Fire on the Mountain

Fire on the Mountain Essay Questions

  1. 1

    In the context of the novel as a whole, is the ending surprising? Why or why not?

    Many readers do find the violent rape and murder of Ila Das surprising, as if it were not properly foreshadowed by the earlier events of the novel. Yet there are numerous indications that what happens to Ila Das and what Raka does are part and parcel with what they've mentioned and/or endured. What we know about patriarchy and male violence, along with what Ila Das told Nanda Kaul about the priest, the young men, and Preet Singh, give us some preparation for Ila Das's fate. Raka's behavior changes after her incident at the Club, and we can see her greater pull towards devastation and her growing impatience with the world that so wronged her and her mother. Ultimately, what we learn about women in India, their roles, their repression, and the ways in which men mentally and physically keep them in line, should prepare the careful reader for the end of the novel.

  2. 2

    How are Nanda Kaul, Ila Das, and Raka compared to birds, and what do these comparisons suggest?

    Bird imagery is used frequently in the text to suggest the characters' personalities, desires, and motivations. Nanda Kaul wishes to see herself as the eagle but is called by the "domestic tone" (19) of the cuckoo. Raka finds the birds "demented" (90), however, and does not wish to be around them. Nanda Kaul is also associated with hens, a domestic animal. Raka is like "a little wild bird" (132), Ila Das suggests, and Desai writes that Raka quickly coming upon Ram Lal was as a "bird fallen out of its nest, a nest fallen out of a tree" (50). This makes Raka seem wild, a little unhinged, and spontaneous. Ila Das has the voice of a bird in its shrill tone, "like the cackle of an agitated parrot" (111); she is thus rendered loud, obnoxious, and strangely compelling.

  3. 3

    Why is Raka so intrigued by the Pasteur Institute?

    Raka is certainly a child of nature, drawn to the wilds of the hills, the ferocity of the storms, and the delight of the animals and birds. Yet she is also intrigued by the Pasteur Institute, the antithesis of nature in its cruelty towards animals and its placing of primacy on human beings. The Pasteur Institute has a hold on her, though she never visits it, because it symbolizes death, cruelty, mystery, and transformation. As Raka is indelibly drawn to these things because of her traumatic past, it ends up not mattering if they are from the natural world or the man-made one.

  4. 4

    Is Nanda Kaul responsible for Ila Das's death? How or how not?

    Nanda Kaul listens to her old friend explain how poor she is and how she is threatened by the men of the village in which she is a social worker. Despite this, Nanda Kaul cannot bring herself to invite Ila Das to stay with her, even though she knows she ought to, and there can be some measure of blame levied upon her for this reluctance to do the right thing. Yet Nanda Kaul cannot be faulted for wanting peace, especially after her long life of assiduous, arduous work on the part of everyone but herself. She has a right to a life lived on her own terms, so ultimately, the novel is ambivalent with regard to whether or not Nanda Kaul is blameworthy for Ila Das's terrible fate.

  5. 5

    Did Nanda Kaul really want to sever all human connection in her exile? Cite textual evidence supporting your view.

    At the beginning of the novel, we assume that Nanda Kaul came to Carignano to forget about her former life and to distance herself from the demands of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. She seems very fond of her solitude, jealously guarding it (at least in her mind) and despairing when she hears that Raka is going to disrupt it. However, not only does Nanda Kaul come to admire and perhaps even love Raka, but we also learn that she did not come to Carignano solely because of her overweening desire for isolation. Nanda Kaul does indeed want to connect with her great-granddaughter, and she did not fully choose exile for herself.