A movie in the making, three kids, a business magnate and some precious gems…a good mix to keep you turning pages.
Asha Nehemiah's latest offering is the second in the Mystery series, the first one being on the secret hair oil formula. There are two distinct strands to the storyline in The Mystery of the Silk Umbrella: the plum coloured silk umbrella of the title plays a vital role in Roopa Mani's film. It acts up and the film director is insistent only this umbrella can be used in the rest of the shots! And thus is woven the first silken thread in the skein of the plot.
Little Arjun and Divya meet up with Malli their ingenious friend and together the trio set to work. To T. Satyavan, the mysterious business magnate, the same prop revives childhood memories of his mom's efforts to stash away precious gems and so he is keen on getting hold of it.
The parallel strand is about Shantha, a do-gooder scientist and a friend of farmers and tribals, who had kept a batch of mutant Hullagullabul seeds and these are stolen by Bambaram Jones (short for Dr. Ambarnath Janardhanam, in fact he was also known as Bambi Jones!). We are dealing with bio-warfare here for, the seeds when randomly planted in populated areas can give people severe allergies and breathing problems.
The two stories converge at the temple tank in Malli, smart young granddaughter of Paati and friend of Arjun and Divya. Ambujam Paati had in her salad days been a stunt double in films and knew a few tricks like using a whip, throwing a knife, et al. She runs Jaam Jaam Costume rental shop and the signboard reads: The only thing that comes free in this shop is my “Thank you” when you pay. Roopa directs a period film, OKK (Oru Kottaiyin Kavidhai meaning The Poem About a Fort)set against the backdrop of revolt which took place in Vellore Fort in 1806.
There is gentle humour and wit running through the novel ,whether it is in the names of the characters or the situations. Pan O' Cake is a glorified pancake leaning more toward the cake, and Shantha's Traffic Light dosas are topped with three varieties of chutney — mint, coconut and spicy chilli!
Neither is there a dearth of action or adventure — at one point the children and Paati are gagged and tied to the chairs and a bomb is ticking away to explode barely a few feet away. The villains are portrayed using such gentle brushstrokes they do not come across as vile — and are referred to as Mountain of Blubber, Fat plum pudding who did his Masters in idiocy and a Doctorate in stupidity.
In sum, the book keeps the reader agog till the end with a good plot and suspense, a cheerful storyline that trips and traipses like a pixie, a lightness of touch which invests the narrative with a delightful humour in a language that is simple and yet elegant and characters who amaze you with their naïveté and sheer goodnaturedness (Divya's Vellore salwar kameez!) Shalinee Ghosh's simple illustrations provide the right visual relief.
THE MYSTERY OF THE SILK UMBRELLA by Asha Nehemiah, Scholastic, Price Rs 150
Keywords: children's literature