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Anuradha Roy’s The Folded Earth is at its heart a story of several romances, against the backdrop of life in Ranikhet.
Review by Anjana Basu
There’s a certain kind of tale that people never tire of reading; a story set in the hills with a rambling old house somewhere, echoes of colonial times and a sympathetic heroine haunted by love. A story told in beautifully serene prose that allows you to meander through the pages in perfect tranquility. Most of us have encountered this train of thought in books like Kiran Desai’s Inheritance of Loss, Allan Sealy’s The Everest Hotel and Tarun Tejpal’s Alchemy of Desire. Anuradha Roy’s The Folded Earth is a worthy successor to these well loved novels.
The Folded Earth is set in Kipling Country, the hill station of Ranikhet surrounded by the Kumaon Hills where Jim Corbett stalked in search of maneaters. Maya, a young widow who has been abandoned by her family after she married a young Christian, comes to the hills in search of peace. Her husband Joseph who died in a trekking accident is buried in the Ranikhet Graveyard and she hopes that by living there she will ultimately come to terms with her loss.
As a newcomer will, she starts to talk about her new home, a draughty cottage and her landlord the once grand and now cantankerous Diwan Sahib who wants to write a book on Jim Corbett and who apparently has a secret stash of letters written by Nehru to Lady Mountbatten. She also teaches in the Christian school to give herself an occupation and an income.
In an old colonial atmosphere, the impact of modern India is all the more brutal; through what is virtually Maya’s diary of life in Ranikhet, we are introduced to wider issues like the detachment of politics from ‘the real world’, the clash of Hindu nationalism with other religions and the barriers that are fast springing up between man and the environment. None of this is allowed to disturb the gentle serenity of Roy’s prose – possibly because she appears uncomfortable with depicting the fury and whirlwind of tension.
At the heart of the book are several romances: some fulfilled, some unfulfilled because they are star crossed. Edwina Mountbatten’s relationship with Nehru is used to set some kind of pattern but her own later romance could better be described as a reaction to Maya’s husband’s death rather than anything else and the hill girl’s romance with the hotelier cook comes across as a trifle too pat in the end.
Like Wordsworth, Roy’s strength is ‘emotion recollected in tranquillity’. She creates the nostalgia that characterizes most Indian hill stations – a doubtful future backed by memories of a splendid past set against the splendid backdrop of the hills and woods. The dark, gentle Maya describes her surroundings in lines like: ‘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…’
Lives and problems unfold gently in the middle of a host of memorable minor characters, including historian Ramchandra Guha who makes a cameo appearance in what Roy said later was a kind of ‘private joke’. Unfortunately, the Diwan’s nephew Veer, who is important to the story, never quite manages to convince because the balance between sympathetic and unsympathetic somehow seems to elude Roy and leads her to craft an overdramatic ending.
Publisher: Hachette India
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