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"Did you learn to read?" It's the first day of school for a young girl after the lifting of the Japanese Occupation of Malaysia after World War II. All she wants is to learn to read -- but there's an unfamiliar challenge standing in her way.
"When did they break your toes?" The bound feet that have been a blessing all her life threaten to end her life much too soon. They caused her pain and suffering, but gave her love and happiness -- now it's time to make a choice.
"I panic, I look around, can't find myself." So begins a day in the life of woman's shadow.
"Quick! Leave before it's too late." Just ahead of the rumble of machinery that destroys his home, a sparrow unwillingly leaves the nest to find his way in the world -- finding first a window and then a friend.
Love Is All You Need
"Heard the latest? Our David has brought home a city girl." Take a girl out of the city and you get gossip and a nicer-looking farmhouse. Twenty years later and the girl and the gossip meet again to talk for the first time.
"Will you stay?" Moon had met man and didn't want to leave. But there was always her father the Sun and her mother the Rain and a lot of very bad weather to contend with. Somehow they had to reach a compromise.
"We said the 'Our Father' and asked 'Godofmytea' to give us our daily bread." Grandma knew the importance of Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and Sikh deities, and Chinese gods -- and not even a man on the moon could shake her faith.
"Children get lost there." He'd never been allowed to play in the woods as a child, so perhaps that's what compelled him to enter now … to discover why.
The Singeing Shadow
"On the prowl again, fine guard dogs they make." Their two dogs were gone, it was night, the baby was asleep, his wife was boiling soup, and the hairs on the back of his neck were on end ... for good reason.
"How would you like to do it with me?" he said. "Commit suicide." No suicide hotline needed here -- just a celebration of their first date with a jump off his yacht, or maybe a push.
"Let's go check on our pigs." What else do the ghostly couple do when they're forced to stay on earth? Visit their old home, cause a little havoc among the living, check out the disco, and try to find a way out of here.
"I am ten and my friends smell of fish." Life is pretty good: lizards in the rafters, a mother and father who love her, and friends at school. But then she begins reading for a rich woman and thinks about running away.
At The Railway Station
"Taxi is here, Ma'am." The early-morning destination is the train station where life is just emerging from its blanket cocoons, ready to start another day on earth.
After The Wedding
"If he beats you from time to time, it is to show he cares for you." Ancient wisdom from the old woman who lives below the newlyweds. An escape from the farm just leads to a different cage.
17th Annual International Self-Published Book Awards
In a letter to Leela ...
Leela, this is a simple, gorgeously written collection that was an absolute pleasure to read. The writerly restraint in your style is a breath of fresh air, and I was mesmerized by the way you constructed each story as a discrete little world. The characters were well formed and lifelike, even in these little snapshots. Also, your cover is positively lovely. The back copy is well constructed, the cover image is both appealing and intriguing, and the matte finish just amplifies the beauty. I can tell you put as much care in choosing it as you did in forming and choosing your stories.
David Barlow from Amazon UK
A compelling, lovingly crafted book
The fourteen stories that comprise Floating Petals are small gems - lovingly crafted, shaped and polished. Ms Panikar deals with subjects, locations and protagonists that in the wrong hands could have ended up being maudlin and overwritten. The author has, however, through an economy of words, experience of life and love of the language created a collection of stories some of which you will want to read again as soon as you finish the book.
Ms Panikar has mastered the art of the opening line. Her first story starts out with the brief statement: I am tall. The next story begins: When did they break your toes? My favourite is from the story Running Away: I am ten and my friends smell of fish. How can you not read on with opening lines like that?
The subjects and stories are timeless in their appeal; the locations - whether in Hong Kong or elsewhere in Asia - are largely irrelevant. It requires inordinate skill to draw the reader in and empathize with a story about a shadow or a common sparrow. But Ms Panikar succeeds in doing just that.
The difficulty in writing short stories is to get the reader to make a connection with the protagonists in just a few pages. It is a challenge at the best of times, made more difficult if your main characters are animals, ghosts or even inanimate objects.
Many writers opt for the slice-of-life approach to short fiction, a cop-out allowing them to ignore the structure and discipline of a complete and rounded story. One of the pleasures of reading Floating Petals is that each story has a beginning, a middle and an end.
There is a wistful, evocative charm to many of the tales. Nostalgia plays a role too, but Ms Panikar never descends into maudlin memories. Her writing skills are such that you taste, smell and see things through her senses. She guides the reader, gently but with great confidence and sensitivity, through time, space, events and places. The stories for the most part are luscious, rich and surprisingly, refreshingly compelling.
Caroline on Amazon US
Not many books are placed in the beautifully gilded Chinese Antique cupboard in the hallway of my heritage house. The cupboard has a special lock on it. Only I have the key. Every once in a while I open the cupboard and read passages from the several books that lay between other treasures of photos, old wedding memorabilia, feathers and rocks collected from my favourite holiday spots or gathered from houses of dearly missed grandparents long gone. The book, Floating Petals by Leela Devi Panikar is one of the buried treasures kept in my special cupboard.
Floating Petals is a book of short stories. The stories are written with masterful genius, simple and elegant, yet imbued with hidden, sometimes shocking meanings that strike to the foundation of human existence. Most stories are set in exotic far-flung lands in the Far East, such as Penang, Hong Kong and India. Scenes, some from a bygone era, some contemporary are always peppered with vivid and lively culture of some intoxicatingly beautiful place.
Leela is able to lift the veil of ignorance and teach us about how the taboos of suicide, murder and slavery can be understood from a uniquely Asian perspective. The stories are moral reminders, references for future encounters of how beautiful, terrifying or tragic life is. Some stories are so haunting that there are constant reminders in everyday life.
It does not surprise me in the least that Leela Devi Panikar has won the 200 word writing competition from BBC World, and as Peter Kemp, fiction editor of the UKSunday Times said: "The best of a very, very good bunch of entries."
Andy Smailes on Amazon US
Western authors have always written about Asia in a way that reflects their grounding in an entirely different culture. No matter how taken they are by the Eastern way of life, their style of invoking it is almost always direct and to the point; virile, perhaps, and desirous of neat resolutions. As Leela Devi Panekar shows us, however, Asia is not at all like that. Life is deep in meaning, but at the same time simple and often inconsequential, reflecting the essential humility and charm of those who live in this part of the world.
The stories themselves are beautifully described by the author as petals floating past on the river; each petal is an idea, a memory, a delicately-observed tableau of life drifting by.
The canvases are not big and bold. Rather, Leela writes with an unassuming style that mirrors the spiritual, if often undramatic, outlook of the people who inhabit her pages. There are memoirs - her first day at school in Penang after the end of the Japanese occupation, childhood encounters with the various religions of her country - and fables; quiet vignettes of sorrow and loneliness, and quaint evocations of the afterlife. Many of the stories could have been written by an oriental Hans Christian Andersen. `Green' sees the return of a young man to his old home and a lush wood he'd always been afraid of as a child. Here a touch of the sinister is introduced, to be repeated in the next, rather horrific story in which the impoverished owner of a noodle stall and his family are preyed upon by a demon.
Leela is at her very best, however, in her portraits of loneliness; of dismal marriages without hope, or dreams and memories of love from long ago. A shadow follows its mistress as she waits forlornly for her lover. An old woman chooses certain death rather than face amputation of the bound feet that have come to symbolise the essence and meaning of her life.
The author won first prize in the BBC World "My Hometown" 200-word writing competition. It is easy to see why.