By Abhinita Mohanty:
Book reviews are written to give the reader a trailer of the book and says why one should read it. But it’s also essential to see how far it’s connected to a world out there and how it’s the society that inspires a book. In this book review, I have tried to do that which makes it a little different. Every book of Khaled Hosseini, through its myriad characters, depicts the common theme of love and sacrifice against a backdrop of violence in Afghanistan. A humane side is depicted against the larger political and social tragedies. But his third book ‘And The Mountains Echoed’ is a little different. This book revolves around the story of love between two siblings but there is no depiction of violence, rather the pain of separation owing to unusual circumstances. Poverty, the greatest malady in all developing countries, echoes as a tragedy in the first few chapters and the story itself unfolds due to the inescapable poor condition in which one of the characters is deeply submerged. Saboor had to sell his daughter to a rich couple so that not only she gets a better life, but also their own lives are saved from starvation and death. “A coward who would see them all die rather than burden his own conscience”.
‘A finger must be cut to save the hand’, this recurring quotation has become a real life drama for all those parents in different parts of the world who are selling their own children due to harrowing poverty. Poverty is one of the biggest causes of child trafficking. Many parents had to choose whom to sell so that others won’t starve. The decision is so difficult. “I can’t do it,” she said to her husband, “neither could I” Baba Ayub began to say. But they had to choose at least one child so that others are saved. Selling of children is rampant in many Asian countries. The number of children who are sold by their hapless parents are reduced to statistics and buried in reports. What Hosseini shows is the humane side of this tragedy; which changes the lives of all those involved. It brings about an unbearable burden of conscience among such parents. ‘…and Baba Ayub stood there, muttering, “Forgive me, forgive me”’. And the reaction of those children who, with no fault of their own, are snatched from their natal homes. “….as his beloved Qais pounded his small fists on it, crying for Baba to let him back in….” and the psychological trauma that the siblings had to go through. “But there was no forgetting. Pari hovered, unbidden, at the edge of Abdullah’s vision. She was like the dust that clung to his shirt”.
Parents would rather hope to see their children far away, healthy and happy, rather sad and sick with them and sharing their misfortune. “Something that though painful in the short term, would lead to a greater long term good for all involved” and “…that cruelty and benevolence are but shades of the same colour”. Many parents sell their children with such hopes but unlike the protagonist in the story, Pari, many end up worse; as sex slaves, bonded labourers or end up in abusive homes and orphanages. Out of the 3 millions prostitutes in India, 1.2 millions are children. Each year, more than 1 million children are exploited in the global commercial sex trade. According to reports, everyday around a million children go missing i.e.; go untraceable as they end up in horrible circumstances. A 2003 project by Human Rights Watch has reported a major problem with bonded child labour in the silk industry. Official figures include a 1993 estimate of 251,000 bonded labourers. Statistics of women in India 2010, NIPCCD Reports that 11.08% (2001) child labour are in hazardous occupation.
Many international adoptions that take place, in many instance, do not follow the legal procedure. In such adoptions, no one can guarantee that the child will be treated well once they cross the nation’s border. The development scheme has failed to include the poor and shows only superficial growth indices like GNP, GDP, etc. The myth of economic development becomes evident when we look at the recent declaration by NSSO that in India, on an average, the rural poor earn rupees 17 per day whereas the urban poor live with rupees 27! In a situation like this, every family member is an extra burden on the earning member(s). The poor has usually no desire or awareness to adopt family planning methods. Many even think that children are god’s gift, even if they do not possess the capacity to raise them. More children for this family practically mean more risks. Many do not live even to complete their first week. Those children, who manage to survive, are diseased due to lack of nutrition. In this book too, is depicted an instance where a small baby dies in the brutal winter due to lack of warm clothes and good nutrition. Infant mortality rate is very high in most developing countries due to many reasons. People, who are caught up in poverty for no fault of their own, become vulnerable to all sorts of exploitation. To cite real life example, the govt. has established many hospitals and health centres especially targeting the poor. But the reality is that many die due to deliberate medical negligence. And the greatest tragedy lies in the fact that the so called ‘free govt. medicals’ many times demand money for treatment, even when it is a crime. For the poor, nothing comes free! “Nothing good came for free. Even love. You paid for all things. And if you were poor suffering was your currency”. So, to sum up, Infant Mortality Rates are high, poverty is like a never ending cycle and with ‘free medical’ mostly on paper, it’s not surprising to hear that 44000 children disappear each year in India.
Though some are traced, one in four remain untraceable. 1.8 billion children under the age of 18 are under risk all over the world. According to a recent report, in Faisalabad, one Ghulam Rasool and his wife Khalida Bibi sold their infant to a childless person, Shaukat Rehmani of Daska village. Ghulam Rasool told The Express Tribune that “we could not take care of such a young child due to our poverty. He would keep crying”. Such people cannot even take care of the basic necessities of their or their child!
Removal of poverty can only reduce the selling of children. The govt., instead of advertising economic growth, must tackle the poverty index and understand its complexities. Only when free health facilities become actually implemented or operationalised, the children can be properly taken care of. Family planning awareness camps should consist of individuals who are well trained, educated, patient and have the capacity to convince. Every poverty ridden household need to be a special target for implementing such methods.
Child trafficking, or any form of illegal national and international adoptions or selling in exchange for money should be checked and invested by a separate, autonomous body that could report the situations to the government. The children rescued anywhere within or outside the nation in worse condition should be the responsibility of the state. These children should be put in a particular govt. sponsored institution and all basic needs of their education, nutrition, leisure, development and vocational training should be given.
Poverty, though is shown as reason of despair in the book in the initial chapters, yet in later parts the lives of many individuals’ characters are depicted. The author does not give any instance in the novel which would justify the title of the book, except that he mentions in the acknowledgement section that the title is inspired by Blake’s poem ‘Nurse Song’. The last line of the poem says “and the hills echoed” referring to the voices of innocent children playing in the dusk. The two innocent children or the siblings who played and loved each other were separated brutally by fate (or poverty) and lost each other. The mountain (which echoes usually with laughter of children) felt silent or echoed in mourning. Thus, the title is rather ironical with a background of the sorrow of separation and intense poverty that is found in many third world nations today.
Author: Khaled Hosseini
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publications
Price: Rs. 599
Statistics of women in India 2010, NIPCCD Report. 11.08% (2001) child labour in hazardous occupation.
‘Debt Bondage in India’ Wikipedia