Monideepa Sahu’s book for children, Riddle of the Seventh Stone, shows you the old city like you’ve never seen it
“Adventures need not happen in Hogwarts or Percy Jackson’s land of immortals,” says Monideepa Sahu, who set out to write a different kind of children’s book several years ago. With the idea of setting a fantasy right here in the city, inspired in particular by the pete area after having explored the locality for a newspaper story, Monideepa’s Riddle of the Seventh Stone was born.
A delightful and entertaining peep into the parallel universe of pests, the novel features the old city like you’ve never seen it. With Rishabh the rat and Shashee the spider who find out all of a sudden that they can turn into children by day and go back to being vermin by night, the book takes you on a tour of the area’s bustling commercial spots and historic monuments from the perspective of awestruck children as well as the seemingly insignificant pests that have the run of the city after dark.
Springing from places
“I do write stories, and a lot of them are inspired by places,” says Monideepa. She tells me she didn’t consciously set out to write a story about the pete, but a meeting with a friendly advocate whose mother lived in a 100-year-old house and an elderly man selling rare herbs in a musty old shop on Avenue Road, with a spider dangling unnoticed over his head and a rat scurrying about the store, set the wheels in motion.
Venkat Thatha’s shop, in which the story is set, is home to Rishabh and Shashee, who team up with Venkat Thatha’s grandchildren Deepak and Leela to take on a land shark named, well, Shark, who wants to get his hands on the houses in the neighbourhood so he can put up a mall in their place.
He tricks and harasses many residents into owing him money, and the only way the children can save Venkat Thatha’s home and the neighbourhood is by gathering enough money to pay off these debts. That’s when the shy Rishabh learns of a riddle (passed on in rat folklore) that shows the way to Kempe Gowda’s treasure, hidden in the Bangalore Fort.
The quest to find the treasure, and the obstacles in the children’s way — both physical and psychological— form the plot of the story, moving naturally from one recognisable location to the other (such as K.R. Market and the Jumma Masjid), and incorporating local events such as the car festival of Goddess Annamma. With the flamboyant Shashee stealing much of the limelight, Rishabh, the hard-working and sincere friend to Venkat Thatha and his family, has to overcome his lack of self-confidence in order to help the others get to the treasure before Shark does, with the help of his connections in the vermin world.
There’s plenty to learn along the way; apart from nuggets of history, the novel also deals with ecological concerns, coexistence and the journey to believing in oneself. However, Monideepa denies having an agenda on this front: “I was conscious not to put in a moral in it — I wouldn’t like to read a story with a moral, and I’m sure children wouldn’t want to either,” she says with emphasis.