Monday, August 02, 2010

Tiger Hills by Sarita Mandanna: A Review

By John Cheeran

“No matter how far I tried to go from you. No matter how I have tried to forget, or how much I deny it, I carry you within me like a hook in a fish. Like a bullet, Devi, a bullet that has worked its way permanently into my flesh.”

Push a pin anywhere on earth, it may hit upon letters of love.
In Tiger Hills, Sarita Mandanna tells an epic love story set in Coorg. It’s her debut novel but you can immediately sense the masterly control she wields on the narrative. In itself, a love triangle is not the ideal subject to make a gripping read. We have had enough of love.
To the credit of Mandanna, it must be said that she keeps the reader engaged almost till the end and the restraint with which she handles the all-consuming love of Devi is laudable.
The obvious fault line is the epilogue that reveals the desperation of Mandanna, clueless on how and where to apply the brakes to the wheels of fiction.
Mandanna, a private equity professional with a PGDM from the Indian Institute of Management and MBA from Wharton Business School, has stuck to a terrain that she is familiar with in Tiger Hills. That’s her strength. Being a Coorgi has helped Mandanna to easily evoke the mysterious charm of hills in the pages of Tiger Hills.
With butter yellow laburnums twisting in the breeze, Mandanna’s heroine Devi Nachimanda is determined to set right the one calamitous event in her life, her marriage to Devanna. Later Devi realises that one has to fight for happiness and for one’s dues. May be we, too, should agree with her.
It’s not Kambeymadas – Devanna, her meek but intelligent childhood friend with gold in his brain, and tiger killer Machaiah – who play crucial roles in Devi’s life. It’s Devi who woos Machu the hero, forcing him to break his vow. It’s Devi who pushes her husband Devanna and later Machu’s wife into suicides. Alas, as in love, Devanna fails in ending his life too.
Devi is the child of destiny. The flock of herons that sent her avvaiah Muthavva the message, reappears in Devi’s life quite often.
Devi’s grit is remarkable when confronted with love—her love for Machu and Devanna’s love for her. Even when Machu finally retreats from their illicit rendezvous and gets married, Devi is unwavering in her devotion and attention to the one who was meant for.
She, in fact, turns the death of Machu, far away in the battlefield of Afghan mountains, to further her own agenda. She fills the absence of Machu by bringing home Machu’s son Appu and bringing up the kid as her own.
It’s Devi’s way of wreaking revenge on tayi and appaiah who left her with little choice other than marrying Devanna when the latter fled the medical college in Bangalore and sought refuge in the body of his beloved. Addled by ragging and the death of his pet squirrel Nancy, Devanna had lost control of himself. He wanted love, an anchor in his life. On his return, he could not resist and forced himself upon Devi and in the process set in motion betrayals that went on to devastate the lives of his and Machaiah’s sons.
At the end one realises that Tiger Hills is more about suffering than love. The suffering of missionary Hermann Gundert, who pinned all his hopes on Mission Devanna but found to his bitterness that all the signs were misplaced, the suffering of husband (Coorg) Devanna who lives on regardless the insults of his Devi, the suffering of Nanjappa, a son whom his mother calls a curse, and the suffering of Nancy the squirrel. And most of all, the suffering of Devi herself, who finally has to accept fate as it is, despite all her fighting spirit.

It had been the nape of her neck. The first, fatal hook. The smooth skinned grace of it, all but obscured by the plait that swung to her hips. She had thrust past him at the Kaveri tank, the very picture of determination and his spurt of irritation was swiftly replaced by amusement. And then, as she had wedged herself before him, he had found himself unable to tear his eyes away. Following every dip of light and shadow, the interplay of muscle beneath the translucent skin, as he craned her neck this way and that. He had shut his eyes for only a brief moment in prayer; when they opened, she was tilting slowly towards the water. The compactness of her waist, fitting neatly into the span of his hands.

Title: Tiger Hills
Author: Sarita Mandanna
Publisher: Penguin Viking
Pages: 452
Price: 599


Deviah said...

Can't people write a decent review nowadays without peppering it with so many spoilers.

Reviews ought to act as a guide to prospective readers, not give key plot elements away.



John said...

I am just half way into Tiger Hills by Sarita Mandanna and can't just believe how easily she has created an entire world for her character within the pages

Ajith said...

there was a reference to 'Kerala'. I guess the name 'kerala' came much later.

John Cheeran at Blogged