Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Riddle of the Seventh Stone

On this Thanksgiving Day, we would like to take the opportunity to express our heartfelt gratitude to all our readers for the love and support you have been offering us over the last four years. As a way to say thank you, we would like to extend an invitation to contribute to our blog. The guest review feature will be published sometime during the last week of every month. Thanks!

The first one comes from the author of Gind, Harini Gopalswami Srinivasan. Thank you, Harini for reaching out to us with a cheerful pick from Zubaan Books, and a very refreshing review of the same!

Author: Monideepa Sahu
Illustator : Pooja Pottenkulam
Picture Source:

The Riddle of the Seventh Stone is the story of Rishabh and Shashee, a rat and a spider, who accidentally get sprinkled with a magical herb in the shop where they live and are changed into human children. Outraged though they are at this fate, they soon make friends with the Deepak and Leela, the shop-owner’s grandchildren, and become involved in their concerns. Not least of these is the villany of the Shark, an evil money-lender cum real estate developer, who is harassing their Thatha. The children discover that he is plotting to squeeze out the residents of all the old houses on Avenue Road, demolish them and build an enormous mall over the graves of all the vermin, who will of course never survive such a ‘development’. The vermin get together with the humans to unearth King Kempegowda’s treasure and outwit the Shark. Will they succeed in saving their ancestral homes? Read on to find out!

So what’s special about this book? First off, the humour. It’s rarely that one comes across a book that makes a bold departure from reality and pulls it off. I’m not talking about fantasy, where more or less anything goes as long as there is internal consistency, but books set in the ordinary workaday world, with the rules unexpectedly changed, as in Alice in Wonderland, or Hugh Lofting’s Doctor Doolittle series. This departure from our normal experience is dealt with so matter-of-factly that one accepts the underlying assumptions without having to strain one’s reserves of credulity. At the same time the events that occur are so absurd that you are giggling to yourself right through the book. Monideepa Sahu’s book has this same distortion of the familiar that gives everything a delicious novelty.

Another very satisfying element of the book is the excellent characterization. The human characters like Deepak and Leela, Thatha, Ajji and Constable Balu are recognizable and lovable. But there is nothing sentimental about them, and Ajji’s own war against the vermin population has to be countered by Leela’s quick thinking. The kind woolly Thatha is a perfect foil for the housewifely and slightly tyrannical Ajji, just as Shashee’s astringent manner and sense of superiority are a foil for Rishabh’s eagerness and diffidence. Of course the vermin are the best! The Big Bandicoot is a wonderfully memorable character and Pooja Pottenkulam’s drawing, on p. 108, of the bandicoot biting the clerk’s thick hairy ankle is so funny it deserves a medal. (Another illustration that had me in splits was Rishabh taking a bath on p. 54.)

Parents will also welcome the sound values woven into the narrative, but so subtly that young readers will never suspect it of being good for them. There is the touching friendship between Rishabh and Geeta that teaches you that beauty is skin deep and what matters is the person inside. In fact, Geeta, with her face that is ‘perfectly round like a manhole cover’, is the rat’s ideal of beauty. Similarly, Leela’s warm caring nature could easily be an example to us all. Without being in the least priggish, or even thinking about it, she pitches in to help Ajji and Thatha when they are tired, stoutly supports Rishabh when he is overwhelmed, and appreciates the good in everyone. Rishabh, who is acutely aware of his own shortcomings, is able to rise above them only with the encouragement given to him by Leela and the Big Bandicoot. Conservation is another central theme of the book, with a case being made out for preserving old buildings, old ways of life, other species, and all kinds of waste. Old Bangalore is lovingly painted in a way that will gladden the hearts of old Bangaloreans and others who remember less plastic times. The history and social fabric of the city – its founding by Kempegowda, Tipu’s occupation, and its waves of immigrants, including the Sindhi community after Partition, and their assimilation – are lightly touched on and woven effortlessly into the narrative. Avenue Road, that chaotic and wonderful centre of commerce, is almost a character all by itself. The descriptions of the old ‘tunnel houses’ with their courtyards sporting tulsi plants and the hot water cauldron embedded in the bathroom will hopefully provide the ‘mall generation’ a new perspective on their city.

All this and yet so much sheer fun! Monideepa Sahu’s delightful debut book should be prescribed reading for all school age children. I for one have decided to put it firmly on my list of gifts to keep in stock, and am eagerly looking forward to her next!


Choxbox said...

Thanks Harini for this review. Enjoyed reading it, and will pick up this book ASAP.

The child here will relate to it I bet, given that we haunt Avenue Road fairly often (we love the bustling bazaars around) and is aware of one of our acquaintances going through a legal battle over ancestral property in the area with a big builder.

sathish said...

Harini,Thanks for the wonderful review.
I am glad that the book is based on the real Avenue Road, Bangalore. It should be a great hit with bangaloreans(hope so!).

sandhya said...

Would love to get my hands on this book, both for myself and for A.
A wonderful review, Harini. Avenue road and Chickpet here in Bangalore, Tulsibaug, Sadashivpeth in Pune, and similar areas in Mumbai have been favourite browsing haunts. Better than malls anyday.
Chox, saw this book in piles at the library the other day, for sale. Will pick it up when I go there next.

Vibha said...

Thanks Harini for this lovely review. Zubaan books are highly appreciated here.
I guess children in B'lore will be thrilled to read the names of places that they have actually seen.

artnavy said...

"Avenue Road, that chaotic and wonderful centre of commerce, is almost a character all by itself"

That is enough for me to pick up the book. Thanks Harini

Choxbox said...

We got this book and totally agree with your review Harini. What a book!

It was a big hit with the child. She has been writing a play for her theatre club and has named one of the key characters (who is supposed to be ‘clever and creative') Monideepa Sahu!

monideepa said...

Thanks Harini and Saffron Tree for this lovely review. I'm blushing every shade of red and purple at Choxbox's latest comment.Immortalized in a play as someone 'clever and creative.' Awesome!!! A warm virtual handshake across cyberspace to "The child here,"

Choxbox said...

Thanks Monideepa! Will pass on the warm handshake :)

We also read ‘Dracula’s Diwali’ in Scholastic’s anthology of Diwali Stories recently. It led to a discussion on what Chandana must have felt like after the point where the story ended.

monideepa said...

Thanks Choxbox. This is such an exciting blog. Always a pleasure to find book lovers, especially youn 'uns. Appreciate you all.

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