The Hills Of Angheri

“Life is my cauledge (college)” — Ajja

Life throws up some very strange connections. Here I was bored on the day before New Year’s eve and I pick up a book I borrowed from Raj more than a year ago. The Hills Of Angheri was engrossing enough to keep me up until dawn today. This book written by Kavery Nambisan was as deeply introspective as it was entertaining. Just the right medicine for me on New Year’s eve. And I didn’t even ask for it!

The book is a bildungsroman of Nalli (Nalinakshi), a simple strong headed girl from Angheri, a village near Mysore. The book is divided into 3 parts. In the first part, we are introduced to the rustic life in Angheri and Nalli’s family, her Appa (the village teacher and a Gandhian who sticks to his values), Amma (a silent housewife), Ajji (who’s always sick) and Ajja (the most colorful member of the family). There is also her best friend Jai, who is very intelligent. Together they decide to study medicine and set up a small hospital in their village. Though he is from a poor family, the medical journey is considerably easy for Jai. OTOH Nalli has to deal with the prejudice from her family members that females should marry and settle down. But, with her Appa’s support she gets an admission to the medical college in Madras. Moving out from her village for the first time in her life, she is intrigued by city and college life. She soon notices that her character is changing irreversibly. She finishes college as a wannabe surgeon (a female surgeon is almost unheard of at this time). Life throws her a choice now — marriage or higher education in the UK to become a surgeon. She chooses to do the latter.

The second part of the book tells her experiences in UK. This part is narrated by Nalli. In the new country, her cultural ignorance leads her into all kinds of funny mishaps. She learns a tremendous lot over the years through hard work and practice. She stays on for an extra year and is blissfully lost in her world when a tragedy at home calls her back. The third and final part of the book brings back Nalli to India. She meets Jai and realizes that he has given up his dream. She is also criticized by her villagers and she gives up on her dream of a hospital for the village. She moves to a charity hospital near Delhi. It is the years spent here treating the kind of colorful patients that only the subcontinent can throw up does she really grow up. Here she is, one of the best hands in surgery, still single, her dream for her village long forgotten, her character evolved through the years and still a bit confused. Where does life take her next?

Kavery Nambisan is from Coorg. She studied medicine in Bangalore and got her FRCS in UK. Her interest to work in rural India brought her back to Coorg where she now practises. Though she doesn’t mention it anywhere in the book, it is clearly autobiographical. The book is both easy to read and yet touches upon deeper thoughts. The descriptions of Nalli’s village, environment, family and life seem so real and honest that I could almost feel the morning mist on my skin and taste the kaapi. Dialogues have little titbits of the local language in them which makes it very down to earth. The characters are so well sketched, it felt like I had run into them sometime in my life. Nalli’s surgery exploits in college, UK and later in hospital fill a large part of the book. These are detailed, gory and funny. And in the midst of this journey to Oz, the story prods and questions Nalli’s dreams (and hence ours too). This is the best book I’ve read this year. Its place is right up there beside the works by R K Narayan.

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“I haven’t done what is fashionable” — Kaveri Nambisan talks about her career and life.

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