Parthiban Sundaram's Reviews > Tiger Hills

Tiger Hills by Sarita Mandanna
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Aug 31, 11

Read in May, 2011

I read Sarita Mandanna's Tiger Hills sometime back. Had been wanting to write a review but could not. I have forgotten most of the details but based on the impressions the book left on me, here are a few notes:

The tiger hills novel tells a triangular love story set in the lushly wooded and beautiful Coorg Hills of the western ghats. The story starts in the late 19th century when the country was still under British rule and it progresses through the times of much turmoil as the World Wars and the struggle for independence gets underway.

This is Sarita Mandanna's first novel and I like her writing very much. Her prose has a lyrical quality to it. Words are picked and stringed together like pearls in a bracelet. She explains the hillside after the monsoons as "The first racemes of laburnums had begun shyly to dot the hillsides. Clouds hung beetle-browed over Coorg." She describes a garden as "The garden was full in bloom; a riot of color in every direction, an artist's palette upended on the soil." It is hard to not yeild to the charm of her words. Here's another one: "The house, with little creaks and groans, like an old man settling down to rest, fell at last into slumber." The sentences like these are more than a mere utility, they offer pleasure.

Her writing style has a distinctive romantic quality to it. It is decorative; though factual, it is not fact-ridden; it does not go into long, pedagogic commentaries or revealing observations or intelligent analyses; it does not have new ideas - big or small; if it has a voice, it is devoid of wisdom or analysis but full of passion and empathy. Like how a river flowing through a unobstructed course has very few eddies or whirls, Mandanna's narration flows from start to finish in a streamlined fashion having very few flashbacks or stories within stories. It sticks to the story, to the characters and to the drama never lifting above them to sum up or to theorize.

Another's writing that comes to mind that serves almost as a jarring contrast to Mandanna's writing is E.M.Forster's "Howard's End". In Howards End, the author's voice is hard to miss - it pushes itself to the forefront; it is assertive; it is wise; it analyzes and theorizes; it is full of ideas.

The novel's plot suffers from a streak of excessive sentimentality that plagues most of our Indian movies and TV soaps. Devi, in her prepubescent, tender age of 10, sees the tiger hunter, Machiah, exchanges a few words with him, and gets infatuated. The way she maintains the ardor of the passion stirred in that brief encounter for years together until she reaches the marriageable age is a bit of a stretch - though plausible, it is hard to ignore.

Consider another instance: Machiah sees Devi after many, many months and the first words he speaks are "Why didn't you wait for me?" You meet someone after, say, a year and to ask a question like that is overblown - it is either because the character is mad or the narration suffers from over dramatization. I am not against drama or against idealistic, burning love; but a dialogue like that verges slightly on the unreal side reminding me of our movies.

Another flaw in the novel is the underdevelopment of its most important character, Machiah. Devi loves Machiah so fervently that she is ready to renounce everything, including her husband and her only kid, and yet it makes you question and wonder why Machiah is so desirable and worthy above all else. Except for one fantastic episode in the jungle where he slays a tiger alive, in all other places he comes across as drab, melancholic and humorless. Then Why is he so irresistable to Devi? He is extremely attractive and even strong and brave. But is physical attraction everything? At least, I am unconvinced.

Overall, Tiger Hills is a great read. The writing is beautiful. However, the Character development and the plot might use some help. One of the great accomplishments is that the novel is transporting - Just like the movie Avatar, Tiger Hills takes you to a different place and different time where you like everything so much that they linger in your mind long after you had read the book.
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