A Whiff of Familiarity in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind and Sarita Mandana’s Tiger Hills
Margret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind is both a romance and a meditation on the changes that swept over America in 1860’s. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1937. The novel illustrates the struggles of the southern people who lived in the civil war era. The story opens in the pre war Georgia, where tradition, chivalry and pride thrive. As the civil war began, the setting shifts to Atlanta where the war leads to the breakdown of traditional gender roles and power structures. The epic tale comes to an end in 1871 after the democrats regain power in Georgia. The novel has a genuine sweep, a convincing feel for the passage of time. It shows the South before, during and after the war, all seen through the eyes of Scarlett O’Hara.
Gone With The Wind is the story of woman’s life during one of the most tumultuous periods in American history. From her young, innocent days on a feudalistic plantation to the war torn streets of Atlanta, from the utmost luxury to absolute starvation and poverty – from her innocence to her understanding and comprehension of life. The story is about Scarlett O’Hara, the spoilt daughter of a wealthy plantation owner.
Tiger Hills written by Sarita Mandana is a multi- generational tale set against the picturesque backdrop of Coorg – the Scotland of India. The Europeans had settled down in the area in their estates on the coffee plantation. The original inhabitants of the area dwelled in villages in their golden thatched homes. Each family had its own wetlands and grazing pastures. And then there were these dense forests “simmering with a dangerous, compelling beauty, marked by faintest of trails.”
The Coorgs worshiped the river Kaveri, the mountains and forests. They wore amulets with powerful mantras inscribed on them for protection. Tiger Hills narrates the tale of Devi’s love, passion and destiny. She loved Machu, the tiger killer but was forced to marry Devanna, her childhood friend.
Tiger Hills has a period setting - it begins in 1878 and continues through World War –II. The backdrop of the novel keeps the reader informed about the advent of missionaries, spread of western education, European influences on Coorg, coffee planters and the prestige of an overseas education. The novel’s historical focus becomes more political in the later sections.
Sarita Mandana had started writing the Tiger Hills on an impulse and it turned out to be a historical epic along the lines of the American classic Gone With The Wind.
“I think the stories of Gone With The Wind and Tiger Hills are very different but I think what people are responding to is that there is a strong connectedness to land, strong female protagonist and that both stories are set in historical, periodic settings which follows sweeping narratives, sagas that cover a long period of time,” the author rationalises.
Scarlett O’ Hara was the first child born to Gerald O’ Hara and Ellen O’Hara. She grew up in the house called Tara at Georgia. Tara was Scarlett’s world – sheltered, privileged, prim and ordered. The house had no architectural plan “extra rooms added where a when it seemed convenient.” Scarlett loved Georgia and Tara with its ‘savagely red land,blood coloured after rains, brick dust in drought, yielding the best cotton in the world.” She equally loved her mother, Ellen O” Hara, the mistress of Tara, who brought order, dignity and grace into the house hold, and she gave to Tara a beauty it never had before. Scarlett regarded her mother as someone holy and apart from the rest of mankind. When Scarlett was a child, she confused her mother with Virgin Mary and when she grew old she never changed her opinion. Ellen, her mother, depicted comfort and bliss that only heaven could provide. Scarlett had the sensibility to discern goodness in a human heart. And yet she believed that goodness could be worn and taken off as one pleased. She understood that being just, truthful, tender and unselfish would keep her from many joys of life.
She could not stay away from Tara for long. “Home ! The sprawling white house with fluttering white curtains at the windows, the thick clover on the lawns with the bees busy in it ... home!” She yearned for Tara with the desperate desire of a frightened child frantic for the only heaven it had ever known. “Nowhere else in the world was there a land like this”.
Scarlett began her journey as a spoilt, selfish and untried girl, full of youth, warm of emotion, easily bewildered by life and gradually, there is nothing left of her girlish days. Scarlett’s entire being shone with the joy of being pretty and sought after and frivolous in the early chapters and then one can see her character darkening slowly throughout the novel. Hunger, fear, labour, constant strain, the terrors of war and the terrors of reconstruction take away all her warmth and her softness. She had seen the worst and so has nothing left to fear.
Sarita Mandana’s Devi of Tiger Hills fame comes very close to Scarlett O’ Hara of Gone With The Wind. Mandana confessed that Devi is the replica of her great grandmother who got widowed very early and would carry a dagger in her blouse while roaming the paddy fields early in the morning so that no one messed up with her. Mandana explained, “My great grandmother was a real tigress of a woman; when my great grand father’s body was lying on the floor there was some dispute over land and the story goes that someone stood up and said very loudly that let’s see what the widow does now that the tiger is dead- referring to my great grandfather and without missing a beat she turned around and said that the tiger may be dead but never you forget that the tigress is still alive.” To some extent this is the kind of spirit and courage that Devi embodies in the novel.
Devi was the first girl to be born into the Nachimanda family and was the object of adoration of the entire household. She invariably managed to get whatever she wanted. At a very young age of 10, she went to attend the tiger wedding with her parents. She was utterly tongue tied to see Machu, the tiger killer. She went home and announced that she wanted to marry Machu. “Only him”, she repeated to herself “I will marry only Machu”.
Both Devi of Coorg and Scarlett O’ Hara of Georgia face several hardships and shoulder responsibilities gracefully and successfully. Any other women of their times would have crumpled under the burden. The two protagonists, however, sail past all adversities with grit and determination. When troubles clouded Scarlett’s vision, she worked harder and never gave it a thought – “I will think about it another day, not now”. Devi on the other hand had the memory of Machu that kept her moving. “Machu, I know you must ... your roots ur heart is here.” She stood there waiting but there was only silence in reply. “Machu” , She called out again, casting about her in the mist shrouded estate. A chill rain began to fall. “You ... without you ... “ The rain dripped down, gumming her hair to her scalp, forming rivulets down her back. “I know you are here”, She said despairingly. “I know”. Falling to her knees, closing her fists about the damp earth, his earth, digging her nails deep, deep, as far as they could go into the black, loamy soil, Devi began to weep.
Scarlett O’ Hara was deeply attached to her home land. She laboured hard in the cotton plantation of Georgia. She loved Ashley but she loved the red hills and the red soil of Georgia even more. She weeded the fields, ploughed them, cut the fire wood, repaired the pens. She desperately tried to restore some semblance of naturalness to life in Tara after her parent’s death. Devi was equally attached to the coffee plantation that Machu had given her. The yield in the plantation was very low when she came to possess it. But Devi was not thwarted. She spent her days weeding, hoeing, composting, manuring, hacking, pruning, plucking until the muscles of her back and her arms cramped with pain. “Grow” She whispered fiercely to the plants as she hoed around their roots, “grow you hear me?” And then the acres of the plantation burst forth with white spangled blooms of coffee berries.
Physical labour was in fact cathartic for Devi. It had some honesty in it. It kept her from yearning for Machu and also gave her an excuse for staying away from her ailing husband, Devanna.
Both Scarlett and Devi possess certain traits in them which keeps the readers from empathizing with them in the dreariest of situations. Scarlett always got what she wanted and she pursued her goals by the shortest route, like a man, not by the hidden circuitous routes peculiar to women. Scarlett was guided by no one but herself and she conducted her affairs in a masculine way which had the whole town talking about her. But she bothered little. Her head was always muddling over projects that would bring in more money to pay the taxes of Tara and to feed the hungry mouths in the household. The notion of becoming a good loving wife and a perfect mother never crossed her muddled brain. Devi’s maternal instincts were not very strong either and she had never allowed her husband to come near her in all their years of marriage.
Devi however, was a mellowed version of Scarlett O Hara. Born and bred in a traditional Indian family she did not get many opportunities to lead a wild life likes Scarlett, but she never let go of any opportunity that came her way either. She continued to love Machu after marrying Devanna. She did little to hide her contempt and bitterness for her paralytic husband. She goes to the extent of saying to her son Nanju, “You are a curse. Every time I look at you I am reminded of all that is lost.”
The two novels come to an end on a similar note. A doctor in Bangalore, Devanna’s classmate reveals how the exceptionally gifted chap was madly in love with a girl called Devi in Coorg. Devi realises how she had remained rooted in a keloidal past while the world had passed on by. She decides to forgive Devanna. Devi would now live like the jungle orchid that perfumed the wind. Devanna easily accepts Devi in his folds. Scarlett, too, realizes that Rhett Butler truly loved her and she confesses her love for him. But she could not be allowed to get away with marrying three times, coveting sweet Melanie’s husband Ashley, shooting a plundering Yankee and banning her third husband from her bedroom in order to protect her slim waistline from the toll of child bearing .Eventually, such behaviour had to be punished. So Rhett Butler says,” frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn’. The novel ends with Scarlett’s unquestioned triumph.
Tiger Hills is an exquisitely crafted piece of fiction. The language of Tiger Hills is rich and mesmerising. It seems almost like an eloquent hymn composed in praise of the homeland, the author makes us believe that Coorg must be the single most beautiful place on earth.