How writers seek solace in hill station literature

“By the early 1930s, when missionaries were transporting Goodwill Bibles to Denkal in noisy coal-powered cars, another type of goodwill had found its way to the ghat. Praise be to God, the paper and viscose industries were discovering the richness of the raw material in the Palnis. One of my favorite books on Kodai is a lesser-known novel that doesn’t name it but deliciously brings it to life.

Until the Ghat (1992) – featuring a fictional town in the hills of southern India, much like Kodai but called Denkal – is not author Zai Whitaker’s most famous book (Andaman boy and Kali and the rat snake often mark this claim). Years later, few people have read this portrayal of a young woman struggling with a lackluster marriage and life in the mountains as her virtuous husband tries to help a group of enslaved workers (drawing inspiration from l real story of the Sri Lankan slave laborers who lived at the BL hangar in Kodai).

Irreverent, irreverent, and imbued with Whitaker’s signature spirit, he’s teeming with long lakeside walks and a tangible sense of the sluggishness of life in the mountains. There were few novels that showed us this world in the 90s. Thirty years later, we still don’t read enough about mountain resorts.

Mountain resorts and literature

Kodaikanal is located in one of India’s seven great mountain ranges, the Western Ghats, one of the four biodiversity hotspots recognized in India (out of 34 worldwide) by the International Union for Conservation of nature.

Mountains like ours are sanctuaries that will shape the way we deal with the impacts of climate change. Yet the hill station‘s legacy in Indian literature has been relatively quiet. Some of our best writers, from Irwin Allan Sealy to Anita Desai, have written major works from the top of a mountain, but the city and our urban sprawl remain the center of attention in the publishing world.

It is not easy to escape from the inner self at a high altitude. It has indeed become fashionable to find it in these settings. Perhaps, as a result, these works are the most striking of the authors. And while choosing to write from a height has sometimes cost the writers ‘readers’ attention, it has also focused and refined their writing in interesting ways.

Anita Desai. Photo credit: Penguin Random House India

Yet as we remember the classics In custody Where The village by the sea (my two favorite Desais), not everyone read Fire on the mountain (1977), which presents a fierce vision worthy of the writer at his peak.

Its three central characters – Nanda Kaul, young Raka and Ila Das – form a bastion of female loneliness. And this shrine extends to Desai itself. The novel shows us an elderly woman who has gone to live in the mountains and emphasizes the refuge that the mountains represent, especially for aberrants and for women, who can feel more secure there. “I was just going to sit on top of my hill watching the woodpecker banging on the deodar. Do nothing. Gently go to the side.

When I asked her to talk about life as a writer in a mountain resort and its impact on her work, Anuradha Roy, a resident of Ranikhet, directed me to a room she wrote ten years ago. At the time, she was pulling out a book and another in preparation, working in a small publishing house and taking long, aimless walks, meeting locals who had no idea what she was doing but imposed little judgement.

A decade later, she received international attention, with critical acclaim from Folded Earth and All the lives we’ve never lived, which takes place in a fictionalized version of his city. Nothing has changed much, she tells me, regarding the nature of her life in the mountains.

Such is the life of a writer in a hill station, whispered but seldom understood. And this translates into their work in a pleasant way.

Irwin Allan Sealy. Photo credit: Penguin Random House India

When Irwin Allan Sealy – Mussoorie resident, Padma Shri and veteran novelist – was shortlisted for the Booker Prize 1998 for The Everest hotel: a calendar, the fictionalized Drummondganj mountains have attracted worldwide attention. The quirky novel had a call similar to that of The Grand Hotel Budapest, universal but picturesque in its history of a nun who arrives in a small town to take care of a band of marginalized people in the shadow of the Himalayas.

The book is well known, although it has always been compared to his more ambitious works. “Allan Sealy’s new work does not have the epic scale of his first novel [The] Nama trotter… The explorer has now hung up his boots and turned his gaze to a microcosmic world, ”said India today.

Photo credit: authors, Penguin Random House India, Indiank and Simon and Schuster India

A less traveled path

But the return to the microcosm is a natural inclination for any writer who has broken with the city. When it rains, it is indeed difficult to do anything else. Anjum Hasan Immortalized Perpetually Rainy ’90s Shillong In Refreshing Literary Debut Crazy in my head and became the favorite writer of young people who, after growing up in urban India, fled to hills like the ones she described – their Gen Z successors have now moved to places like Kodai.

In the 90s, these 20 to 30 year olds worshiped its eccentric underdogs and eccentric inhabitants. His latest books have often returned to the hills, and even when they don’t, the essence of marginality permeates the pages of Neti, Neti and The cosmopolitans.

But the problems Hasan tackles are vast, as is often the case in the less misleading mountain novels. The issue of dkhars (so-called foreigners in Shillong) and natives, for example, is a serious socio-political issue.

“Can Shillong become an island where people of one race live, study and work and, at the same time, a city connected to this placeless thing called globalization? »Hasan wrote in his article I love this dirty city (Granta, 2013).

Hill stations have rarely enjoyed this kind of journalistic consideration (one of the reasons we started this post), other than the occasional correspondent who arrives from the plains by helicopter. But Hasan is writing a book about his hometown in the hills.

These writers can be seen to be navigating familiar ground, where someone as popular as Ruskin Bond had preceded them, leading the way – but it’s still the less traveled path when it comes to mainstream publishing. .

Perhaps the allure of the books they’ve designed in those parts of the world extends to the purest, laziest part of a writer, that place of calm that doesn’t meet commercial appeal. : that face that we don’t always want to show to the world, but it inevitably makes itself known when we are open to the liminal. It finds takers and also deserves serious literary and commercial consideration and its rightful place in the sun.

This article first appeared in The Kodai Chronicle.

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