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Of Exile and Longing

Gopika Jadeja

By Sowmya Rajendran
Illustration by Proiti Roy
Tulika, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, 2009, pp. 20, Rs. 135.00

VOLUME XXXIV NUMBER 11 November 2010

Beginning with nine-year-old Keshav’s desire to go to a place that is cold, triggered by his mother’s sweating in the heat as she works, The Snow King’s Daughter translates that desire into an exploration of exile and the loss of a home. This cold place happens to be Tibet, which Keshav has seen in his atlas. Looking at the atlas and imagining all the places that he could go to is a favourite pastime. In his imagination, Keshav is a grand old man who has been to all these places and knows stories about these lands. Tibet, because it is so high and so cold captures his imagination and that is where he would go to escape the heat. That is when his mother laughs and calls him a silly boy and tells him in her knowing grown up way that their neighbour Lobsang is from Tibet. Keshav then has questions about how she got here without her parents, for he cannot imagine going anywhere without his mother. Amma explains to him that Lobsang and her sister were sent to India over the mountains with a guide. With a picture of a benign Gandhi looking on from the wall, Keshav also learns that Tibet, unlike India is not independent. It is under Chinese rule. Her parents have stayed back to fight for their country. Keshav calls out to Lobsang and invites her to his straw mat house, an honour she is aware that he does not ever bestow upon anybody. Here the children’s imagination takes a leap and Lobsang becomes the Snow King’s daughter. The powerful Snow King, when he gets angry blows fire that melts the snow, so that the mountains are easier to cross for people like Lobsang and her sister. The pause Lobsang takes here is poignant with longing—she wishes her father would come soon. Keshav’s obsession with the atlas and his putting a cross with a red pencil on places that he liked, reminds one of Conrad’s Marlow who as a little chap would look in delight at the ‘blank spaces on earth’ where he would go to when he grew up. It is a sensitive tale, as the blurb says, of exile and longing for home,depicted sensitively in images like Lobsang’s almost-forgotten memory of snow and how ‘when you let it stay on your hand, ...

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