In the world where science can provide answers to most questions, the unsolved mysteries of the world intrigue and fascinate us even more. Especially the kids who have completely different levels of inquisitiveness and worlds of imagination. The authors Arthy Muthanna Singh and Mamta Nainy have written the book in the form of a detective novel, finding clues and unravelling the mysteries step by step. They entrust the role of a sleuth to the readers from the very outset so that the onus of analysing the clues rests with the readers. In the beginning the book gives the feel of the NCERT ancient history book but only simpler and plainer sailing.
There are twelve and a half stories in the book tracing a long period of history from the ancient ones like the doom of the cities of Muziris and Mathura, Harappan civilization to the latter day mysteries like that of the Padmanabhswamy Temple vaults. Both the authors have immense experience writing children’s books in a way which not only can inculcate the interest of book reading in the children but also adds up to their knowledge about vital topics like introducing important personalities like Gandhi through anecdotes and the retelling of Jataka tales rather than the preachy moral science books.
Since childhood I have been hearing and reading the enthralling tales about the great Mogul peacock throne, Koh-i-noor diamond and about Tipu’s swords which created enormous enquiry bubbles in my head then but had no one stop source to settle the queries. This book has all those stories at a single place, well researched, well placed in space and time and catering to a wider audience, not just children.
The book appends tantalizing stories of the Bhimbetka and the Ajanta Caves, and the Kanishka Caskets with meticulous details. The details given are so vivid and arresting that the lack of corresponding graphics and illustrations in the book irks the reader. Although there are page-long line sketches on the title page of the respective stories, these illustrations do no justice to the grandeur and popping curiosity with the reading.
The book has some stories which are enlargements of the earlier stories. One such associated string of fables is about where a casket containing the relics of the Buddha’s bones is found along with about 1,600 small jewels and gold pieces in Piprahwa village in Eastern Uttar Pradesh in 1898. Through this watershed discovery, historians could ascertain the location of the ancient city of Kapilavastu although the claim is still contested internationally. The book covers all such debates in great depth along with all the recent developments around the issues. This is the case with all the thirteen stories since most of them deal with excavations, thefts, cities falling off and reappearing on the map, rumoured narratives of the rise and fall of empires, where it becomes all the more important to keep the reader updated about the neoteric breakthroughs. On the successive progression of the stories these details become complex, supplemented by an inordinate amount of facts, which may make the book a heavy read for the children but this same thing makes it a gem for the older ones.
The story about the quandaries behind the theft of Tagore’s Nobel medal also contains some eerie connections with other such thefts of Nobel medals of Ernest O Lawrence, Arthur Henderson, Kay Miller and Kailash Satyarthi. Similar astounding and uncanny links of prophecy and curse are drawn in the stories of the Ajanta Caves and the Koh-i-noor diamond. It provides that whosoever tried to possess the replicas of the cave drawings or in the other case, the Koh-i-noor itself, had witnessed dilapidations and led empires to fall.
All the stories leave the reader with elbow room to alternative endings, possible scope for uncharted histories and unaddressed questions in the form of a ‘conclusion’ paragraph. The last story is terminated with myriad interpretations only to be pondered further by the readers and thus categorized as a half story. The stories are supplemented with riveting facts and related definitions boxed in between the main text. The authors have dealt with the history and the associated facts very carefully without endorsing any ideological position. History can be intimidating and boring sometimes, we tend to think that there is an ocean of things which are beyond us and are arduous and innominate. But this book obliterates that phobia and helps children and even adults to approach the subject more scientifically and in an exhilarating way.
Sabah Hussain is a PhD Scholar in the Department Of Political Science, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.