Book Review – ‘Steps and Stones’ by Narmadhaa Sivaraja

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author.

Narmadhaa Sivaraja’s Steps and Stones is a delightful, whimsical and contemplative account of her travels so far, captured in a collection of haiku and photography bound together as beautiful modern haiga. Sometimes light, sometimes deep, Narmadhaa’s writing and imagery guide the reader through an increasingly complex world, with the occasional jolt of a cutting observation.

Sivaraja has a keen eye for detail and it seems little has escaped her as she has traversed the globe. She finds real beauty in the ordinary and makes wry and sometimes humorous observations as she looks around her. There is a classic example very early in the book, titled ‘Exchange Offer’, in which she comments on the image of a New York City sewer cover, stamped with ‘Made In India’:

A deal to protect

sewage for economy

from the east to west

In pondering this everyday, often unnoticed object, Narmadhaa comments quietly on globalisation and its effects on even the simplest things. In ‘Looking Sharp’ she comments on how aesthetics may not necessarily be an object’s most prized aspect; while ‘Look Back’ considers the multifaceted perspectives on history, and how past mistakes don’t always end up being learning experiences. A standout haiku reminds the reader of the importance and fleeting nature of the moment:

Victory doesn’t last

plan with reckless abandon

failure doesn’t either

The haiku form of seventeen syllables in the 5-7-5 format is Sivaraja’s predominant haiku style. There is the occasional play with rhyme, but on the whole the haiku aspects of the book are traditional in form and structure. Much of her work focuses on nature but she also juxtaposes imagery of the built environment with hyper-focused words capturing a moment. Her descriptions are nuanced and intense and she has a gift for taking the image and using the accompanying words to add another dimension of meaning. The result is an ekphrasis on a completely different level. 

Narmadhaa is widely travelled and clearly immerses herself thoroughly the contexts of the places she visits. This makes her observations astute and sometimes overtly political – she comments on a location clearly being aimed at tourists in the face of struggling locals. Her depth of understanding, sometimes shared in the occasional footnote about a location, brings further clarity and often invites the reader to ‘zoom in’, to enjoy up close the fine detail that would otherwise slip by.

This book is a wonderful and quite quick read for anyone interested in the world around them, in travel, and in seeing their surroundings through new lenses. Sivaraja invites the reader to stop with her, take a breath, and really look at what’s happening before them and how it might be shaping their thinking. Lovers of the open road, of the view from plane windows, and of ‘just going’ will find something to enjoy in these pages.

Steps and Stones is available now from Amazon.

2 thoughts on “Book Review – ‘Steps and Stones’ by Narmadhaa Sivaraja

  1. Gosh, Amanda. Thank you, thank you, so much for this beautiful review!


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