And The Mountains Echoed

“A story is like a moving train,” writes Nabi, one of Khaled Hosseini’s characters in And The Mountains Echoed. “No matter where you hop on board, you are bound to reach your destination.” 

Absolutely true. If you have been in a moving train you would have realized how it is a macrocosm of life. Observing people can be such a rewarding exercise to get an insight into human nature. Simple window gazing is also an interesting pursuit. Khaled Hosseni, the captivating writer that he is, is able to give each and every character quirks and traits, and make each one of them stand out in a particular way as he weaves his plot deftly and courses to the end. Having read his The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, I knew his latest book, And The Mountains Echoed, could be also a wonderful read. 

And The Mountains Echoed

I was not disappointed. This book will tug at your heartstrings, for it did to mine. The story spanning from the fall of 1952 to the winter of 2010 takes us across continents and datelines, alternating between war torn Afghanistan, the US, the ‘chic and fashionable’ Paris and the picturesque Greek island of Tinos. Saboor, Abdullah & Pari’s father, narrates a charming yet haunting story – one begins to wonder what place does this story of a cruel ogre and a little boy have in the narrative; and soon it is laid threadbare before the reader. The endearing bond between ‘Abollah’ (that’s how little Pari calls him) and Pari is beautifully etched; yet it aches your heart to see that they go in two different ways in the beginning of the story and even more so when the eagerly awaited meeting takes place at the end.

Nila Wahdati is portrayed as a complex character much ahead of her times, shocking the Puritan sensibilities of many as she live life on her terms. I almost saw in her parallels to our own Indo-Anglian / Malayalam writer Madhavi Kutty aka Kamala Das. May be because she too was an iconoclast who openly and freely treated hush and taboo subjects like sensuality and sexuality in a guilt free way and with remarkable ease. It is Nabi, her chauffeur and Abdullah’s uncle, who knows the secretively hidden sides of Nila. 

Hossein’s way with words casts a spell and makes the story come alive. Many a time while reading his books I have written down some of the lines that resonated with me.

“If an avalanche buries you and you’re lying there underneath all that snow, you can’t tell which way is up or down. You want to dig yourself out but pick the wrong way, and you dig yourself to your own demise.”

“If you were the poor, suffering was your currency.”

“It is important to know your roots. To know where you started as a person. If not, your own life seems unreal to you. Like a puzzle.”

“It was the kind of love that, sooner or later, cornered you into a choice: either you tore free or you stayed and withstood its rigor even as it squeezed you into something smaller than yourself.”

“She is furious with herself for her own stupidity. Opening herself up like this, voluntarily, to a lifetime of worry and anguish. It was madness. Sheer lunacy. A spectacularly foolish and baseless faith, against enormous odds, that a world you do not control will not take from you the one thing you cannot bear to lose. Faith that the world will not destroy you.” 

“Some people feel unhappiness the way others love: privately, intensely, and without recourse.”

“The rope that pulls you from the flood can become a noose around your neck.”

“They say, Find a purpose in your life and live it. But, sometimes, it is only after you have lived that you recognize your life had a purpose, and likely one you never had in mind.” 

“When you have lived as long as I have, you find that cruelty and benevolence are but shades of the same colour.” 

“You say you felt a presence, but I only sensed an absence. A vague pain without a source. I was like a patient who cannot tell the doctor where it hurts, only that it does.”

I would give full 5 stars to this book. Yes, a wonderful read.

Onam – The Legend

The word festival conjures in one’s mind myriad images – fun, festivity, good food and most often a religious connotation / connection. India being the land of festivals, we practically have a festival in a day, every day of the year. Don’t we Indians love to celebrate!

If ever there is a festival that transcends even religious barriers, it is Kerala’s own festival of Onam. Other than being a harvest festival at a time when Nature is at it best in beauty and bounty, there is also a well known legend connected to it. Like any other story there is long long ago to begin this one too. 🙂 The legend of Mahabali is narrated in the VIIIth canto of the ancient text of Mahabhagavatham.

Long, long ago Kerala was ruled by the Asura King, Mahabali. True to the lineage he was coming from, (Mahabali’s great grandfather was the illustrious and devout Vishnu devotee, Prahalada of the Narasimhavatara fame) Bali was an ideal ruler – benevolent, compassionate and most importantly true to his word. He was generous and charitable. Though an Asura (Demon), Mahabali was an ardent devotee of Lord Mahavishnu, the Preserver of the Hindu Trninty of Brahma (Creator), Vishnu and Maheswara or Siva (Destroyer). Naturally his fame and munificence spread everywhere. A folk song of the times goes like this:

“മാവേലി നാട് വാണീടും കാലം
മാനുഷരെല്ലാരും ഒന്നു പോലെ
ആമോദത്തോടെ വസിക്കും കാലം
ആപത്തങ്ങാർക്കുമൊട്ടില്ല താനും
ആധികള്‍ വ്യാധികള്‍ ഒന്നുമില്ല
ബാല മരണങ്ങള്‍ കേള്‍ക്കാനില്ല
കള്ളവുമില്ല ചതിയുമില്ല
എള്ളോളമില്ല പൊളിവചനം
കള്ളപ്പറയും ചെറു നാഴിയും
കള്ളത്തരങ്ങള്‍ മറ്റൊന്നുമില്ല “

When translated it means:

When Maveli, our King, ruled the land,
All the people were equal.
And people were joyful and merry;
They were all free from harm.
There was neither anxiety nor sickness,
Death of children was unheard of,
There were no lies,
There was neither theft nor deceit,
And no one was false in speech either.
Measures and weights were right;
No one cheated or wronged his neighbour.
When Maveli, our King, ruled the land,
All the people formed one casteless band.

His valour, administrative prowess and strength of character got him the title of Chakravarthy or Emperor. This confidence in himself is said to have made him ambitious. He wanted to rule the Earth, Swargaloka or Heaven and Pathaal or the underworld. The Devas (Gods) who inhabited the Heaven came to hear of this and shuddered with fear. Besides Bali’s name and fame made them extremely jealous and insecure. They ran to Lord Mahavishnu and beseeched Him to save them by doing away with Mahabali.

Mahavishnu is said to have taken the form of a poor brahmin named Vamana (dwarf) and appeared before Bali. Mahabali asked him what he wanted. “Three steps of land that can be covered by my foot”, he said. Mahabali told him he could take as much he wanted. As soon as his wish was granted, the Vamana began to grow in size. With one step he measured the Heaven and with the second, the Earth. There was no place to keep the third step. Mahabali knowing that this was no ordinary person before him, knelt in front of the Vamana, bowed his head and asked the third step to be taken on his head. As he was pushed down to the underworld or Paathala, Mahabali is said to have asked the Vamana for a boon. Since he dearly loved his land and people, he said he would love to visit them once every year. The King’s nobility moved Mahavishnu and he granted the boon, wherein he could visit his land once a year and that he would always remain one of the most loved of kings. In the Malayalam month of Chingam (in August / September as the Malayalam calendar is a lunar calendar) it is believed that Mahabali visits Kerala – and that is Onam time. All houses are decked to receive the King. Among other things homes are decked with floral carpets called Pookkalam. Courtyards are adorned with clay pyramids decorated with wet rice flour. And Mahabali is said to visit homes on the second Onam day – Thiruvonam.

Mathevar is placed on a wooden platform decorated with flowers and rice flour designs: My Mother's handiwork!

Mathevar is placed on a wooden platform decorated with flowers and rice flour designs: My Mother’s handiwork!