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By M.R. Narayan Swamy
Title: False Sanctuaries: Stories from the Troubled Territories of South Asia; Author: Meenakshi Iyer; Publisher: Promilla & Co; Pages: 284; Price: Rs.395

Can five seemingly unrelated stories spread across four countries - Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka - have anything in common? Yes, seems to say journalist author Meenakshi Iyer, as she unveils gripping tales of human trauma, endurance and courage that cover some of the most troubled spots in South Asia, past and present. These include the Tamil conflict in Sri Lanka, terror in Mumbai, the Kashmir cauldron, Afghanistan and the perennially tense India-Pakistan relationship.

Some stories outshine others. My favourite story is the Mumbai one where the most unexpected character turns out to be a terrorist. In the Afghan saga, a Delhi woman moves to Kabul to find out what happened to her mother who disappeared in the country, most mysteriously, years and years ago. The Sri Lanka saga revolves around the tragedy of Tamils who fell victim to the ethnic conflict that ended so brutally in 2009.

Meenakshi has the reporter's eye for detail - and the ability to capture completely varying environments in different sets of societies with equal aplomb. This is her success. Many journalists have taken to writing fiction; not everyone is able to catch the reader's attention in the very first attempt. Bravo.

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