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Sunday, June 2, 2013

Fire on the Mountain by Anita Desai

Title: Fire on the Mountain 
Author: Anita Desai 
Publisher: Vintage/Random House India
Genre: Fiction
Date:  1978
Price: Rs. 250
Pages: 176

I had read Kiran Desai's a few years back (review not available here) Inheritance of Loss but found it very depressing. When I read the blurb of this book, it seemed exactly the same concept to me. However I chose to read it as both the author and the book are highly acclaimed. As I was two pages into the book, I was sure I was right in giving it a benefit of doubt. Anita Desai is so far one of the best writers I have read after Bibhutibhushan Bandhopadhyay who can describe human emotion in conjunction with not only their actions but with surroundings so well.

Book Blurb:

Gone are the days when Nanda Kaul watched over her family and played the part of Vice-Chancellor?s wife. Leaving her children behind in the real world, the busier world, she has chosen to spend her last years alone in the mountains in Kasauli, in a secluded bungalow called Carignano.Until one summer her great-granddaughter Raka is dispatched to Kasauli and everything changes. Nanda is at first dismayed at this break in her preciously acquired solitude. Fiercely taciturn, Raka is, like her, quite untamed. The girl prefers the company of apricot trees and animals to her great- grandmother?s, and spends her afternoons rambling over the mountainside. But the two are more alike than they know. Throughout the hot, long summer, Nanda's old, hidden dependencies and wounds come to the surface, ending, inevitably, in tragedy. Marvellous yet restrained, Fire on the Mountain speaks of the past and its unshakable hold over the present. 

Snapshot:  The book is an insight into human nature, thoughts and behaviour through the story of Nanda Kaul. She is a loner and is living the life of her dreams, her utmost desire - to be alone after settling her children and grand children. But fate has one more test for her nature, so drops in her great grand daughter, who is also a replica, a loner. This is the story that describes by a medium of Nanda Kaul's character, human psychology.

The Story from The Critics Perspective:  Nature lovers will fall prey to the very first chapter of the book. Not just as the author little by little describes Kasauli, the place where Nanda Kaul is spending the best years of her life but the way the author depicts her character with everything around her. How she influenced her surroundings, how minutely she did and each act of hers defining her in a manner that you could read her mind. So Nanda Kaul is enjoying the only part of her life she has felt she lived. Her earlier life was a huge house, a husband with a good social status and circle. A status to maintain which she was responsible, and though it was her, someone who hated every bit of it, she did it well. A house full of children, which when seemed less the social circle kept the house flooded. In all of it was Nanda managing it all.

When it all ended, needless to say she was glad and the next moment came to this place where nobody, not even her children could disturb her. None of them afterall were like her. None of them could ever be. Then falls a bomb on her seemingly undisturbed world, which she assumed had no ties, but when does that happen? Her daughter Asha had to look after her daughter who kept unwell with a drunkard husband, who abused his wife everyday. Therefore her grand daughter Raka, who had no place now had to be with Nanda - her great grandmother. The description of the postman who brings a letter to Nanda's house in this part and how much she wishes he would just turn in a different lane, clearly depicts how much she hates people.

So Raka arrives and Nanda Kaul decided just to be very formal and aloof with her. However, to her surprise Raka is the child her family very much like her. She loves to be alone, wanders around the hill side alone and is in the house only at meal times when she has to. In short before Nanda can keep her at a distance, she chooses to be away, naturally. This starts a process, a change in Nanda Kaul where she begins taking interest in the child, for the only time in her life, engages her in conversation and tries very hard for all of it, because Raka is not interested. As if this was not enough, to add to the confusion enters Ila Das, the reminder of her past, some hidden truths she doesnt want to conciously visit. 

Get an insight into how Nanda and through her human thoughts and actions change with situations and circumstances by reading the complete story.

The Review:
Positives:  It has all the ingredients of a good book. Its not heavy like it does seem initially. In fact nature and human nature are both so intricately woven in description that you would fall in love with the writing and on top of that there also is a story that keeps you engaged. A perfect feast for a reader and a nature lovers soul.

Negatives: None

The Verdict: A highly recommended read. 5 stars on 5.

About the Author
Anita Desai is one of India's foremost writers. She has written numerous works of fiction, including Clear Light of Day (1980), In Custody (1984), and Fasting, Feasting (1999)?all shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize?as well as Baumgartner's Bombay (1988) and The Zigzag Way (2004). In Custody was made into a film by Merchant-Ivory productions, starring Shashi Kapoor and Om Puri. Her most recent work is The Artist of Disappearance (2011).

A fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in London, the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York, Girton College and Clare Hall at the University of Cambridge, and most recently Sahitya Akademi in India, Anita Desai has also been a Professor of Writing at MIT and has frequently been honoured with awards, among them the Alberto Moravia Prize for Literature and the Padma Shri.

Born in Mussoorie to a German mother and a Bengali father, she was educated in Delhi, and currently divides her time between USA and Mexico.

I Thank Random House India for a copy of the book and an opportunity to review a great piece of literature.


  1. Love your reviewing style, Nimi. A foray into human psychology, you said? Now you have got my utmost attention. I haven't heard of nor read anything by Bibhutibhushan Bandhopadhyay, must check out. This books goes onto my TBR list. Thanks.

  2. This sounds like a great book. I liked Inheritance of Loss also though I agree it was sad in places.

  3. You must read it Nishita, much better than Inheritance of Loss and similar theme.

  4. Dear Nimi, I am doing a dissertation on FOM, could you pleas help me