|Image Credit : Reading The Past|
Much of the past week, I have spent ruminating over why vacations don't last, and work does. It's one of those puzzling conundrums that seem to be invented so that you can take some self-help philosophy from deep within you and console yourself that vacations don't last precisely so that you can experience the beauty of that short-lived joy otherwise. "You must fight for happiness," Devi, the Scarlett-like heroine of Tiger Hills tells us.
And it's true. Happiness seems to be worth fighting for. But why isn't it easy, I wonder? Not for me the cage fight of blood and tears - give me the smooth waves that comes easy. Why toil to be happy? Why struggle at happiness? I haven't found the answer to that, and I keep striving away, knowing well that happiness is an art, and that is something I haven't mastered. Something at least in life is easy - and that's reading. And it makes me happy to read. And happier when you discover there are such amazing writers who write amazing books even if the characters there have to keep fighting for happiness all the time. Tiger Hills is one such amazing debut - Sarita Mandanna has a beautiful gift - that of keeping the reader interested. No, correct that. Gripped. I am not easily swayed by a book as long-time readers of this blog may know (and where have they gone, these readers? :-(...).
The year is 1878. As the first girl to be born to the Nachimandas in over sixty years, beautiful, spirited Devi is adored by her entire family. She befriends Devanna, a gifted young boy whose mother has died in tragic circumstances. The two quickly become inseparable, 'like two eggs in a nest', as they grow up amidst the luscious jungles, rolling hills, and rich coffee plantations of Coorg in Southern India; cocooned by an extended family whose roots have been sunk in the land for hundreds of years.
Their futures seem inevitably linked, but everything changes when, one night, they attend a 'tiger wedding'. It is there that Devi gets her first glimpse of Machu, the celebrated tiger killer and a hunter of great repute. Although she is still a child and Machu is a man, Devi vows that one day she will marry him. It is this love that will gradually drive a wedge between Devi and Devanna, sowing the seed of a heartbreaking tragedy that will have consequences for the generations to come.
Yet, I was captivated by the lush landscape of this book. Coorg. It's not far from my hometown - I have been to these lush coffee bearing plantations. And Sarita is magical in weaving its textured history and luscious greenery. And Devi and Devanna - her two protagonists melt into this background. Coorg is one of the characters here - never does she let go through the story. Her pain, her history and her fierce pride all echoes itself in Devi, Devanna and Machu. There is a bit of Hardy-like despair at fate in this story - what if, you keep wondering all the time. What if Devanna wasn't so madly in love with Devi? What if he hadn't done what he did in a fit of concussed rage? And what of Devi herself? Does she carry her bitterness too far? Her idolization of Machu - her lover, never changes. Yet there is a spirit to Devi - the clarion call of the wild that reverberates through the book. In Devi, I feel that Sarita Mandanna has created the Indian Scarlett. Tempestuous and wild. And uncaring of the whims of society. It's precisely this wildness that kept me interested. You never quite know what Devi would do. Or wouldn't do.
There have been complaints about the ending by other reviewers, and I agree. It feels manipulated - almost as if the publishers felt this is too good a story to just let it go. Let's keep alive the possibility of a sequel. If there is such a sequel rest assured that I would be reading. This one is that good.
Verdict: Read for an interesting peek into a little known part of India.
Rating : 5/5