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Shakti Girls: Atlanta author Shetal Shah’s powerful ode to 13 Indian women

BY JYOTHSNA HEGDE

Shakti Girls isShetal Shah’s ‘powerful’ ode to thirteen Indian women across the globe that showcases their achievements while offering glimpses into their lives in simple yet impactful biographical poems. Reflecting the diversity of India and its diaspora, Shah’s debut features women that created history in myriad fields including entertainment, sports, politics, writing, science, social work, math, activism and more. Shah celebrates the Shakti of each of the women, even as she inspires the reader to aspire and invoke their own.

In Hinduism, Shakti may be interpreted as “Energy, ability, strength, effort, power, capability” and the primordial cosmic energy, female in aspect. All interpretations of the word, however, hold common one parameter, Power. Encapsulating the essence of this word, Shah embarks the reader into a descriptive, lyrical journey of women’s empowerment, backed by delightful illustrations by Kavitha Rajput that keep alive the ‘Shakti’ of these inspirational women alive for generations to come.

“Pretend you are president!” ma would say. Follow your vishvaas in every way!”, Shah writes of Indira Nooyi. I thoroughly enjoyed the seamless merger of Hindi vocabulary within the structure of the poems. It builds an instant bond between the person and the poem for those familiar with the language and an instant intrigue to those that are not. Either way, it engages, emphatically.

An educator by vocation, Shah’s experience shines through in her presentation. The rhyming pattern applied in the poems makes it easier to remember the content and engage the young reader. The Search and Find activity, as it turns out, also happened to be a favorite of my nine-year-old daughter. It leaves a mark on the memory, helping readers connect a visual cue with each woman in the book. The reflection activity at the end is a classic teachers’ take – allowing the reader to reflect upon what they learned about the women and apply it to their own personalities, interests, and abilities. The added glossary serves as a learning tool enhancing the reading experience.

Many of the women in Shah’s collection stake claim to being pioneers in their field –

Indira Gandhi , the first (only) Indian woman Prime Minister

Kalpana Chawla, the first Indian women in space

Indra Nooyi, the first Indian woman to lead Corporate ( PepsiCo)

Asha Bhosle, the first Indian Grammy nominee

Be it Kalpana Chawla, Shakuntala Devi, the women in STEM, Asha Bhosle in India or Mindy Kaling – the women in Entertainment, Geeta Phogat, Mohini Bhardwaj, or Sania Mirza,  – the women in Sports, Indira Gandhi Kasturba Gandhi, or Kamala Harris – the women in politics, Indira Nooyi, the trailblazing PepsiCo Leader, Jhumpa Lahiri, the distinguished writer or Mother Teresa who answered her higher calling, Shah illuminates individual struggles of each – be it overcoming patriarchy, identity crisis, gender barriers or foraying into unchartered territory. Shah underlines the resilience of each of these women, who chose to remain authentic to themselves, even as they defied a set mold, invoking their Shakti within. Each poem concludes on a motivational note, leaving behind a powerful question: What is your Shakti?  Get your copies to be inspired and invoke your own.

About the Author:A former girls’ school educator turned author, Shetal Shah dreamed of seeing bookshelves filled with stories of women that looked like her. Shah taught world history in all-girls schools where she witnessed how curriculum and literature inclusive of women from diverse backgrounds can have a positive impact on girls’ self-esteem, identity development, and belonging. Shah also developed and led numerous educator workshops, presenting at national conferences covering topics on pedagogy and diversity and inclusion. Shah currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her family.

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