Born and educated in India, Nirmala Moorthy now lives in California. A member of the Author's Guild of America, she has written three novels, ten short stories published in American magazines, and over two hundred newspaper and magazine articles published in fourteen countries. Maya, her first novel, was published by Penguin-India in 1997. A Polish translation has been released in 2002 by Dialog, an academic publisher in Warsaw. Her second novel The Coiled Serpent was published in India and the USA by Clocktower Books in 2000. Her third novel The River Turned Red was published by PublishAmerica in 2003. Her first two novels have been shortlisted for the San Diego Book Awards Association's best Mainstream Novel, and have been awarded Certificates of Excellence.
"Moorthy's writing jumps off the page and grabs you."
--Phyllis Gebauer, author of The Pagan Blessing and UCLA's Outstanding Teacher in Creative Writing.
"Moorthy's writing is so fast-paced, I stayed up all night reading Maya." --Sitar Maestro Ravi Shankar.
"Moorthy's characters are down-to-earth and identifiable. Her writing entices you right from the very onset and stays long after the last page is turned." --The Asian Age, India, August 12, 2000.
"There is a lot of reference to Malabar history which she has well-researched. Readers from the region or familiar with Kerala folklore will definitely find The Coiled Serpent an interesting read." --Mid-day, Mumbai, August 19, 2000.
"Many hailed Nirmala Moorthy's novel Maya, published in 1997, as a remarkable first novel. Her second work of fiction The Coiled Serpent makes us even more aware that she is mistress of her craft. In The Coiled Serpent we experience both inner and outer journeys that Moorthy takes us on, through the eyes of three interesting female figures that are compelling in their own right... All psychic journeys take interesting turns, and The Coiled Serpent takes us on these mysteries, using the serpent as a metaphor for our lives and journeys that unfold over time, over many mystical miles."--India Currents, San Jose, March 2001.
The River Turned Red
A Review in India Currents
Mar 03, 2004
THE RIVER TURNED RED by Nirmala Moorthy. PublishAmerica, Baltimore, 2003, ISBN 1-59286-237-3. Paperback, 312 pages. $24.95.
Discount Price of $19-95 at
Review by Jeanne E. Fredrikson, India Currents,March 3, 2004
Lies, deception, trust, and hope; courtesans, royalty, thugs, and villagers; soldiers, informants, spies, and servants; intrigue, mutiny, sacrifice, and survival: fold them all together gently and what results is Nirmala Moorthy’s third book, The River Turned Red. Universal in representing the struggles, annihilations, oppression, and uprising of peoples all over the world at any time in history, Moorthy’s title is a sad reminder that blood in the water is too often an ingredient when dignity and independence are at stake. In this case, the historic event tackled is the touchy and significant relationship between the conquered and their conquerors: India’s Sepoy Mutiny of 1857.
The story revolves around three distinct and well-drawn characters whose lives represent the people of India. Lila, the young princess of a financially-shaky kingdom, promises her dying father that she will keep Paramgar safe from falling into the hands of the British while she also protests his choice of husband for her. Ram Daulat, one of the few Brahmin sepoys in the 3rd Light Cavalry under the command of a respectful and respected British captain, is the first to lay down arms and reject the newest British-made weapon, thereby losing his rank, pension, and standing. His brother, Kamal, the youngest of five brothers, is the one their father left in charge of the family as the others followed in his military footsteps, but it is Kamal who receives a cryptic message of two chapatis and the directive of “be ready … the time has come.”
“There are six Indian soldiers to every Englishman in India, about 45,000 British troops to over 230,000 sepoys,” Major Wheeler tells an out-of-purdah and assumed-to-be-Eurasian Lila. “Luckily for us their loyalties are divided. The Infantry regiments are predominantly Hindu, and the Cavalry is Muslim. And even a Christian like you must know that Hindus and Muslims can never agree upon anything.”
“Never?” asked Lila.
“Never before,” he conceded, “until the arrival of the Enfield rifle.”
When the British East India Company introduced the Enfield rifle—light in weight, long in range, and heavy in implications regarding the British hold over their Hindu and Muslim sepoys—little was imagined of the vast repercussions that would ensue. Because of its sleekness, the weapon required grease cartridges to assist in sliding the bullets into the barrels. The grease was the point of revulsion for both Hindus and Muslims: the cartridges needed to be ripped open with the soldier’s teeth. Despite the British assurance that the grease was mutton-based, everyone knew it was a byproduct of cows and pigs. Vegetarian, non-vegetarian, the reaction was the same: it was an affront to the deep-seated religious beliefs of the sepoys.
Slowly, Moorthy lays the story’s foundation, and all of this groundwork of the first one-third of the book carefully leads to the point where the country bursts into flames and blood is shed. The reader is then thrust deeper into the mutiny and the after-effects, including twists and turns and revelations that hold attentions fast and sharp. Lila, Dalaut Ram, and Kamal cross paths and souls with and without the aid of others who impact each central character’s next move in this chess game of history. At the end, we wait as the players think through their next—if not final—moves.
The Coiled Serpent (ISBN 0-7433-0016-5)
released by Clocktower Books in India and the USA in 2000.
Buy it at www.LocalAuthors.com for $7-95
In a sleepy Malabar town ten-year-old Meena, the daughter of wealthy socialite parents, battles loneliness and neglect. When her uncle returns home from the USA with an American wife, a son, and a step-daughter, the tranquillity of her home is shattered. The bond that develops between Meena and her aunt, their struggles against fear and despair, and their search for the power of the coiled serpent speed the story to a towering climax that brings both tragedy and release.
The River Turned Red, PublishAmerica, Baltimore, USA. (ISBN 1-59286-237-3)
A story of love and betrayal, of duty, honor and sacrifice.
India-1857: the British East India Company's disregard for the religious and social taboos of the Hindu and Muslim soldiers who form the bulk of its armed forces makes mutiny inevitable. One British outpost after another goes up in flames along the length of the Ganges. Helpless flotsam caught in the backlash are the victims: the sepoy Daulat Ram who carries his British Captain's five-year-old daughter to safety; Kamal, his brother, who struggles to support his extended family and keep them safe from the terror that stalks the village; while Lila, heir to the impoverished kingdom of Paramgar, forced into a politically expedient marriage with a stranger in spite of her hopeless entanglement with a British officer, is hounded from one end of the country to the other in a bid to escape her almost certain annihilation.
The River Turned Red --A review
India West, San Francisco, January 23, 2004.
Nirmala Moorthy’s latest offering is a historical novel set in 19th Century colonial India. It is a story of love and betrayal, hope and desperation at a tumultuous time in Indian history. The year is 1857—the year of the Sepoy Mutiny when Hindu and Muslim soldiers took up arms against their British masters.
Against such a volatile backdrop, the story unfolds in the impoverished kingdom of Paramgar. The heir to the throne, the willful Lila, who has already given her heart to an English officer, is forced into a politically expedient marriage by her dying father to a man she detests on sight. But life as a virtual prisoner in a harem is not for this feisty heroine. She escapes, but only to find herself drawn into a bloody chain of events that leaves her more heartbroken than before. In her daring attempt to rescue her only true friend and governess from the terrible siege of Cawnpore, Lila finds herself at the mercy of her vengeful lover who blames her for the massacre of British women and children. Torn between two men—the lover who now despises her and the husband who spurns her—Lila must fight and overcome battle strategies and palace intrigues to reclaim her life and the welfare of her people.
Into this main plot are woven subplots of people caught in the vortex of these historical events—of Daulat Ram, who saves a British captain’s daughter only to find himself convicted of raping her; of his brother Kamal who must now assume the responsibility for the entire family; of Nana Saheb who appears to be both a friend and a foe of the British; of Mahesh, Lila’s brother-in-law, who is torn by his conflicting loyalties; and of the band of thugs who are perpetrating their own terror in the countryside.
Moorthy’s novel is a fast-paced captivating story of times gone by.
The River Turned Red –The Guru, published in Seattle and San Diego, January 9, 2004.
Review by Sonali T. Sikchi
With “The River Turned Red” Nirmala Moorthy has another page-turner for her many fans. Intrigue and romance, honor and sacrifice, suspense and mayhem intermingle with historical facts, and where reality falls short, Moorthy’s talented storytelling takes flight.
Lila, Moorthy’s signature lead, is the heir to the impoverished kingdom of Paramgar, India, in the days when the kingdom’s annexation by the British East India Company is a serious threat. In spite of this Lila finds herself hopelessly entangled with Stuart Wheeler, a captain in the British army. But to please her dying father, Lila disregards her feelings for Stuart and suffers through a politically expedient marriage to Vikram Singh, heir to the throne of Ratanpur, whom she dislikes passionately since their chance encounter during a hunt.
The British insensitivity and bigotry towards the religious and social customs of their Hindu and Muslim soldiers and their harsh punitive measures for the smallest infractions, fuel united anger and violence against the oppressive colonial rule. Through Lila’s pervceptive observances and experiences, India’s first bid for independence from British rule, the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, unfolds in all its horrific drama and bloody aftermath.
Lila is trapped in this sinister web as she spurns her husband’s overtures, and he assumes an increasingly menacing stance as a practitioner of Thuggery. She escapes from Ratanpur to visit her fatally ill father and see to his last rites. Compromised and insulted by the Nana Saheb, sinister ruler of Bithore, her attempts to save her captured governess end with her fall into the vengeful hands of her British lover. Stuart holds her responsible for the massacre of the British women and children in the siege of Cawnpore. Her short respite in Ramnagar, at the home of Daulat Ram’s brother, is interrupted by her recognition by officials from Ratanpur, and she is summarily delivered into Vikram’s hands. She escapes to Madhuvan to meet Mahesh, Vikram’s younger, kinder brother, but ends up in a far direr situation than she has ever been.
What makes “The River Turned Red” particularly enjoyable are the strong, well-formed characters having their own distinct voices and personalities. With an authoritative command of rich historical details and a glimpse into India’s culture of a bygone era, Moorthy skillfully weaves the various threads of the story into a cohesive engrossing plot, appealing to people of all ages and backgrounds.
Moorthy seems to relish and dwell on the gruesome and stomach-turning particulars of death by cremation, death by being blown to bits by cannon fire and death by the ruthless swiftness of the Thug roomal. A little less real estate devoted to this, and more spent on uncovering Lila’s thoughts and interpretations of the devastating events would elevate this book from an entertaining story to a memorable one.
The Asian Age, India, August 12, 2000
THE COILED SERPENT--REVIEWS
India Journal, Los Angeles, October 6, 2000.
Reviewed by a staff reporter.
The Coiled Serpent—a poignant strike
After the success of fast-paced Maya in 1997, Indian-American Nirmala Moorthy emerges as a winner yet again with her recent novel The Coiled Serpent.
The Coiled Serpent unfolds in Calicut in a typical Malayalee family. The center of attention is the ten-year-old Meena who lives with her socialite mother and an array of domestics. Her industrialist father who “smells of tobacco and a lemony after-shave” gives them periodic visits.
Between a mother who actively pursues her social commitments, a father whose business keeps him globetrotting and a brother away at public school, Meena finds solace amongst the maids.
The tranquility of her home is upset when her uncle Suren comes home from the United States with an American wife--Eleanor, a son—Sunny, and a step-daughter, Patricia.
In due course, the novel evolves and unfolds the relationship that initiates between Meena and her American aunt. It evokes a tangible web of relationship that transverses their struggle against fear and despair, and their search for the power of the coiled serpent that sets the pace of the story leading it to a towering climax inflicting both tragedy and release.
The book brings to mind the sweltering heat, the frothy murmur of waves and spicy fish curry, for the story is set in a sleepy Malabar town. The novel suggests the author’s familiarity with the customs of Kerala. “I have always been interested in anthropology and I do a lot of research for my novels,” Moorthy says. The matriarchal system of Kerala specially fascinated her, she adds.
The Coiled Serpent is based on the main tenet of kundalini yoga which states that an individual’s psychic power lies coiled like a serpent at the base of the spine and it is through yoga and meditation that you can elevate it up to the mind. “I have used the coiled serpent armlet in the book as a symbol of this, “ explains the San Diego based writer.
“The legend of the coiled serpent has always excited me—as I used to hear about it when I was a child. It took me a year to understand and research my subject. Initially the plan was to write a short story based on my study, but in the process I got so involved in it, that I had to make it into a full-fledged novel to give justice to my exploration,” remarks the author about the origin of the idea behind The Coiled Serpent.
Nirmala Moorthy’s characters are down-to-earth and identifiable. Her writing entices you right from the very onset and stays long after the last page is turned.
Moorthy has been a journalist for over two decades and has written for several publications. Her first book Maya, published by Penguin, revolves around an autocratic father and his relationship with his daughters especially the youngest rebellious one, Maya.
Regarding more books in the future Moorthy said, “I have already started working on my third novel, which will be released soon.” She however refused to comment any further.
Readers have good reason to look forward to this one.
The Pasadena Weekly, December 7, 2000.
Reviewer Ellen Snortland author of Beauty Bites Beast.
Finally, a local author who’s worth every word she writes
Lots of people think about writing. I know, because almost everyone I meet thinks about writing. When I tell people I’m a writer, they tell me what they think they’ll write some day.
Doctors and dentists do not get the same reaction when they share their profession. “Yeah, I want to do a tonsillectomy some day,” or “I’ve always dreamed about doing a root canal.”
And then there are those people I know who actually do write. Some of them are great and others are, well, they should maybe just go back to the thinking about it part.
It can be really awkward when someone you know not only writes, but wants your opinion of their writing. Yikes! But what a profound joy it is when their writing is fabulous.
Such is the case with Nirmala Moorthy, a friend who asked me to review her novel, The Coiled Serpent.
Being an avid reader of both nonfiction and fiction, I especially like to find stories about women of different cultures, whether it’s in the form of fiction or nonfiction. “The Coiled Serpent” is a gold mine for that reason alone.
Indian-American author Moorthy told me that the matriarchal system of inheritance still prevalent in the Indian state of Kerala was what inspired her to write it.
It’s hard not to imagine “The Coiled Serpent” on the big screen. As you read you can hear the frothy murmur of the Malabar surf, feel the searing trickle of sand between the toes, smell the piercing scent of ripening pepper berries. Sights, smells and textures titillate the senses throughout the book. It’s part chick-flick with a good dose of action adventure. Listening Hollywood?
“The Coiled Serpent” tells the story of 10-year-old Meena, neglected by her socialite mother, Devika, and attached to a father whose business keeps him globe-trotting. When her mysterious uncle, Suren, returns home from the United States with an American wife, Eleanor, the tranquility of Meena’s home is shattered. The warm bond that forms between Meena and her new American aunt, their struggles against stifling custom, and their search for their own hearts speed the story to a surprising climax that brings both tragedy and relief.
The title of the novel is dead on. The king cobra that confronts Eleanor in an early riveting chapter is both the symbolic armlet—a family heirloom from the royal treasury passed on from mother to daughter—and a physical manifestation of the kundalini, a psychic power believed by Hindu mystics to be latent in every human being.
Moorthy has really done her homework in linking Western mysticism, traditional psychology and comparative religion.
As in aunt Eleanor’s case, the first stirrings of the kundalini are spontaneous and life-affirming. The master of the black arts whom uncle Suren decides to confront adds yet another dimension of darkness to a novel that paints a vivid picture of a society that is both industrially advanced and conventionally superstitious.
Moorthy delves readily into forgotten rituals and traditions close to an armchair anthropologist’s heart. Some of it might seem like the nostalgic meanderings of an exile who misses the homeland, but it explains why her first novel, “Maya” has been used as reference material for courses on Asian women in some Southern California universities. I predict similar use of “The Coiled Serpent.”
As the plot unfolds the impending tragedy is deliciously foreshadowed. Suren and Devika are complex characters, tender and cruel by turn, but always fascinating.
That uncle Suren is doomed by blood and his own flawed character is clear from the start. He’s fun to despise. Aunt Eleanor, emotionally and physically abused, talented and filled with self-doubt, holds the reader’s attention by her determination to keep fighting for her children and finally proves to be a lesson in her own empowerment.
And Meena herself, chillingly aware of the towering walls of tradition and societal repression that keep closing in with every passing year, is a shrewd observer, a social commentator, and an innocent, undemanding protagonist who excites and holds the reader’s sympathy.
“The Coiled Serpent” is a book that stays with the reader long after the last page is turned.
Thank goodness Nirmala Moorthy is such a fine writer. Now I know—besides my own book, of course—what I can give my friends for the holidays.
India Currents, San Jose, March 2001.
Reviewed by Dr. Jyotsna Sanzgiri
Many hailed Nirmala Moorthy’s first novel, Maya, published in 1997, as a remarkable first novel. Her second work of fiction, The Coiled Serpent, makes us even more aware that she is mistress of her craft. In The Coiled Serpent, we experience both inner and outer journeys that Moorthy takes us on, through the eyes of three interesting female figures that are compelling in their own right.
First there is Meena, now living in the U.S., trying to make sense of the Indian heritage that she grew up in, as a daughter. The opening lines in the novel find her looking at a gold armlet her mother gave her. “This is your heritage, Meena,” her mother said. “It is a symbol of what you really are… the women of our country have always been the true embodiment of Shakti.” While the bond between mother and daughter is an intense one, Moorthy’s novel explores this intensity with great honesty, clearly depicting how difficult it is for a traditional, matriarchal South Indian woman to develop a relationship with a daughter who questions her and needs room to become her own person.
Meena’s mother, Devika, is a complex, intense personality trying hard to hold on to her matriarchal culture; the “world of long ago” that Meena tries so hard to understand. Through Meena’s eyes Devika is loved by everyone “…slender as a bamboo, pale skinned: the whisper of her footsteps like falling rose petals. People paused and waited to hear her speak; then hurried to do her bidding.” As compelling as Devika is to adults, to her daughter Meena, she is an overwhelming empress who rules over her dinner parties as a “steel magnolia” would: “Seated at the head of the table,” writes Moorthy, “she …made sure that the half a dozen vegetable, rice and yogurt dishes were in constant circulation even as she talked. The silken hiss of her voice assailed the ear with the inexorable rhythm of ocean waves. Her statement were emphatic and without inflection.”
Meena and Devika’s intense relationship was turbulent partially because they were both part of a matriarchal clan or “Tarawad”, immersed in being responsible members of the clan, trying hard to understand, make meaning of their past heritage while living in the present. For the future, both mother and daughter realized that there would be an increasing need to integrate South Indian and Western thinking as relatives moved back and forth between several countries.
All psychic journeys take interesting turns, and The Coiled Serpent takes us on these mysteries, using the serpent as a metaphor for our lives and journeys that unfold over time, over many mystical miles.
We enter these depths through the experiences of American-born Eleanor, the third heroine in the tale. One night, as Eleanor, runs for shelter from torrential rain and hides under the roof of a local temple, she confronts her fears, her self, as she notices a cobra looking at her,. “The hooded head reared about four feet from the ground,” writes Moorthy, in one of the most exquisitely written sections of the novel. “it danced from side to side, the onyx eyes unwinking, the ventral shield like silver daggers in the trellised light.” The ways in which Eleanor confronts her internal demon, finds the courage to move beyond the terrors that an abusive husband heaps on her, are unveiled to us in prose that unwinds itself with the grace of a cobra.
Each of us, male and female alike, have to create our own path, living as creatively as we can in this world. But often our creativity is enhanced when we are able, by reading about other lives, to enhance our strengths and diminish our gaps in learning.
Moorthy allows us to think deeply about the lives of men and women created in her novel, with their different forms of energy or shakti. Much like a snake that can uncoil its flow of energy, we can as human beings allow positive shakti to guide our existence on this planet.
India Currents, San Jose, February 1998.
Reviewed by Dr. Jyotsna Sanzgiri.
A Room Of Her Own
Nirmala Moorthy is a California based writer who contributes feature length articles to newspapers and journals all over the world. Her journalistic work has been published in the US, Japan, Nigeria, the Pacific Rim countries, and since 1989, she has been writing fiction : her short stories in American literary journals have been well-received. Maya is her first full-length novel.
The opening scene in Maya is a lucid description of an Indian family’s commitment to ritual, to discipline, to the classical arts, to arranged marriages for daughters. In this highly orthodox South Indian family, Moorthy portrays a relentless commitment to a patriarchal order where all the central functions of the home revolve around keeping the male head of the household happy, protected from too much familial conflict, from the chaos that “love marriages” would bring in their wake.
Moorthy’s heroine, Maya Aiyer, realizes that “the established routine of their family permitted no variation. A man who allotted every minute of the day to a specific function, her father enforced his habits as a discipline upon the rest of the family.”
The eventual impact of this unbending discipline on the Aiyer daughters is that they feel no choice but to give in, like their mother does, to this rational, machine-like order where there is no room to develop emotions, sexual identity, the freedom of self-expression. Maya’s older sister Gita falls in love with Prasant Rao, a young man she meets in college. Initially Gita is optimistic that once the Aiyars meet the Raos their wedding would get finalized. Instead Gita’s father, Lokanath, dismisses the Raos altogether. The Rao family is Telugu, and Lokanath exclaims: “To marry a Telugu! That would be unthinkable in our family.”
The Raos depart, and over time, Gita falls into a severe depression. She once sang classical music beautifully, but now she becomes increasingly silent, obsessed with over-eating, and unable to bathe or take care of herself. “The sounds she made were garbled and they could not understand. She communicated less and less with every passing day.” The Aiyer family is unable to coax her back into her more joyous state, and she eventually takes her own life. Her body is found on a beach near Malabar Hills in Bombay. She walked into the ocean, silencing her once melodic voice forever.
As we read on, it becomes clearer that Maya will have to move away from her familial clan if she is to develop her own life, her own voice, her own work. Moorthy depicts her coming of age with enormous sensitivity, and as readers, we want Maya to fulfill her aspirations, her need to work and to love freely.
Moorthy leaves us with a novel filled with paradox: the more successfully Lokanath Aiyer stifles his family, the more he looses his own capacity to grow and empathize with his wife and children. It is as if he is silenced himself, in the process of denying his family access to their own joy. On the other hand, as Maya develops, she is able to grow increasingly less silent, more empathic, more confident that women can find their own identity if they are to seek a “room of their own.”