When thinking of her past, Nanda Kaul is not too rosy: "Looking down, over all those years she had survived and borne, she saw them, not bare and shining as the plains below, but like the gorge, cluttered, choked and blackened with the heads of children and grandchildren, servants and guests, all restlessly surging, clamouring around her" (17). She uses a simile of her past as the gorge, cramped and crowded with unwelcome things that stifle, overwhelm, and injure her. When Raka comes, we learn more about the gorge, its detritus, its smells, and its dangers, which makes this simile even more potent.
When Nanda Kaul takes her hour of rest, Desai writes, "Then the stillness drew together, like glue drying in the sun, congealed, gathered weight, became lead" (23). The comparison of the quiet and heat to congealed glue allows the reader to feel the stillness as heavy and viscous. This gives us a sense not only of India's oppressive afternoon heat but also of Nanda Kaul's mental burdens, even when she is resting.
When Nanda Kaul got up from her hour of rest back in the day when she was acting as wife and mother, she felt the sensation that "life would swill on again, in an eddy, a whirlpool of which she was the still, fixed eye in the centre" (24). This metaphor shows Nanda Kaul's life as busy, unceasingly whirling, and subject to sucking her down as she stands firm in its center. As the linchpin of the household, Nanda Kaul was needed for everything, and comparing this position to being at the center of a whirlpool helps us see how resentful of her past life she is.
Raka hates sitting still, hates being inside, and hates having to endure people talking to her. At one point, Nanda Kaul notices this and "watched the child seethe as if she were a thousand black mosquitoes, a stilly humming conglomerate of them" (45). This vivid simile conjures up tremendous but controlled movement, a buzzing restlessness, and a sense that, at any second, what is held back will break loose. As Nanda Kaul often compares Raka to an insect, this simile is especially apt.
When Nanda Kaul and Raka walk back to Carignano from visiting Monkey Point, Desai writes, "When they reached Carignano the lights were on. The hills were black waves in the night, with the lights of the villages and towns so many lighted ships out at sea" (62). This beautiful image sets up the villages, towns, and small houses as little ships out at sea in the evening, with the hills as "black waves." As both Nanda Kaul and Raka compare themselves to being shipwrecked at different points in the novel, this metaphor is consistent with the view of Carignano as a small bit of sanctuary in the void.
Fire on the Mountain Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Fire on the Mountain is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Raka is left to Nanda after her parents, an abusive father and oppressed mother, move to Geneva while she is still sickly after having recovered from Typhoid. She is unlike other children and instead of looking for company of other children, finds...