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The Faraway Hill (part 1 of 2)

by BetsyJ


From the hilltop, I see the city stretching on like the whole world in front of me. I stand on a coarse rock that overlooks the edge. Closing one eye, I hold out my hand. If I were a giant, I would pluck out the gopuram that stands on the cusp of the horizon. From here, it is nothing but a miniscule triangle jutting out taller than everything else - like an eagerly raised hand of a child. Momentarily, a large gold-veined patch of cloud hiding the sun swims away. Hurried off perhaps by the sudden breath of wind that chills and prickles my skin. A shadow follows the cloud quietly, skimming the earth like a blotch of wetness leaving no trace behind. Squinting my eye, I position my thumb and index finger in front of my face as if clutching the gopuram like a toffee, and imagine uprooting it as I pinch the air.

                                                                            *

My guide is a young boy whom I met on the village streets below. He is a stranger I had simply approached for directions at the foothills. Instead of merely pointing left or right, he offered to guide me himself for an amount of thirty rupees. I had been sceptical at first - half afraid that I might get swindled or robbed en route if I accepted - but I relented hesitantly afterwards.

Standing a few feet behind him now, I ask him about the curious-looking iron rod that is hammered into one of the rocks closer to the steep precipice. It has a rusty bowl-like disc attached on the top, and the disc is burned black, showing that it has held fire.

"It's for when we have processions. We bring fire and light it here, the boy points to the disc. Sometimes it's used for pujas during festivals." 

"These hills have lost and wandering spirits," he continues, "the temple priests light fire here on the disc to cast spells. They chase the spirits away. The fire burns throughout the night.

You can hear them late at night, the spirits. A few times, I have heard lost ones calling out and walking the streets back and forth. Sometimes they call out in the voices of people you know. But you should not open the door. Otherwise, you will fall into a trance, and blindly start to follow them."

                                                                         *

He tells me more about his village at the foothills. I listen eagerly as he talks about the Mayana Kollai festival; its annual celebrations held in and around the hilly outskirts. 

He tells me how this hill has been the locus of the religious festival's fanfare and ceremony for years. Effigies of Goddess Angalaamman, adorned in garish finery and flower garlands, are taken on processions and parades throughout the city starting from here. Not only is the hill notorious for lost spirits, it is also the omphalos for nightly revelry and religious rites among devotees of the guardian deity. Chickens and goats are sacrificed to appease the goddess, men and women flail and dance fervently to folk ballads – their faces and bodies smeared with turmeric or kumkuma. But more importantly, the merrymakers and devotees return late at night to the cemetery where vows are fulfilled to the gods, and traditions performed. 


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Mon Sep 13, 2021 6:27 pm
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MailicedeNamedy wrote a review...



Hi BetsyJ,

Mailice here with a short review! :D

I've been behind wanting to read your story for a while and I've only just got around to it. So let's start right away. :D

You've already given a very strong introduction, which on the one hand I like very much, because it's partly written in a very thoughtful and philosophical tone. But at the same time, the reader is alienated from the text because the sentences always seem a little choppy. There are some that you could certainly connect to make the reading flow more dynamically and easier to get into the story.

"It's for when we have processions. We bring fire and light it here, the boy points to the disc. Sometimes it's used for pujas during festivals," he says.



I find it interesting that you use the inverted commas as in French. But actually I just want to say that you don't need to add the "he says" because you've already separated the dialogue with the boy's comment.

What I like very much about the boy is his narration. It stands out clearly from the narrator's text. In general, I think your story takes on a rather pleasant vein. I like how everything feels so calm and you are true to the motto "the way is the goal". You tell a story because of the story and give a very interesting meaning behind it. I like that very much.

Because it is something new and unknown to me that you are telling about, I am all the more curious about what exactly is going to happen and how it came about. And yet it gives me a certain melancholy that I received while reading. I like that too.

A small point of criticism, which I mentioned during the introduction, is still partly here in the other sections; the reading flow is a little disturbed by the constant chopping off of short sentences. These could definitely be developed further to make the overall reading flow more dynamic.

Otherwise, I really like the story. It has such a really calm tone with your story! :D


Have fun writing!

Mailice




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Wed Sep 08, 2021 8:49 am
ForeverYoung299 wrote a review...



Heyy!! Forever here with a short review!!

First of all, welcome to YWS! Hope you have a great time here :) Now to the story itself.

I should just tell you first that I don't have much idea about South India but I will try my best.

The gopuram is quite interesting. I liked how you described it. It succeeds to give an image to the people who don't even know what it actually is, like me. I wonder why the narrator closed one eye and extended one hand of theirs.

Next that 30 rs. For a split moment I thought the story is set in 20th Century and then I realised that the person is just a child or at least young. That was really a good description of people's innocence, I think judging from the fact that very few people will actually show a tourist the whole place for 30rs.

It's for when we have processions. We bring fire and light it here, the boy points to the disc. Sometimes it's used for pujas during festivals.

These hills have lost and wandering spirits. He continues, the temple priests light fire here on the disc to cast spells. They chase the spirits away. The fire burns throughout the night.

You can hear them late at night, the spirits. A few times, I have heard lost ones calling out and walking the streets back and forth. Sometimes they call out in the voices of people you know. But you should not open the door. Otherwise, you will fall into a trance, and blindly start to follow them.

I wonder why these lines are in italics. I don't think these are the thoughts of the boy. From what I can infer, these are the thoughts of the narrator. So, I don't find any reason for italicising the whole three paragraphs. Would be happy of you can please clarify. Anyway, this was great how you described the thoughts of people about lost ones and precisely ghosts. That sounded a bit humorous, I don't know why.

All in all, the story, I think gives an image of a typical village in South India with all its religion, belief and culture. I camw to know about two things after reading this story- the gopuram and thw mayana kollai festival.

Something which I wonder about is why this is tagged as an art? What this actually is? A short story or a part of a novel? I just wanna know. I will get to the nwxt part soon.

Keep Writing!!

~Forever




BetsyJ says...


Hi,
Thank you for the welcome, and your review.
I'll begin by answering your last question. This piece was my first post here on YWS...and when I was in the process of publishing it at the publishing center, I was not able to view the entire list of tags...maybe it was a glitch, not sure. But only Art was visible to me, so I naturally clicked it. I thought it was odd myself. Only afterwards did i realize it was the wrong tag, and that there are others. So, not sure how to change the tag, or if i can.

This piece is part of a creative non-fiction essay. It is just a bite-sized memoir. I have posted part 2 (the final part) also. I divided it into two parts since posting it as one would have made it super long, and boring for the reader.


"I wonder why the narrator closed one eye and extended one hand of theirs."
coming to this: Um... perhaps its not clear from how i wrote it. The gopuram is a "tower-like" temple structure the speaker sees their view from a hilltop. So, naturally it will look tiny from the speaker's pov. The speaker imagines holding it in their hand and uprooting it.

"I think judging from the fact that very few people will actually show a tourist the whole place for 30rs": In villages here, one often encounters things like this. This is not a tour guide, but just a poor village boy. He is simply trying to make some money by showing the way to the hill. I did not go into details here because that is a digression from the story, but I guess more clarity would have made it understandable.

I wonder why these lines are in italics: I italcized it as a way to show that it is the boy speaking, and not the speaker. Since there is confusion about this, I'll add quotation marks to clarify that it is dialogue.
But, it is not meant to be humorous. In fact, I don't see how you got there. The boy is talking about lost and wandering spirits of the hill (superstition of the village folk living there).

Hope that clarified everything.





Thanks for the clarifications :)

And about that superstition, I know that was not meant to be funny but that sounded a little bit funny to my ears. I don't know why XD.



BetsyJ says...


Sure.
It's actually taken from something real that happened. And if I had said that I had found it funny when this was being told to me, it would have been offensive to the teller because they shared their cultural experience with me. Local religions and traditions vary vastly in a country like India, so it's best to be respectful of foreign cultures and their customs.
Thanks.





Oh no no I am really sorry if that offended you by any means. You know what I have some problems with thid... I mean you know mental problems... I laugh at situations which shouldn't be laughed at :(

I didn't mean to hurt any of your beliefs. I am really really sorry if I did anything like that. And yes, I am an Indian. I know the beliefs of Indians and I believe in those. I really didn't mean to hurt any religious beliefs.



BetsyJ says...


no problem at all!! Apologies if my previous reply sounded like I was offended! I just meant to clarify. :) :)



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Tue Sep 07, 2021 5:24 am
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HarryHardy wrote a review...



Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening/Night(whichever one it is in your part of the world),

Hi! I'm here to leave a quick review!! Oh and a late welcome to YWS!!! I hope you have a good time here :D

First Impression: This was an interesting start here, it has a couple of issues that I could see but for the most part, this seems to be pretty solid here.

Anyway let's get right to it,

From the hilltop, I see the city stretching on like the whole world in front of me. I stand on a coarse rock that overlooks the edge. Closing one eye, I hold out my hand. If I were a giant, I would pluck out the gopuram that stands on the cusp of the horizon. From here, it is nothing but a miniscule triangle jutting out taller than everything else - like an eagerly raised hand of a child. Momentarily, a large gold-veined patch of cloud hiding the sun swims away. Hurried off perhaps by the sudden breath of wind that chills and prickles my skin. A shadow follows the cloud quietly, skimming the earth like a blotch of wetness leaving no trace behind. Squinting my eye, I position my thumb and index finger in front of my face as if clutching the gopuram like a toffee, and imagine uprooting it as I pinch the air.


Well, we have ourselves a very poetic sounding description there. Its an interesting note to start off with. You're creating some lovely visuals here, and adding the descriptions of how its chilly and the texture of the rock really adds to the opening quite well here. As the reader you feel like you're right there with them and that's an awesome thing to see at the very start of a story. I'm not sure of the message its trying to convey with the gopuram there, on one hand it feels like perhaps its meant to show how far away this person is from it and shows its really tiny at this distance, but also the thoughts here of uprooting it tell me that this is perhaps a childs POV. Lots to think about her anyway.

My guide is a young boy whom I met on the village streets below. He is a stranger I had simply approached for directions at the foothills. Instead of merely pointing left or right, he offered to guide me himself for an amount of thirty rupees. I had been sceptical at first - half afraid that I might get swindled or robbed en route if I accepted - but I relented hesitantly afterwards.


Okay, well the child theory is off the table...but hmm, it does still sound like a bit of a childish thought there. And well, this seems like a very convenient arrangement right there...for both the people involved not to mention it is a very realistic, so well, neat start here.

Standing a few feet behind him now, I ask him about the curious-looking iron rod that is hammered into one of the rocks closer to the steep precipice. It has a rusty bowl-like disc attached on the top and the disc is burned black, showing that it has held fire.

It's for when we have processions. We bring fire and light it here, the boy points to the disc. Sometimes it's used for pujas during festivals.


Umm, so I'm wondering if the lines describing the reason for the blackening is meant to be dialogue, cause that's neither proper indirect speech to not have quotations nor does it have quotations like dialogue or direct speech should...so you may want to look into that one there. If I remember correctly, even if you've used italics, you still would have to use quotation marks.

These hills have lost and wandering spirits. He continues, the temple priests light fire here on the disc to cast spells. They chase the spirits away. The fire burns throughout the night.

You can hear them late at night, the spirits. A few times, I have heard lost ones calling out and walking the streets back and forth. Sometimes they call out in the voices of people you know. But you should not open the door. Otherwise, you will fall into a trance, and blindly start to follow them.


Hmm, once again we have that earlier problem with the lack of quotation marks, but umm...since I already mentioned that, moving onto the actual dialogue, that's pretty good, it looks like this is someone that knows a thing or two about this place here. The descriptions of spirits and trances are definitely quite intriguing too, I almost wonder if perhaps we're learning this now cause we might get to see it later on in the story.

He tells me more about his village at the foothills. I listen eagerly as he begins talking about the Mayana Kollai festival; its annual celebrations held in and around the hilly outskirts. He tells me how this hill has been the locus of the religious festival's fanfare and ceremony for years. Effigies of Goddess Angalaamman, adorned in garish finery and flower garlands, are taken on processions and parades throughout the city starting from here. Not only is the hill notorious for lost spirits, it is also the omphalos for nightly revelry and religious rites among devotees of the guardian deity. Chickens and goats are sacrificed to appease the goddess, men and women flail and dance fervently to folk ballads – their faces and bodies smeared with turmeric or kumkuma. But more importantly, the merrymakers and devotees return late at night to the cemetery where vows are fulfilled to the gods, and traditions performed.


Okayy...so I thought this was going to have a lot more things happening, but it looks like these two just stop at this spot and end up chatting away the entire first chapter...and well I don't mind that too much, but you do want to think twice about how much information you're stuffing into this first chapter here. If you end up putting too much, it can get a little boring. Because this part is also really quite small, you want to try and cut down on this a bit more and show a few more things happening.

Aaaaand that's it for this one.

Overall: Overall, not a bad point to start a story. It definitely interests me enough that I would potentially read a second part of this here, but well, there are a couple of issues sprinkled around her like I mentioned above.

As always remember to take what you think was helpful and forget the rest.

Stay Safe
Harry




BetsyJ says...


Harry,
Thank you so much for your review. First of all, yours is the first review i have received here on YWS so it's been exciting for me to read it.

About the gopuram, I added it mainly for two reasons:
a) It helps in grounding the setting in as Indian
b) The themes of uprootedness and not belonging are central...so, in the first paragraph, I thought it could show how the character feels uprooted as they imagine uprooting the gopuram. Also the gopuram looks tiny in the charater's viewpoint...sort of how the character feels ...insignificant and small.

Thank you for your review, and I really loved reading your views.



HarryHardy says...


You're Welcome!! Glad you enjoyed it!!

And I see, those are some interesting points there. :D



BetsyJ says...


Excuse the typo *in after setting in my previous reply.
Also, regarding the quotation marks, yes, I'm aware they've been left out. It was deliberate, but I see your point.

I don't know if you will read part 2, when I post it, which is the final portion of this narrative ( I divided it since it's a bit long to post as one piece), but it has more things happening. Cheers.



HarryHardy says...


Ahh, I see. I did wonder why, cause it was in italics. :D

Hmm, definitely a good plan there, posting something that's around 600-1000 words usually gets the most reviews. And hmm, I may take a look at the second part if I run into it. :D




Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.
— Mark Twain