Two books that take you through ancient temples, into the Ramayana, the all-seeing third eye and the Taj Mahal.
When you see a book called Three Indian Goddesses: The Stories of Kali, Lakshmi and Durga, you assume that this is yet another retelling of mythological stories. But Jamila Gavin springs a surprise with three short stories that have little to do with mythology.
“The Temple by the Sea” has young Shanta growing up in England in the shadow of her cousin Rani. But it is Shanta whom the great Uma Rao chooses to teach dance. Her parents are ecstatic over their daughter's success and Rani is plain jealous. Shanta is invited to perform at a dance festival at a great and ancient temple in India; a temple for Kali. Shanta learns the terrible secret Uma Rao carries and the danger she herself is in. How does she save herself?
“In Monkey in the Stars”, Amrita is taken into the Ramayana by Hanuman during Deepavali to learn how relevant the epic is even today.
“The Girl who rode a Lion” is set in the U.S. The Dalal family seem to have settled down quite well in a foreign land but there are problems that are not being talked about. Anil is being bullied at school and Kiki has no friends. It is new visitor Durga who begins to slowly set things right; though at times both Anil and Kiki think they see a third eye in the middle of Durga's forehead.
While all three stories read quite well, there doesn't seem to be any connection with the goddesses — Kali, Lakshmi and Durga. In the first, the only link is the story behind the ancient temple. The second one is the weakest of the lot. Basing the story on the Ramayana and then trying to link Sita and Lakshmi doesn't really work. In the last, there is no need for the Durga as goddess motif. The story would have worked quite well without the supernatural element. All in all, this one is an average read.
After the disappointing first book, Danger by Moonlight helps raise your spirits. Based on the legend that an Italian Geronimo Veronese was in some way connected with the building of the Taj Mahal, the story opens with young Filippo, Geronimo's youngest son, talking of his father's trip to India. A strange visitor from India and a need to rescue his father from captivity sees Filippo travel to India with the Ocean of the Moon, a wondrous jewel, to help pay ransom for his father. But Filippo gets caught in the intrigue in the Mughal court. Emperor Shah Jahan's sons are jockeying for the throne and each one has supporters who are ready to kill to put his lord on the throne. Will Filippo succeed in rescuing his father or will he fall victim to the greedy courtiers? This one is a page-turner and Jamila Gavin creates an atmosphere of grandeur and intrigue at the royal court with deft touches. This one should hook all those youngsters who are looking for adventure and thrills.
THREE INDIAN GODDESSES: THE STORIES OF KALI, LAKSHMI AND DURGA; DANGER BY MOONLIGHT; Jamila Gavin; Walker Books, U.K., Rs. 199 each