Author Essay: June 2012
Author Sarita Mandanna shares the background to her novel, Tiger Hills, identifying the ever-present human need to come full-circle.
In Her Own Words
By Sarita Mandanna
It was ancient custom in Coorg to bury the umbilical cord of a newborn. Past the jungle undergrowth, tucked among root and shale, deep into the earth. It served as a talisman, it was believed, a beacon showing the way home. So that no matter how far one went, no matter the distance nor the passage of time, ever this electric longitude, pointed towards home.
Perhaps inevitably then, when I began to write Tiger Hills six years ago, Coorg was the setting that naturally unfurled. My words, echoing my grandfather’s as he tells us stories around an oil lamp. The great-grandmother, widowed young, who walked her fields alone, a dagger tucked into her blouse. These stories and others, my roots, sunk for generations into these hills.
While Coorg forms the highly personalized canvas of Tiger Hills, I wanted to write a story almost classical in structure – a large narrative, whose characters struggle with universal themes. What do we do when thrust into circumstances not of our choosing? Tiger Hills explores the nexus between fortitude and acceptance, the choices we make in the aftermath of happenstanceand the far-reaching impact they can carry. Determined not to be victimized, Devi fights for happiness the best she can. She isn’t always easy to like and makes some decisions that are far from right. And yet, who was truly the victim and who the aggressor?
As she forges a life for herself within the parameters decided for her, Devi hardens. To such an extent however, that she becomes wedded to a version of happiness too rooted in memory to ever become real. When is it best to let go, to seek happiness along new roads, even those previously discounted?
Devi’s story lies at the core of Tiger Hills, and it is the other stories, unvoiced, like a dried flower lying pressed within the pages of a book, that form its undercurrent. A missionary, searching for something he cannot express; an orphan, single minded in his devotion; a boy, marked by both the mother who leaves him to the care of another as well as the legend of a father barely remembered.
Different interpretations of love – obsessive, possessive, filial; the ways we wield them to undo one another, the suffering we invite upon those we hold dearest.
Finally, redemption. Tiger Hills is an exploration of our all too human need to come full circle, for reconciliation; and the idea that often, it lies well within our grasp.