Fire on the Mountain


Status: Read from Aug 25 to Aug 27, 2015
Format: Paperback
Pages: 160
My rating: 5star /5
Author:  Anita Desai


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.


This is my first ever Anita Desai book. And I would say, I read this book out of luck. I am on a vacation and didn’t get any books as I had my kindle editions to read. But un-fortunately (or fortunately), I finished reading my kindle books and was without any books to read. I found this book in my sister’s collections and grabbed it.

Though I didn’t felt it was a great book and it has a sad ending, I like Anita Desai’s writing style and the way she was able to give the day to-day descriptions of the life of Nanda Kaul and her cook Ram Lal and her great granddaughter Raka. Her writing style is very lucid.

When she was back on her cane chair on the veranda, watching the sunlight spread over the tiles like a bright lacquer – too bright, too dry – the telephone rang. It rang so seldom, at Carignano, that its ringing sounded extraordinary, ominous.

Sitting bolt upright in her chair and trembling slightly, Nanda Kaul pressed the palms of her hands together and wondered whether to punish it by letting it ring itself to death or end her agony by answering it quickly. Its persistent shrilling was so painful that she was obliged to do the latter which seemed to her like a weakness, offending her still further.

This is story of an old woman Nanda Kaul, who feels she is done enduring with her life as Vice-Chancellor’s wife and taking care of her many responsibilities of her children and guests in her busier world. She chose to spend the last years of her life alone in the mountain town of Kasauli. She likes spending her time sitting on her cane chair in the veranda and looking at her apricot trees and pine trees. The only person to give her company in her solitary life is her cook Ram Lal who takes care of her house chores. She spends her life calmly with her solitary thoughts in her bungalow Carignano.

One summer she receives a devastating letter from her daughter, Asha, stating that her great granddaughter Raka would be visiting her as she is recovering from typhoid. Her peace is disturbed. She is tensed as her solitude will be disturbed. She feels Raka is an intruder in her tranquil life.

When Raka arrives, Nanda embraces her without any real excitement or happiness. On the other hand she was nervous and annoyed. Eventually, she finds out that Raka is not like any other child seeking attention. She was more like her. She never demanded anything; never spoke, asked for anything. Raka would resort to lonely walks along the hills, down-slope she’d go alone and would return. But this disappointed her that Raka was able to connect to her cook Ram Lal with ease. But Raka never showed any interest in Nanda’s talks. Raka always remained indifferent towards her great grandmother.

As the days passed, she felt an un-definable connection with the child and voluntarily started interacting with Raka. Though Raka showed her signs of boredom towards her talks, still Nanda tried to stir the excitement in Raka with her exaggerated talks about her past life and her family, to catch the attention of the child.

To shatter the tranquillity of her life further, her childhood friend Ila Dash pays her a visit. Ila’s shrill irritating voice was more annoying than her own self. The visit of Ila, invokes the past memories of Nanda. All those memories which she had buried in time and tried to wipe out the past by staying isolated, disconnected from every single person. Ila is social activist but in a poor economic state. Because of her pride, she was not able to ask for help from Nanda. And while returning home after paying her a visit, is raped and killed by a man, whom she was trying to convince, not to get her daughter married in such a young age to an old man.

Nanda receives a call from the local police station stating Ila’s news. And in the same time Raka comes over to her and says, “look, nani, I have set the forest on fire”. This is the first time, Raka had initiated any conversation with Nanda.

At that moment, all the masks and lies which she had woven around her life fall apart. She comes close to painful reality. What are the aftermaths, is left to the readers to imagine.

This book puts an light to both the lighter and darker sides of human relations and hypocritical believes of villagers. Even though one can put numerous masks, cannot run away from the reality.


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