A detective workshop for children brings together young strangers to think, argue, theorise, agree and disagree till they reach a solution

Show me a kid who doesn’t want to be a detective, growing up. And show me an eight-year-old who isn’t excited by ghosts! Stringing the two intrigues together is Shweta Taneja, who recently conducted a “ghostly detective workshop” for kids in Bangalore.

The petite young Bangalore-based author who’s written The Ghost Hunters of Kurseong launches her book in this smart move where the workshops are based on characters of the book. But you needn’t have already read it to participate!

The mood is set with the story unfolding on a rainy night on a tea estate with a “bloodcurdling scream”. There’s Mrs. Banerjee, her lost necklace, blood marks and all. There’s Timpu, the security guard, shaken on seeing a ghost, and prime suspect. Kartik, the 12-year-old detective sets out to investigate.

At Atta Galatta’s airy rooftop gazebo, lost dreamily to the hustle-bustle of the surrounding Koramangala, three groups of four kids each, aged between six and 12 are sprawled on comfy quilts, listening in to Shweta with all curiosity as she sets out the task for them — prove Timpu’s innocence. Shweta has handed out the case details (which I cannot reveal, strictly being under the author’s oath) on a sheet of yellow paper, giving a hint on what kind of questions they should be asking to solve the mystery. There are five clues, some visual, some audio, an anagram to solve. There’s a bonus clue — that one question you’re itching to ask, to which Shweta can only reply with a yes or no!

“The thing about mysteries is that you have to constantly be at it,” she encourages them gently, as they struggle with one clue, going back and forth, hoping for a hint, sometimes looking disappointed that they haven’t yet unravelled the clue. “When you’re trying to solve a mystery, you must talk to each other and figure it out together,” she eggs them on, when one of the groups has a splinter. Each group goes back into a huddle, trying to unscramble the anagram. “We’ve got it!,” screams an excited young man, calling Shweta aside to whisper the answer in her ear and check if he’s correct. When Shweta nods an excited “yes”, he’s beaming…and the group moves on to build their story. Like the book’s detective Kartik, who takes the help of his friends Opus and Tashi to solve the mystery, so must the participants of the workshop. “Friends who’ve come in together to the workshop have been split, so they are in different groups. So most of these kids don’t know each other. And that’s the point of the workshop. It’s about developing interpersonal skills, figuring things out as a group, making new friends. They must take ownership of their story and come up with their own theory. They must start plotting. That’s how I did it,” smiles Shweta.

One bright young thing in all sweet innocence, has a valid doubt: “Do you know the answer?” he asks Shweta. And before it can hit her, another smart kid replies “Of course man, she made the story!” A quick short spell of laughter disrupts the serious endeavour. And then they all realise time’s a ticking and they need to move fast.

Once they think they’ve cracked all five clues, they need to draw out their theory, as a sketch or comic strip. While everyone offers their theories and solutions, some sit down to draw…stick figures emerge… there’s Mrs. Banerjee lying on the ground, smattered with blood.

The kids are engrossed in the clues, drawn into animated discussions that begin to take the shape of arguments towards the end of the workshop. Some are in deep thought, some are miffed, some are so sure they have the answer! When Shweta calls them to gather around her for the solution, each group offers its theory. Most are close, but for a detail here or there. And then it’s Shweta’s revelation time…

The workshop was free of cost, and kids could buy a copy of the book and have it signed by the author. To know more check staneja.com/ghosthunters/