The Black Hill
Author: Mamang Dai
9789382277231 | PB | pp. 312 | 2014 | Aleph Book Company
The Black Hill by Mamang Dai, tells the gripping story of locals in Northeast India afraid of the imminent arrival of the British in their land yet untouched.
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Set in the mid-nineteenth century, the action takes place in the Northeast-the region that spreads from Assam to Arunachal today. The East India Company is seeking to make inroads into the region and the local people-in particular the Abor and Mishmee tribes-fear their coming and are doing all they can to keep them out of their territories. The author takes a recorded historical event-the mysterious disappearance of a French priest, Father Nicolas Krick in the 1850s and the execution of Kajinsha from the Mishmee tribe for his murder-and woven a gripping, densely imagined work of fiction around it. And, even as the novel tells the story of an impossible journey and an elopement, it explores the themes of the lure of unknown worlds, the love people have for each other and their land and the forces of history. Gimur, a girl from the Abor tribe, runs away with Kajinsha from the Mishmee tribe, and they settle down on his land near the Tibetan border. Father Krick’s attempts to reach Tibet to set up a Jesuit mission are foiled repeatedly by the local people not because of any personal animus towards the priests or their work, but because they feel-rightly-that once the priests come, the British, with their guns and their garrisons will follow. The story revolves around events in Gimur’s and Kajinsha’s villages and is also seen from the point of view of Father Krick, a gentle, intelligent man, devout but no bigot, whose determination to reach Tibet no matter what the cost, impacts tragically on all those who encounter him.
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