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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 13, Dated 02 Apr 2011

The darling pleasures of Ranikhet

If Anuradha Roy’s girl-finds-solace-in-the-hills set-up puts you off, you’ll still delight in her descriptive powers, says KALPISH RATNA

Hilly writer Second time novelist Anuradha Roy

Photo: Ana Gabriela Rojas

IF YOU, like me, expect to be cheated out of the Himalayas again this summer, I recommend Anuradha Roy’s second novel instead. Its pages are crowded with the small intense pleasures of a long trek, to be recalled years later with unbearable yearning by a veined stone, a fossil, a dry leaf. The pain of that intimacy acknowledges the imponderable: we rush to embrace the wilderness and dread the terror of being embraced by it. The Folded Earth embodies this paradox: it is a joyous novel about grief.

Anuradha Roy Hachette India 268 pp; Rs. 495

It opens with tragedy when Maya’s husband Michael is killed in a snowstorm on a trek to Roopkund. Maya, who has understood but not shared his passion for the mountains, is left with little more than his ashes and rucksack to help her come to terms with her loss. Estranged from her family (like Michael was from his) Maya finds foothold in a small school in Ranikhet, where, on clear days, she can visualise Roopkund on the horizon.

It’s a darling fictional device, the girl with a past finding solace in a new life in the hills, alternating between good works and boredom till the author mainlines on testosterone. That made me leery. Roy’s first novel, The Atlas of Impossible Longing, was ambushed by the ghosts of classics past, and there’s always something about the wet and the wild that compels a fresh pass at Mr Rochester. But this writer has (almost) cleared the attic, and once in Ranikhet, she joyfully indulges her particular skill.

Roy is the rare author who can write descriptive prose that does not read like an inventory. The strength of this novel is its evocative language and use of closely observed descriptions of the external world to cue shifts in emotion. The narrator (with whom one empathises instantly) relates her own story through lines like these: “In the hills, the sky is circumscribed. Its fluid blue is cupped in the palm of a hand whose fingers are the mountains around us… Here is where sky begins and ends, and if there are other places, they have skies different from our sky.”


Nailing books, saving words
The Year In Black And White
The squirrel in the frame

Roy is the rare author whose descriptive prose does not read like an inventory. Her descriptions of the external world cue emotional shifts in the novel

CIRCUMSCRIBED TOO is life in the small town where Roy’s compassionate understanding makes her characters come alive. Diwan Sahib, the adorably cantankerous patron around whom the novel revolves; Charu, the spirited teenager whose romance Maya lives through vicariously; Ama, Charu’s feisty grandmother, and simple Puran, to whom animals talk. The many cameos are all great fun.

The inevitable arrives in the form of Veer, Diwanji’s saturnine nephew, and professional mountaineer. The action, peripheral to begin with, now tightens as external events fold in on Maya and the trajectory of her grief is brought to a needlessly dramatic closure. But I’m not complaining, it’s been an enjoyable ramble in delightful company.

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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 13, Dated 02 Apr 2011



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