Atisa and the Time Machine - In search of Kalidasa
Author - Anu Kumar, Illustrator - Priya Kurian
Publisher - Jaico Books
Ages - 12+
When the whiff of history is still in the air, I thought it would be appropriate to present the book review of this new book on the stands. This is the third book in the series of Atisa and his adventures.
Atisa, a teenage boy, has been on various adventures already in his time travelling flying machine (the earlier adventures are detailed in Atisa and the Seven Wonders and Adventures with Hieun Tsang). This machine has magically transported him to various eras, making him come in contact with the significant historical characters of that time period and partake of the adventures of their time.
Now, Atisa is summoned to the Gupta period, through a distress call for help, which his special sound catchers capture. It is the reign of King Vikramaditya and a pot pourri of events unfold at the same time. The king is on his way back to the kingdom after defeating the Saka tribes. Something sinister is afoot in the capital, which the king is completely unaware of. The astronomer Varahamihira is concerned about the superstitions of the people surrounding the forthcoming eclipse. There is a mysterious man, whom everyone is trying to protect by all means and his identity is kept a closely guarded secret from Atisa. Then there is a funny trader who pops in and out of Atisa's present and the past going back 1800 years. This is the situation in which Atisa lands.
Atisa's flying machine comes like a boon to the good people of the Gupta period. They seek his help in getting across secret messages and scrolls to concerned people. The story is all about Atisa's adventures, where he crosses path with numerous interesting people like - the path finders who are adept in finding the ways through the dense jungles, the astronomer Varahamihira and his daughter Lilavati, the crucial 'gems' of the Vikramaditya's court one of whom is the missing person and Fa-hsien, the Chinese monk who happens to be in India then. The attitudes, fears and the belief systems of the people of those times, are revealed beautifully through the story.
The book has multiple angles, all of which come together in the end. It is pretty apparent that the author has done a lot of research to bring in the various elements of that period together in this fictious tale. For a person who would have just read the facts of the Gupta period, the book would be a delight as it strings the information together in a story garland. It motivates us to seek more information of that time period.
I personally would have liked to see the actual facts of the Gupta period presented briefly in the end or in bubbles through the book, like some historical fiction books do. So even if I pick the book without any knowledge of the historical background, I could have understood the context better with this. For example, a litte more information about the king and his dynasty, the nine gems of the Vikramaditya's court or a brief write up of the famous temple in Deogarh which comes up in the story, would have made it more interesting. A tighter editing would have been welcome too.
Priya Kurian's wonderful illustrations which give life to Anu's words, pop up every few pages. If you are a history buff, it is not a book to be missed. History, Fantasy, Mystery - all rolled into a single package! To know more about the author, you can read this interview with Anu Kumar and her recent writeup for CROCUS 2014.
(The book was received as a Review copy from Jaico Publishers, but the views expressed are purely mine)