Except maybe having become weepy on two or three occasions. A long time ago, when I was reading Maupassant’s Une Vie, I remember feeling all choked up. But then, I was very young and the book cover said something like ‘if you have tears, prepare to shed them’. Maybe I was just compelled to think so.
The next time was when I was reading Alex Haley’s Roots. I was so upset about Kunta Kinte being captured by the slave traders that a hint of a tear glistened at the corner of my eye.
That being the history, I did not expect to be emotional while reading Sarita Mandanna’s Tiger Hills. Just your normal book, a sweeping saga of drama and love it was supposed to be. But once I picked up the book, there was no stopping the weepiness. I cried through bits of the book (sometimes even literally), and I hated doing so. Though I finished the book after a marathon reading at 3 am one morning, I still couldn’t sleep. The book disturbed, I didn’t like that either.
I don’t expect most people to think so highly of it. Just Google her book and you can read about all that is wrong about Tiger Hills. All that is written is right. The book begins and continues fantastically, a gripping read for most of it. Towards the third part, the pace unfortunately slows down and falls almost flat by the end. The epilogue is almost straight out of a soapy Bollywood film.
And surprisingly, for Penguin publishers, there are several typos. Devi, the protagonist, is too much like Scarlett O'Hara for it to be a mere coincidence, though I didn't think it resembled Gone With the Wind in any other way. Some passages have apparently been lifted from Kavery Nambisan's Scent of Pepper, according to Tehelka magazine. I can't say, I haven't read that book.
Surprisingly too, there are no other non-Kodava characters in the entire book, save for the missionaries, the servants and stray others. I hadn't noticed that, until a friend told me that on a day when we were discussing the book. He said that the book had the potential to be a great love story; I agree. It falls just short of it.
Finally, we agreed that there is a lot that is wrong with the book. But still, it is definitely one of the better fiction books in recent times. The language is a bit too flowery, like an overdose of red and pink on Valentine's Day, but with phrases like 'kingfisher skies' and sentences like '...the unfreckled skin, tinted tea and clotted cream, honey gold, or a rich, brooding coffee', the book left me mighty impressed.
Maybe it struck a chord because of the lengthy descriptions of the hills, the people and the estates that I grew up around. I could relate to the yearning for the hills. Maybe the weepiness was for that cornerstone of nostalgia, that yearning for the hills that I so constantly miss.
Claustrophobia is something I have long struggled with, be it in places or with people. No, I am not proud of it. There is really nothing very nice about wanting to get away constantly, if only for a few days. It has led me to lovely places, ruined my relationships with people, gotten me to quit my job and I don't know what else in the years to come. I can't control it, maybe I don't want to either, for the things that happen because of it. One thing remains constant though, the hills are where I have, so far, never had that claustrophobic feeling.
Am I destined for the hills then, I ask myself. I wish the "yes" was an easy one. On Facebook, elsewhere, I rant about missing the hills all the time. I am sure I exasperate myself too. There was one on wanting a glimpse of the rolling green hills so that I could endure the city again. A trip to Sittilingi happened soon after where the Kalvarayan Hills were green, rolling and utterly gorgeous. I came back with a loud sigh.
Following my 'hill' wishes, a friend wondered why I wouldn't just MOVE to the hills. I wonder too. If only it was easier than a fantasy to open a tea stall at the foot of the Himalayas. If only those 'yes' and 'no's were easy said.
"For it never left him, the shape of these hills, the lay of this land."
From Tiger Hills