This is a book I read a few months ago, when I was in South India, desperately hunting down any interesting book I could find in the small hospital campus shop (that was pre-ereader era, when more than 50% of my bagpack’s weight was just books), but I thought about it today, being not so far away from Sikkim, where the story takes place, and in a loosely similar context of Indo-Nepalese tension at these border regions. Also, it has been a misty day here, with a look of perpetual crepuscular strangeness, even at noon , and somehow the first sentence of that book was stuck in my head.
In a small village of Sikkim, a retired judge, who has come as away far as possible from the crowds and intrigues of the cities, endures life with an old servant and a distant niece he was forced to welcome. She waits patiently for life -or what she thinks it should be – to happen, in those misty mountains where unrest grows due to Nepali rebels and factions fighting for freedom or under the pretence of it.
It is, like its first sentence, a beautifully melancholic book, written with an almost poetic flow, where not much happens and yet love passes, life and death as well, and we are spectators of what remains when dusk sets in.
It echoes back to me today, as I’m staying on the other side of the border, in Nepal where bands on fuel and politico-ethnic tensions have been going on for almost 3 months, making ordinary life into a daily struggle, for food, transport and security. It has exacerbated tensions with Indian politics, tensions between people living in the plains and in the hills, and yet it is incredible to witness once again the resilience and optimism of people here, who can only hope for the best and never seem to even think of giving up or resent the continous struggle they have to face, one earthquake after the other followed by political unrest. Well, I’ve strayed far from the book, it seems. It is quite wonderful, to put it shortly.
Quotes: 1st sentence: “All day the colors had been those of dusk, mist moving like a water creature across the great flanks of mountains possessed of ocean shadows and depths.”
“Could fulfillment ever be felt across deeply as loss? Romantically she decided that love must surely reside in the gap between desire across end fulfillment, in the lack, not the font tempt. Love was the ache, the anticipation, the retreat, everything around but the emotion itself.”
“This was how history moved, the slow build, the quick burn, and in incoherence, the leaping both backward and forward, swallowing the young into old hate. The space between life and death, in the end, too small to measure.”
Life wasn’t single in its purpose, or even in its direction. Never again could she think there was but one narrative and that this narrative belonged only to herself, that she might create her own tiny happiness and live safely within it.