Raka, you really are a great-grandchild of mine, aren't you?
Nanda Kaul says this to Raka for Raka's reply to Nanda Kaul's proddings that Raka should go to the local club. Raka's reply was that Nanda Kaul doesn't go either, which delights her great-grandmother with its frankness and accuracy. Nanda Kaul's proclamation is approval and agreement that she also doesn't go and has no interest in going. She says that Raka is exactly like her: a recluse who would rather be with nature than among people, unlike her other children and grandchildren. Raka is, in Nanda Kaul's view, her heir, which is made even clearer when Raka doesn't actually receive this information with pleasure.
Rainy days are lily days!
Nanda Kaul mentions to Raka that her mother, Tara, used to say this when she was little. This is a bittersweet quote, for Tara was once innocent and full of life, but marriage broke her and turned her into a shell of her former self. We also learn that Nanda Kaul really only remembers this one thing about Tara and that her grandchildren and great-grandchildren have blended together in her mind. Thus, Desai weaves together the somber and the sweet, the complications and pleasures of memory.
One might just as well try to become young again.
Nanda Kaul says this to Raka as a response to her question of why Nanda Kaul won't return to Kashmir instead of staying in Kasauli. Nanda Kaul replies that it is as impossible as wanting to be young again. Raka doesn't realize this, but Nanda Kaul has nowhere else to go, and her childhood and married life were less appealing than she made them out to be. Returning to the past in any respect is impossible, as that past was fabricated of lies, obfuscation, and repression.
Isn't it absurd...how helpless our upbringing made us, Nanda.
Ila Das says this to Nanda Kaul as they have their tea and discuss their prospects. Both women were raised in grandeur and were left to their devices after being run down by the patriarchy (in their cases, husbands, brothers, and sons). Nanda Kaul has to take refuge in Kasauli and Ila Das has to look for jobs with few qualifications. Both women have outlived their utility to society and are thrust outside of its center; Nanda Kaul is only slightly better off because she still has some money, but Ila Das has to continue to labor in a society that objects to her based on age, appearance, marital status, and her frequent use of her own voice (literally and figuratively).
Too many tourists. Too much army.
Nanda Kaul muses on this as she and Raka take a walk down the hill. She feels that the beauty of Kasauli is best left untouched and that the tourists and the army coming to the place are destroying it. This perspective makes sense given how frequently Nanda Kaul has been wronged or misunderstood by people in general. Though she cannot keep everyone out, her simply articulating her desire to do so is consonant with what we know about her.
She watched the white hen drag out a worm inch by resisting inch from the ground till it snapped in two. She felt like the worm herself, she winced at its mutilation.
Nanda Kaul watches the hen destroy the worm, inwardly feeling its pain because she too feels like she is being pulled apart after she learns her serene world is going to be altered by the presence of an unsought-after great-granddaughter. She sees the interruption of her life at Carignano as a forced return to the world where she had no power, no autonomy, and no wholeness.
...Nanda Kaul on the stool with her head hanging, the black telephone hanging, the long wire dangling.
This is commonly seen as a symbol of Nanda Kaul's imminent death. Everything suggests limpness, immobility, and impotence. She has already suffered a "death" of sorts with Ila Das's brutal ending shattering her sense of peace and security, as well as the web of lies she'd woven to survive. Now, she may die due to the fire Raka has set; her silence is complete.
She felt danger pass for the third time that afternoon.
Here, Nanda Kaul contents herself that the prick of "danger" she had felt had passed for the third time, assuring herself that everything is going to be okay. This is a problematic thing to tell herself, and it would have behooved her to listen to that inner voice expressing the imminence of something deleterious. If she were being more honest with herself, she would have hearkened to what Ila Das was saying about the threatening men and looming poverty in her life, allowing her to stay with her at Carignano. She also perhaps would have realized that Raka was nearing a breaking point and should be forestalled from doing anything harmful. Instead, she does as she's always done, ignoring things that pique or perturb so she can remain in her solitude and stillness.
The infant looked strangely aged, as if by worries and anxieties beyond its age, its little face black and wrinkled, its tear-drop eyes glistening with sadness.
This young langur is an allusion to Raka, for its worried face, seemingly burdened with the weight of things beyond its capacity for understanding and its physical and mental age, is exactly like Raka. Raka, who has suffered from an abusive father and a traumatized mother, an inability to fit in anywhere, and a bout with typhoid, is also full of "sadness" and is "aged." She may gambol about from time to time as the langur does, but she is still oddly wizened and wary.
It was all a lie, all. She had lied to Raka, lied about everything.
It's easy to understand why Nanda Kaul has lied to herself and others: her marriage was loveless and fraudulent, she found no pleasure in being a mother and running a household, and her grown children felt completely comfortable sending her away from them to live in isolation. The reader's sympathy is thus with Nanda Kaul, but the lies aren't exactly ameliorative. In fact, the more lies she tells herself, the more the lies spill over into the world she shares with Raka, who finds those lies disingenuous and disturbing. Critic Elaine Yee Lin Ho writes, "Desai is sympathetic to the woman’s desire for the created self, but her judgement, as a realist, is severe on woman’s complicity with a compromised sense of reality that perpetuates falsehood in the name of reparation of a historical wounding to the self."
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...