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Nanda Kaul is old. Long ago, she queened it as Vice Chancellor's wife. Now she lives alone in her villa in the Simla hills, looking across to the snows of the distant Himalayas, down to the hot, dusty plain below. She treasures her solitude, free at last from the claims and demands of family, servants, position. But to interrupt her summer peace comes Raka, her great grand daughter, a strange, isolated child whose own wish for solitude is as intense as the old woman's.
Yet to lead their separate lives under one roof, to exist and yet appear not to exist, is not so easy. Through the long summer months hidden dependencies and possessive needs emerge, old wounds are uncovered. There is a feeling of impending tragedy, as real as the ever present threat of forest fire in the hillsides surrounding the villa.
From its deceptively gentle opening to its violent end, this novel paint a wonderfully observed picture of Indian life, and an unforgettable portrait of old age.
A novel by a celebrated fiction author of India.
MEDIA REVIEWS & COMMENTS:
Fire on the Mountain beautiful accomplished. She has the ability to shape and refine a piece of her own intense imagination into an independent work of art. I admire it unreservedly. - The Times
Fire on the Mountain is written in clear, cool prose, is beautifully shaped and infinitely moving. - Paul Scott
Desai, like a dancer or a jockey, makes her art look very easy. - Sunday Times
The most original person I've come across in fiction for a long time. - Observer
About the Author
Anita Desai was born in 1937. Her published works include adult novels, children's books and short stories. Clear Light of Day (1980), in Custody (1984) and Fasting, Feasting (1999) were all shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and The Village by the Sea won the Guardian Award for children's fiction in 1982. Anita Desai is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in London, of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York and of Girton College at the University of Cambridge. She teaches in the Writing Program at M I T and divides her time between India, Boston, Massachusetts and Cambridge, England. In Custody was recently filmed by merchant ivory Productions.
(3 out of 5)
Self- confinement in Anita Desai's Fire on the Mou
Reviewer: Manjusha from coimbatore,tamil nadu,india
Fire on the Mountain published in 1977 is the most successful of Anita Desai’s novels.In this novel again, Anita Desai, “is primarily interested in the projection of female protagonists living in separate, closed, sequestered world of existential problems and passion, loves and hates” as Shyam M.Asnani remarks in “the Theme of Withdrawal and Loneliness in Anita Desai’s Fire on the Mountain”(81).
The novel is divided into three sections each section divided into several short chapters. The first section entitled “Nanda Kaul at Carignano” includes ten chapters dealing with Nanda Kaul’s lonely life in Kasauli.The section entitled “Raka comes to Carignano”includes twenty –one chapters dealing with Nanda Kaul’s change in attitude towars her great granddaughter. The final section “Ila Das leaves Carignano” include thirteen chapters with the tragic end of Ila Das the childhood friend of Nanda Kaul.
The story revolves around the inner lives of the two female protagonists Nanda Kaul and Raga. Nanda Kaul is the wife of Mr Kaul, Vice-Chancellor of the Punjab University. The novel opens with Nanda Kaul living in Carignano away from the maddening crowd. She feels herself superior , intolerant of any intrusion in her life thereafter:
Everything she wanted was her , at Carignano, in Kasauli. Here on the ridge of the mountain in this quiet house. It was the place , and the time of life, that she had wanted and prepared for all her life – as she realized on her first day at Carignano, with a great, cool flowering of relief – and atlast she had it. She wanted no one and othing else. Whatever else came or happened here,would be an unwelcome intrusion and distraction---,She was grey ,tall and thin and her silk sari made a sweeping, shivering sound and she fancied she could merge with the pine trees and be mistaken for one. To be a tree, no more and no less , was all she was prepared to undertake(FM 3,4) .
Nanda Kaul leads a life of isolation and introspection. She does not even like the arrival of the postman for delivering letters. She evokes a feeling of far and unease in the postman.
Sighting her , grey and only faintly stirring under the three pine trees that stood by the gate in their exaggerated attitudes as of men going up in flames with their arms out sretched , charred, too, about the trunks, the postman felt something ominous hover in the heavy summer light.(FM 13)
She wants to lead a life of complete solitude. But it does not last long. Her great granddaughter Raka comes to stay with her. She is the granddaughter of Asha , the most problematic among Nanda Kaul’s daughters.Nanda kaul receives a letter from Asha regarding Raka’s arrival. She is so reluctant to open the letter:
She looked at it with distaste and foreboding for a long time before she finally tore it open and drew out the bundle of dark blue pages across which Asha’s large writing pranced. This writing had none of the writer’s loveliness – it sprawled and spread and shrieked out loud an aggressive assurance and aplomb.
In this writing she conveyed a series of disasters and tragedies to her mother who read it through with her lips pressed so tightly together that it made deep lines furrow the skin from the corners of her nostrils to the corners of her mouth , dark runnels of disapproval. (FM 15)
Raka is affected by typhoid and she looks so pale and week. At first Nanda Kaul hates Raka for disturbing her solitary life. Both live a separate life inside one home because Raka is also a lover of solitude like Nanda Kaul. Ila das , Nanda Kaul’s childhood friend visits Carignano tin order to meet Raka. Ila Das was a lecturer in the Punjab University where Mr Kaul was a Vice Chancellor.
Ila Das knows everything about Nanda Kaul’s family and about the unsatisfactory life of Nanda Kaul. Now she is working as an officer in the Social Welfare Department. She fights against Child marriage. Because of that there are considerable number of enemies for her . One among them is Preet Singh who tries to marry his daughter for a few pieces of land and goats. Ila Das’ attempt to stop the marriage enrages Preet Singh.
One day he follows her to the way to her home, abducts her , rapes and murders her. Nanda Kaul is informed about Ila Das’ murder through phone and as soon as he hers the news she falls down and dies. Meanwhile Raka , without any knowledge about her grandmother’s death, rushes in shouting that she has set fire on the mountain.