Book Review: Halfway up the Mountain: Kiran Khalap

Halfway up the Mountain, by Kiran Khalap, an elegiac effort, in which desires, mysticism as well as realism are entwined is a simple and heart-rending tale of a parish young woman who aspires to discern pleasure outside of her everyday verve when her existence is entangled with blokes of extraordinary endowment.

In an endeavour to retort the issue of whether paradise is within reach to run of the mill individual beings, this is a narrative of a mountain lass Maya, who hails from a hamlet, struggle with her destiny in a conventional Indian family. Even though she appears athwart as a simple young woman, who makes steamed pancakes with turmeric leaf smell and skips school, Maya fights harsh conditions and a lot of misfortunes with confidence as well as an unpretentious audacity.

As she blossoms into maturity in her community, her fortune in an arranged marriage is coupled to Ravindra, in a mill worker’s family in the manufacturing heart of Mumbai that falls apart as soon as Maya gets together with the poet, Krishnarao, and is compelled to fritter the hours of darkness in his abode by a pouring rainstorm.

Despite the fact that Maya looks up to them, she in next to no time becomes conscious that as individual beings they continue to be middle-of-the-road as Ravindra declines to deem that their offspring Sharan is his own, and he leaves her.

Maya in her mission to come across meaning in existence and affairs continues her endeavour to liberate herself of the knotted mesh of relations imposed on her by a custom bound social order, but is not always rewarded with success as the youthful young woman is undone by the men in her verve that she gets the closest to dump her in an Indian culture that consigns no worth on a lady on her own.

She survives through all these demanding periods as a free, liberated and flourishing human being as she fights back for her character, care and approval and is still belligerent for inner concord a decade afterwards when she comes across her alcove as a warden in a Mahabaleshwar boarding school.

A shloka the Atma Shatakam, or the Song of the Soul, composed by the eighth-century philosopher Shankaracharya that Maya's father chant to her in her early days outline the leitmotif of the yarn, the current that surge as an undertone all through the recounting as Maya move towards to identify with the spot on connotation of what her father edify her, but certainly not be aware of himself.

An anecdote of meandering into severance and deliverance, what hits largely in relation to her is the benevolent face and how she deals with to breathe in a social order which doesn’t welcome the veracity of single independent women and while straightening out the account of Maya, the writer ingeniously brings out other rudiments like homosexuality, sexual affairs, work of art, poems and songs, and all this in an Indian milieu.

It isn't just the words that are gripping, it's the effortlessness with which the author glides into the crust of a youthful lass, born and brought up in coastal Konkan, recreating minute shades of bucolic being as a woman and manages to put into words womanly sentiments as well as yearning with poignance.

Even though we are fond of the idea of a contemporary India, certain insensate customs and way of thinking still appear to reign in our culture with the volume covenant with them all in a radiant story-telling modishness as also the warmth with which he recounts the fairy-tale.

The authors’ knack to feel like a young person, a lady, a spouse and a mother and intertwine a chronicle of the experiences sets this unveiling work of fiction in a class by itself, surmounting coarse bends that will craft you breath and wonder about not just the exquisiteness of the axioms but the sense and sentiments that stream beneath.

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Author interview

Hi Kiran, first things first, tell us a bit about you and your book.

I was born in 1958 in Mumbai on 18th June in Girgaon. I was brought up in Mumbai but I believe the soil of my creativity comes from Goa, where my father was born.

I am a chemistry graduate whose first job was a school teacher and house-master in Varanasi: I had experienced my first freedom after reading books by J Krishnamurti and wanted to express my gratitude by supporting his idea of a new species of education.

Writing came to me as naturally as breathing; so inside my head I do not classify myself as someone special called a writer.

When I won the Indo-UK Asian Age Short Story competition in 1995, I realised that my writing could also connect with readers.

I started writing Halfway Up the Mountain in 1999, which was a inflection year for me, the year I started a new professional life as an entrepreneur, as co-founder of chlorophyll, India’s first end-to-end brand consultancy.

The book builds on my childhood memories and my understanding of the famous shloka by Adi Shankaracharya named Atma Shatakam.

Is your book intended for everyone or for any specific category of readers?

I keep travelling between two fields of creativity: problem solution (brand consulting) and self-expression (writing fiction)

In the former, I need to be clear about target audience and their expected response because I am spending someone else’s money.

But in the latter field, self-expression, I cannot second-guess a specific category of readers and write for them.

Self-expression works on self-selection: one hopes that there are enough readers who enjoy what is referred to as literary fiction: readers who want a story but also want it told with a style that is enriching. (The publisher, who pays for printing and distributing the book, obviously shares this belief!)


Who are the literary role models that have inspired your novel and your writing?

If my literary role models inspire my writing, I will become a cheap me-too!

All writers strive to find a unique voice, a voice that is authentic, a voice that draws from their own unique life experiences.

But if we re-frame the question and ask ‘which literary figure you admire or identify with the most’, my answer would be simple and short: Tom Robbins.

I feel my life beliefs are the same as his.


If you had to summarize in a few lines the plot of the novel "Half Way Up the Mountain" what would you say?

Good question, so get ready for a not-so-good answer: it is not a complicated plot;-)

It is the story of a young girl Maya who has been abandoned by her father (the reason is never clear).

The father knows he is going to abandon her so he arms her with the Adi Shankaracharya shloka: he believes if she understands its meaning, she will be able to navigate the complexities of life.

Halfway up the mountain is the root meaning of ‘mediocre’.

Maya’s life crisscrosses the lives of many talented men: she discovers that she does not have talent, yet she is not mediocre as a human being.


How do you reconcile creativity with the rationality that your profession requires you?

Very good question once again!

The presumption behind this question is ‘creativity does not involve rationality’. Which is not entirely true. Even the great Michelangelo tested multiple versions of his drawings for the Sistine Chapel with the common man to verify which ones drew the best emotional response.

The second presumption is that brand building happens only through rationality. Which is also not entirely true. One needs to deploy enormous intuition and judgment in this arena too.


Is there any new book in progress that you want our readers to anticipate?

Yes. I have one book of non-fiction, my first: ‘Brands & Bullshit’ and one book of fiction, my third, ‘Black River Run’.

Black river refers to the tar road, so Black River Run is about the life of a cab driver, a victim of caste wars, a follower of Swami Samarth Ramdas, the saint who combined creativity at body, mind and spirit level.


Which is the one novel that has revolutionized your life leading you to writing?

There are many writers: I love Henry Miller, Tom Robbins, John Updike, Colum McCann, Bhakti poets from Karnataka like Mahadeviakka, from Maharashtra like Bahinabai, Arun Kolatkar, Nalesh Patil.

But the book I consider the greatest achievement of writing in English is The Waves by Virginia Woolf.


Which book would you recommend to anybody?

“Freedom from the Known” by Jiddu Krishnamurti


What would be that one advice to the modern day reader?

“Unlike my generation, you are lucky...you can access the present and the past; India and the world; the written word and the spoken word...all FREE on the net! Request you not to set boundaries to your own reading...be hungry, be indiscriminate, be adventurous...use reading as a doorway to evolution to becoming the next species beyond homo sapiens;-)”

Publisher: Amaryllis ♥ Published: February 2014 ♥ ISBN-13: 9789381506417 ♥ Language: English ♥ Binding: Paperback ♥ Pages: 238 ♥ Type: Fiction