The Thornbirds

I was talking to Manjiri about The Thornbirds. She had not read the book and I lent her my copy to read.

Very few books have touched me the way this book has… and I must also say, the mini series shall forever be connected in my heart and mind to my paternal aunts and to my grandmother. I had first seen it when I was between ten or eleven maybe… I remember sitting and explaining the scenes to my gran, because she couldn’t understand the language. I remember explaining to her, way back then about how the relationship with God was portrayed… who knew I could do that then? Maybe even I didn’t know what I was explaining to my gran completely and what she gleaned from the translations.

Of course, I didn’t understand the layers of conflict, and I couldn’t really understand Mary the way I understand her now. I saw her as this terrible villain who sought to corrupt the priest by any means possible, and I didn’t ascribe a lot to the sexual element running through the book. I catered to the Ralph de Bricassart ideal of the Rose and the untainted platonic love that he idealised. I got that, alright. I understood the fringes of blood and pain and chaos much, much later…

The book and series is linked to my eldest paternal aunt. She loved the series and I couldn’t help but think about all the times I spent re-reading and re-watching The Thornbirds. Today, I can sit with my mom and aunt and watch the series, and when they question the temerity of Mary Carson, and loathe the ambitious streak of Luke O’Neil, I give a half smile, sated in the knowledge that these things happen and one can do nothing to prevent them from happening. We are as helpless as Megan when she lashes out in anger or when she gives the marriage all she has and then some.

I spoke about it with my best friend in college and she read it and she loved the work, too. I haven’t loved any other book by McCullough as much as I do this one. But then there are few books that stand out through time for me. This happens to be one of them. I have been surrounded by strong female characters in my life and this book speaks of such strong women: Mary, Fee, Meggie and Justine … in essence, then, it is only right that I consciously or unconsciously, share it with all the women in my life.

The tragedy of love and its upliftment is quintessential to this work. Meggie rises, like the thornbird she personifies. The line of courage, resilience, hope and love that she epitomizes is something so intrinsic to what humanity should have and hold. The music by Henry Mancini for the TV series is haunting and takes me back immediately to a time when I had all of Meggie’s verve and hope, so it is doubly poignant because the epic quality of her character shines out when she has the capacity to forgive, forgive the darkest moment in her life. She remains someone worthy to be emulated – and I am glad that I lived through a time when I could see her heroism and I could ingrain a part of it within.

And yes, despite the fact, that there are conditions and circumstances that we cannot help in the making, we can deal with them as Megan does: wear the best darn dress we have, and walk away from a situation we tried our best to succeed at but couldn’t, and in so doing, keep what is bestowed and look to a tomorrow with whatever hope remains in our favour.

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