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Mysteries, Good and Bad

R. Rajagopalan

By Vivek Tandon
Scholastic India, 2008, pp. 351, Rs. 250.00

By Satyajit Ray. Art by Tapas Guha, Script by Subhadra Sen Gupta
Puffin Books, New Delhi, 2009, pp. 40, Rs. 99.00


Vivek Tandon’s book has an interesting beginning—two unlikely characters, a blind musician (Hafiz) and a schoolboy (Pappu), setting out to solve a mystery. The book has a double plot—the recovery of the letters of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal that had been stolen from the National Museum and the illegal export of nuclear parts to Iran. Intrigued by hints of lost treasures, dangerous consignments, and Mumbai’s underworld dons, I was a ready for a page-turner. Alas, I found it difficult to wade through the 350 pages of slow-moving stuff. I would have abandoned the book, if I were not reviewing it. The book suffers from unnecessary characters and superfluous details. For example, all the descriptions of Pappu’s father and his business are irrelevant to the main plot and just make the book more difficult to read.   Apart from a typo right on Page 1, the book contains sentences such as:   ‘In the curve between two of these roads opposite Metro rests a large grey ramshackle old building, five storeys high, sagging and spreading like the lush curves on the giant ghost of a blousy lady.’ (p. 182)   What would a young reader make of this sentence? Nor are sentences like ‘They must be there—if they have not gone by now’ (p. 298) very enlightening.   On the positive side, the reader gets to know about the way Goans and Parsis live in Mumbai. There is also a moving description of the ordinary people of Mumbai helping those stranded on the roads during the flood of 2005.   To be fair to the author, I should admit that I did not correctly guess who the real culprit was, but I had lost interest midway through the book. With the same plot and fewer characters, the author could have written a much more compelling book of 200 pages or less.   Being a children’s book, it would have benefited by making Pappu the main character. Instead, the other characters like the blind man, Pigface (Pappu’s classmate), the art dealer and his daughter dilute Pappu’s role. In effect, there is no clear protagonist that a young reader can identify himself or herself with. This is the author’s first novel and no doubt he is still learning the craft. The two books of Satyajit Ray are a study in contrast. They are very much in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes, with a strong ...

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