Going through the first few chapters I was tempted to ask whether Aroon Raman’s latest was fantasy or adventure because the hero is just 19 and accompanied by a troop of animal friends, a cow, a tortoise and a pair of ravens with whom he seems to be able to converse quite easily. It took a little time adjusting to that, but not too much since the animals are not too busy being twee and, in fact, so little time is given to their animalism that they could just as well be human.
It is 1580 and the ruler of Khandesh, the despotic Asaf Baig is gathering forces together to rise up against the Emperor Akbar who in twenty years of rule has made many enemies. Baig has got wind of the fabulous lost treasure of Malik Kafur. Once he lays his hands on the treasure he can buy mercenaries galore and fund indestructible armies. Datta’s grandmother Ambu, a wise woman is reputed to know where the treasure lies and Baig is determined to get the secret out of her. Datta is Baig’s key to extracting information from Ambu and warned by a vision, Datta and his friends flee. Their aim is to reach Agra and warn the Emperor about Baig’s plans.
Baig has his troops on Datta’s trail and has managed to take Ambu prisoner. The result is a breathless tale of adventure counterpointed by the mysticism of Datta’s ability to communicate with his four animal friends and a flamboyant parrot called Scheherazade who becomes the brains behind Datta’s flight from Khandesh. Akbar also comes into the story and plays an active part in saving his empire with heroic feats and a wisdom that equals the parrot’s!
Along the way Datta encounters Rajah Man Singh and his beautiful and brave daughter Ahilya who is an accomplished archer and makes a new friend. Raman in an interview refers to Treasure of Kafur as a thriller, but that genre fits his first novel Shadow Throne far better. With its mix of derring do and suspense, hit and run and snatch and grab, The Treasure of Kafur is rich in the elements that make for a good adventure on the lines of King Solomon ‘s Mines – for want of a better example. While Indian literature used to be rich in adventure stories set in the past, Indian literature in English is only discovering the form now.
Its advantage is that it straddles age groups. Mixing fantasy and suspense into a blend that is likely to have wide ranging appeal. The question is whether all the animals are really necessary – one could have had much the same effect with a conspiracy of trained ravens swooping down to take out enemy elephants and other such. But that is a minor quibble – most readers are likely to riffle through the pages for the sheer thrill of it, ignore whatever they don’t care for and look forward to the sequel of which there is a definite hint with overtones of romance to come and more treasure to be found.
The Treasure of Kafur by Aroon Raman
Published by Pan Macmillan India, December 2013
|Buy book online