiling triumphantly, Zellis dragged Jef out shooting over her shoulder, “Report to me when you solve the riddle, Syn.”

Striding closer to Malina, Syn waved a familiar parchment in her face.

“Jazzem’s scribe huh? I know him from my university days,” he revealed. “Cooperate and I will deliver you to him safely.”


Mulling over her options during a wretched meal of moldy bread and cloudy water, Malina decided to remain compliant until she could find real help. Absorbed in her gloomy thoughts, she didn’t notice the desert wolf slinking in until it sat panting beyond the bars cocking his head to study her. The canine wagged its fluffy tail and whined rubbing its damp nose against the bars. She reached out with an uncertain hand to pet her only friend in that miserable rank cave.

“Better a wild animal than a caged one,” she sadly mumbled to her companion.

The desert wolf’s muscles trembled beneath its fur and before she could blink, Syn stared down at her smirking. Quickly recovering, Malina stumbled to her feet and returned his intense stare, ignoring the flush that crept up her temples.

“See something you like?” Syn teased bending to her level.

“For Gods’ sake, put some pants on man!” Jef marched in eyes tightly squeezed shut.

Infuriated beyond belief, Malina shot back, “I’ve seen better!”

Uproarious laughter followed Syn all the way to the entrance where he paused and announced, “We leave at dawn.”


The next morning the trio set off with their reluctant prisoner in tow and Syn navigating. “The Valley of the Damned!” Zellis screeched at him. “Have you lost your mind?”

“That’s where the riddle points to,” Syn explained calmly, “Clever really when you think of it. No one would think to venture into that pit of decay.”

“The ancient battleground of the Gods,” Malina gasped in realization.

“They say the souls of the damned still haunt it, ripping apart any who dares enter,” Jef supplied.

Braving sweltering days and bitter cold nights in the desert, they finally reached the mouth of the valley on the sixth night.

“Are you sure about this?” Zellis asked uncertainly.

“Rattled?” Syn taunted.

“Careful mutt before I whip out a leash!” she hissed back.

Jef added his fears of being followed and no one noticed Malina pacing towards the dead tree smack in the middle of the wasteland.

She was being pulled inexplicably in the direction of the grey trunks twisted as if in pain, the branches bare and lifeless. Her quick strides turned into a sprint and she slammed her hands over the creaking trunk. Running feet sounded behind her while she desperately scratched at the bark till her nails bled.

Syn pulled her off and held her struggling form still reaching out. Jef brought down his axe and the rotting tree groaned falling to the cracked earth.

“It was hollow!” Jef exclaimed.

He plunged a hand to extract the heavy gold amulet with an oval amber stone set in the center. The mercenary’s agonized scream rent the air once before he collapsed dead and unmoving. Taking advantage of Syn’s shock, Malina freed herself and grabbed the amulet sighing in relief. The pull had vanished.

“Good riddance,” Zellis flipped her long golden hair back and straightened her shoulders. “Time to summon our mistress!”

“Don’t do this!” Malina pleaded with Syn. “I cooperated. Now take me to Sarus.”

“Not so fast!” He dragged her to Zellis, who produced a dagger and sliced Malina’s palm coating the amulet in blood.

A maniacal gleam entered Syn’s eyes as the priestess began a hypnotic chant.

“You think this is about gold?” he sneered. “Those fools at the university threw me out just because I showed another his place. Once Mikamah rises, the brightest like me will take their rightful place as rulers of the world!”

The crack beneath their feet got wider as the chanting grew in fervor. Unbelievably hot vapors shot out of the fractures causing them to leap back. The goddess emerged as they dissipated terrifying beautiful and undeniably cruel. Syn and Zellis fell in prostration but Malina stood transfixed with terror.

“Ah, my little sphinx,” she purred. “Stand with me and taste true power. Imagine the strong Broji demons and my wise sphinxes breeding to birth the ultimate race not even the gods could defeat!”

Sickened with horror, it took Malina a minute to register her words, “Sphinxes?”

Mikamah laughed maliciously, “You didn’t think you were the only one, did you? Your sisters are out there. My connection to them is weaker but exists.”

Struggling to see through the red haze that clouded her vision, her mother’s words swam to the forefront of Malina’s mind. Struck by an epiphany, she calmed and bowed her head to Mikamah.

“I yield”, she said quietly.

Zellis and Syn rose to join her smiling and victorious. As Mikamah glided to her, a single black arrow flew through the air and plunged into the priestess’s neck killing her instantly. Howling with anger, Syn shifted at the same time Malina did, now free of Zellis’s spell.

Mikamah lifted a hand to curse the black clad figures poised to attack from behind a crumbling rock but Malina pounced on her crushing the amulet under one giant paw. A painful yelp told her another arrow had found its mark in the desert wolf’s body. Malina’s long sharp teeth sank into the goddess’s neck delivering pure divine essence that devoured her own tainted essence. Mikamah’s body dissolved into vapors before her eyes.

“Diamond cuts diamond huh?” Amber eyes so like hers smiled at Malina.

“Sorry we were late for the party,” another young woman with the same eyes spoke emerging from behind the rock.

Soon Malina was gazing upon an entire group of sphinxes, warriors by the look of it.

“Mikamah couldn’t see beyond her own pride to the compassion she always thought demeaning,” Malina explained.

“We have been searching for you for a long time sister,” the first sphinx took her hands warmly.

Feeling tears well up, Malina embraced her sisters one by one. Shifting into magnificent beasts, they spread their wings and soared into the approaching dawn together at last.



Give Her a Break (Part One)


Sophie was enjoying herself. It was the first day of twelfth grade and everything was just as she had always imagined it would be. She could almost feel the excitement buzz against her skin as the returning second years swarmed through the college gates. She scanned the crowd for her best friends while expertly dodging the shoves generated by overly enthusiastic hugs accompanied by high pitched squeals. Thankfully, the guys preferred bumping shoulders and fists over the joyful public bouncing the girls were partial towards. She had just caught sight of Sam striding towards the café in pink heels when a carelessly swung giant handbag nearly knocked off her glasses. On the bright side, her yell of surprise had drawn the attention of Sam, who was now hurrying over as fast as her shoes allowed. “You okay girl?” Sam asked with concern. “I was afraid this would end up like a scene from Sleepy Hollow!” Sophie clutched her head and groaned in reply unable to give her retreating attacker a piece of her mind.

Fortunately, they finally reached the café without further accidents and collapsed next to Sarah and Aly. As both girls were busy texting, they failed to notice them until Sam exclaimed “OMG! You guys will not believe who I just saw practically seducing our Math teacher!” Two heads eagerly whipped around to face them at that juicy piece of gossip. Sophie got up to enfold Aly in a hug but she was instantly held at arm’s length and scanned from head to toe. “That shirt cut was barely trendy like six months ago Sophie. For a second there I thought you were one of the teachers!” Aly said shaking her head in disapproval. Sighing Sophie moved on to greet Sarah who suddenly seemed conscious of her own top from last season. “Come on, Sam spill!” Aly nearly shouted out in impatience. “Well,” Sam begin drawing out the word slowly, “It was that total snob Laila! You know that Kardashian wannabe who everyone says got lip injections during the holidays?” There were gasps from the other two as Sophie interjected, “I bumped into her at the mall a few days ago. I didn’t think she looked like a duck.” Sarah snorted at that statement. “Oh please, your nose is always buried in a book. You never notice such things.” Sophie opened her mouth to argue just as the bell rang and they all hurried towards their classes.

The girls made plans to go to the movies later that afternoon to celebrate their first day back as no assignments had been handed out. Standing in the queue for popcorn, Sophie shifted her weight from one foot to another and watched Sam throw up her hands in exasperation at the ticket counter. She could hear her friend yelling from all the way over there. “Four! I said four!” Sam screeched at the poor guy on duty. “Are you deaf or too stupid to count?” Thankfully, Aly and Sarah showed up in time to pull Sam away from the panicked guy who appeared to be stuttering apologies. Sophie rolled her eyes at the scene. Sam was way too dramatic about everything from breaking a nail to her cat getting run over by the neighbour’s car. Oh and how could Sophie forget that time her brother yelled at her in front of everyone for taking his car without permission? Sam’s mascara had completely transferred from her lashes to her cheeks by the time she finally stopped sobbing into her pillow. “What a drama queen!” she muttered under her breath as she found her friends in the third row ogling a passing couple and giggling like idiots.

“Isn’t that Ruby?” Sophie inquired as she glanced over at the girl smiling shyly at cute guy who was obviously trying to impress her with his witty one-liners. Sarah threw a malicious look in Ruby’s direction as she let out a bubble of laughter. Her companion seemingly pleased with his success, grinned from ear to ear. “Yeah, that’s her. Home wrecker!” Sarah snarled in response to her question. Comprehension dawned on Sophie’s face and she sighed inwardly. Ruby must have earned that title because she was guilty of appealing to a guy Sarah had set her sights on. “I have been inviting him to the movies with us all week but all I got were lame excuses!” Sarah whined loudly. “It’s his loss”, Aly patted her knee trying to placate her. “Yeah”, Sam piped in, “Ruby isn’t half as pretty as you Sarah.” Sophie forced herself to nod along at the appropriate places to stop Sarah’s grumbling. Fortunately, the movie started at that moment putting an end to the annoying conversation.

The next day they met in the main hall of their college and were almost swallowed by the animated crowd of first years pouring in for their orientation. Moving to stand with the other seniors, they scrutinized the newcomers for potential prey respecting the long standing tradition of ragging. “Look at that one!” Aly suddenly pointed at someone just entering the hall. Sophie craned her neck to catch a glimpse of the first year but she was hidden from view by a burly boy who looked hopelessly lost. “Her sleeveless top looks more like the strapless variety”, Sam snickered next to her. “Did she run out of cloth for her trouser?” Sarah added laughing at the unsuspecting girl. “No scarf either,” Aly noted smirking. “Looks like another one of “those” girls who is just begging to be branded with a distasteful nickname.” Frustrated at not being able to see the first year, Sophie took two steps forward before stopping in her tracks as the crowd parted to reveal the newcomer. Her friends were openly laughing by now but their laughter died in their throats as Sophie calmly stated, “That’s my little sister”. Storming past them to meet her sister, she heard their gasps and almost felt the shame burning their faces.

-End of Part One-