Mar 4, 2008

Fire on the mountain

One of my favorite genres of reading is Indian Writings in English. I picked up this novel written by Anitha Desai from a local library. The crisp summary at the back of the novel intrigued me and it was worth a read and a good change amidst the heavy management books.

The protogonist, Nanda Kaul having lived a life of obligations and responsibilities decides to spend the rest of her life alone in the quiet, untouched hilly region of Kasauli. Her only companion is the caretaker Ram Lal who clearly understands Nanda and lives in his own way with no disturbance to her solitude. The garden being left as it was, her past time was to observe the huge pine trees and the views of the plains from the hills. The rare hour of afternoon nap has now become a daily routine to her. Time moves slowly at her own pace, reading books and contemplating about her days. She no longer needs a family or obligations. One line summarizes her rationale behind her decision - "Life would swirl on again, in an eddy, a whirlpool of which she was the still fixed eye in the centre". At her senile age, she is happy being left alone until one day the postman knocks at her door and brings the news of her great grand daughter Raka's arrival. Her little abode and her privacy will be intruded by a child. She has to look after a child yet again after years and years of bringing up daughters and grand daughters.

Raka arrives and to Nanda's surprise, Raka is just a younger Nanda. She also prefers to be left alone, exploring the jungles and hills, strolling alone in the dark and not interested in talking or being taken care by her great grandmother. They lead their lives on their own terms, spending quiet moments together during lunch and tea. The occasional story telling about the hills and ghosts by Ram Lal keeps Raka engrossed and interested. Nanda feels left out with her great grand daughter's total ignorance. On a casual evening, the silence breaks loose when Nanda starts to reminesce about her childhood house, the garden and the animals that she was brought up with. Although she tries to create fantasies in the young mind of Raka, she couldn't hold onto her interest as Ram Lal. Ila Das, Nanda's childhood pal enters the scene and the lives of the three ladies are no longer the same, leading to an unexpected twist towards the end.

"Fire on the mountain" is a slow paced, deep narration of the lives of three women, four generations apart. The village is portrayed vividly to the reader's mind with interesting anecdotes and details. The characterization of Nanda is so well written that you instantly start to appreciate her decision. When I started reading it, it reminded me of the old Tamil movie "Poove poochudavaa" because of the similarity in story - an old woman deciding to live alone and her grand daughter comes to visit her. But the similarity ends right there. The novel is not a gripping or unputdownable tale. But it dwelves more on its ability to make readers imagine and transport to the hills of Kasauli, nature, forests and sudden forest fires. The emotions of different characters stand out clearly due to the descriptive nature of their thought processes and their lives in general.

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