Book review: Heidi

Title: Heidi 
Author: Johanna Spyri
Translator: Eileen Hall
Illustrator: Cecil Leslieheidi-johanna-spyri-hardcover-cover-art
Publisher: Puffin Classics
ISBN: 0 14 036.679 2
Genre: Children’s Book
Pages: 295
Rating: 4/5

When I first started reading Heidi, I was fifteen and travelling in a train with a bunch of friends I had made on the trip. We were on our way back home and I was speeding through the book, trying to finish reading it before we reached our destination since it was someone else’s copy. Everyone was singing songs, trying to have fun just before the hour of parting forever. I remember they were singing “It’s the time to disco!” and it is then that someone ( I don’t remember who) said to me, “It’s not the time to read books!”

Forced to agree, I shut the book and never got my hands on it until last year. I tried catching up with the story on TV: a beautiful animated series (cartoon we call it in India) titled Heidi, Girl of the Alps. But then college happened and I lost track of Heidi one more time.

This year, however, I read the whole book from start to end without interruptions.  Heidi, short for Adelheid, is a five-year-old girl who lives with her aunt Dette. But since Dette finds a better job, she is unable to care for Heidi anymore and does the unthinkable: leave Heidi with her reclusive grandfather, who lives in solitude on top of a mountain in the Swiss Alps.  The rest of the village thinks Dette has lost her mind, leaving the child with such a grumpy old man. But Heidi is a happy child and Uncle Alp is like the ants in Ant Bully ‘hard on the outside, soft on the inside’.

Heidi has a happy childhood in the mountains with her grandfather and the goatherd Peter. The descriptions of the snow-clad mountains, the sunset, the grass, and the goats is the essence of this book. Here’s Heidi’s first experience of watching the sun go down:

It was getting late and the setting sun spread a wonderful golden glow over the grass and the flowers, and the high peaks shone and sparkled. Heidi sat for a while, quietly enjoying the beautiful scene, then all at once she jumped up, crying, ‘Peter, Peter! A fire, a fire! The mountains are on fire, and the snow and the sky too. Look, the trees and the rocks are all burning, even up there by the hawk’s nest. Everything’s on fire!’

When she gets home that evening, she asks her grandfather about the huge fire in the sky since Peter was not specific:

It’s the sun’s way of saying goodnight to the mountains. He spreads that beautiful light over them so that they won’t forget him till he comes back in the morning.

Slowly, Heidi comes to recognize the mountain with the feeling of home, and when she is taken away to the city, she withers away like a bud denied the rays of the sun. But Heidi is not someone who doesn’t know how to make the best of the situation she is in, so when she is struggling, her mind constantly mirrors the sunset on the mountains – a sign of hope.

Also, I found, the story has many verses from the Bible, and Spyri stresses on education and learning. Since it is a Children’s book, I think it is allowed a little bit of didactic undertones.

Overall, Heidi’s is a simple story of wanting the simple things in life: fresh air, good food, good thoughts, books to read, and a loving family. Who would not like that, now?

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Poem of the week: Week Fifteen.

And with this post, I’m up-to-date with time. The third poem under the theme ‘Exile’ is from Jane Bhandari’s poetry book Aquarius.

The Exiles
– Jane Bhandari

My father-in-law
Could put down no roots 
When he was exiled 
From the land of his birth.
Each temporary house
Was furnished with hired furniture
And trunks covered with quilts.
Each temporary garden
Grew seasonal vegetables,
And the impermanent papaya:
No place was home.
The flowers were zinnias,
Not roses.

But my mother-in-law,
Already exiled from her family,
Lost to them by marriage,
Accepted each change as it came,
And made temporary living
A permanent way of life:
Grew bananas, a goodly crop,
Planted orange seeds secretly,
And sometimes
Got to pluck their fruit.
And each Diwali said,
Next year in our own home,
And planned the shape of her garden.

***

Poem of the week: Week Fourteen.

To do justice to the theme ‘Exile’, Tenzin Tsundue’s poetry has to be a part of it. This second poem of the said theme is from his first collection of poems Crossing the Border. I have reviewed the book here.

Crossing the border
Tenzin Tsundue

Creeping in the nights, hiding in the days,
we reached the snow mountains after twenty
          nights.
The border was away by several days still.
The rugged terrain withered us to strains.

Over our heads a bomber flew,
my children shrieked in fear,
I covered them under my bosom.
Exhaustion tore my limbs apart,
but my mind warned me…
We must go on or die here.
A daughter here, a son there,
a baby on my back,
we reached the snowfields.

Through many monstrous mountains we crawled,
whose death-blankets often covered travellers
          passing by.

In the middle of the white killing fields,
a heap of frozen corpses
set our weakening spirit trembling.
Blotches of blood spattered the snow.
The armymen must have crossed their path.
Our land has fallen to the red dragons.
We prayed to the ‘Yishin Norbu’.
With hope in our hearts,
prayers on our lips,
hardly anything to eat,
with only ice to quench our thirst,
we crawled for nights together. 

Then, one night, my daughter complained about
           a burning foot.
She stumbled and rose again on her frost-bitten
           leg.

Peeled and slashed with deep bloody cuts,
she reeled and writhed in pain.
By the next day, both her legs were severed.
Gripped by deaths all around,
I was a helpless mother. 
“Amala, save my brothers,
I shall rest here for a while”.

Till I could no longer see her fading figure,
till I could no longer hear her fainting wails,
I kept looking back in tears ans agony.
My legs carried me, but my spirit remained with
            her.

Long after in exile, I can still see her
waving her frost-bitten hands to me.
Eldest of them, yet just in her teens,
leaving home must have been tough for her.
Every night I light a lamp for her,
and her brothers join me in prayer.

Yishin Norbu – another title of the Dalai Lama in Tibetan.

Amala – Mother in Tibetan.

***

 

Poem of the week: Week Thirteen.

And I’m finally catching up with the April poems. The first one under the theme ‘Exile’ is from Ranjit Hoskoté’s poetry book Vanishing Acts.

Emigrant
Ranjit Hoskoté

Leaving, he looks out of the window,
skirting the edge of the silver wing;
a tear widens in the quilt of clouds,
through which he sees (or thinks he can)

miles below, traffic lights blinking
their green and amber arrows
as rain smears the windscreens of cars
and soldiers jump down from dented tanks.

He clutches his passport. There is no room
for back numbers in his baggage.
The clouds stitch back the widening tear
but he gropes for a towel,

feeling the cabin temperature rise
as though, miles below,
the city of his birth were burning.

***

I have never known the state of exile and I think I never will. It only happens to others, you think, until it happens to you.

 

Poem of the week: Week Twelve.

The last one among the random poems is from the anthology Early Indian Poetry in English (1829-1947). It has been edited by Eunice de Souza, and I picked up this book from the NCPA store during the Mumbai LitFest.

In Bedlam
– Dhan Gopal Mukherji

They call me crazed, for I console the moon,
I know the hour when she began to weep –
It was when the poets were slain that night.
Lo, how they lie:
Those who were more restless than the sea
And more serene than the height-humbling eagle in his flight –
They are gone, gods and singers;
Only the moon remains,
Vainly carrying her silver lyre;
They call me crazed, for I console the moon.

***

Because poets still get slain and the moon still needs to be consoled time and again.

Poem of the week: Week Eleven.

The second last to fill the random poetry week that’s lost, is from Vikram Seth’s poetry book Mappings. This copy, too, came from Writers Workshop.

Time-Zones
– Vikram Seth

I willed my love to dream of me last night
That we might lie
At peace, if not beneath, a single sheet,
Under one sky.

I dreamed of her but she could not alas
Humour my will;
It struck me suddenly that where she was
Was daylight still.

***

Alas, too, that modern-day relationships are exactly like this!

 

 

Poem of the week: Week Ten.

The month of March 2014 was a random month and therefore gets random poems. They’re beautiful, nevertheless!

This poem is from Hoshang Merchant’s poetry book Love’s Permission, a beautiful copy I ordered from Writers Workshop.

Small Poet
– Hoshang Merchant

Wearing my clothes
He got lost in the city

It was as if I lost myself
And kept looking                    for myself.

***

Stark, and it reminds me of Agha Shahid Ali.

 

Poem of the week: Week Nine.

So, March came and went and I couldn’t decide on a theme to go along with. Time is the best way to come to a decision, but it didn’t work for me! So, I’m going to post four random poems that I like for each week of March that is gone and will never come back.

The following poem is from The Little Magazine’s anthology titled India in Verse. It is one of my favourites:

Stammer
– K. Satchidanandan

Stammer is no handicap.
It is a mode of speech.

Stammer is the silence that falls
between the world and its meaning,
just as lameness is the
silence that falls between
the word and the deed.

Did stammer precede language
or succeed it?
Is it only a dialect or a language itself?
These questions make
the linguists stammer.

Each time we stammer
we are offering a sacrifice
to the God of meanings.

When a whole people stammer
stammer becomes their mother-tongue:
just as it is with us now.

God too must have stammered
when He created man.
That is why each of man’s words
carries several meanings.
That is why everything he utters,
from his prayers to his commands,
stammers

like poetry.

Translated from the Malayalam ‘Vikku’ by the poet.