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Ranjana Kaul

By Monideepa Sahu
Young Zubaan, New Delhi, 2010, pp. 178, 195.00

By Anu Kumar
Puffin Books, New Delhi, 2010, pp. 110, 175.00


Riddle of the Seventh Stone is an engaging book with unlikely protagonists drawn from the world of vermin and insects, a world which humans generally tend to ignore or treat with disgust and repulsion. The book straddles these two antithetical yet interdependent worlds with ease through its unlikely heroes, the rat Rishabh and the bossy spider Shashee (spelt with a double 'e' for astrological reasons!) who find themselves catapulted unwillingly into the world of humans. Rishabh and Shashee live in the dark, obscure corners of kindly fuddled old Venkat's musty shop which is full of mysterious herbs and medicines. The existence of the shop, which is like a peaceful refuge amidst the hustle-bustle of modern day Bangalore is threatened by the unscrupulous 'shiftyeyed…slimeball' known simply as the Shark. He preys on old insecure property owners, loans them money and gradually forces them out of their small shops and homes so that he can sell the land to big-time property developers. The rat and the spider, who find themselves magically transformed into humans, try to protect the simple, kind-hearted Venkat. The story goes through some interesting twists and turns as they, together with Venkat's orphaned grandchildren Deepak and Leela and a whole army of vermin and rodents, take on the scar-faced Shark and defeat him soundly. There is also the added excitement of a treasure hunt as Rishabh, Shashee and their friends try to unravel historical clues which literally lead them to a pot of gold. Sahu manages to bring alive the two parallel worlds of humans and the creepy crawlies. When the vermin gather in the Vidhan Soudha for a meeting they take over the entire venerable building. 'In the dead of the night, the vermin had the place all to themselves. The cockroaches trooped out upon the rows of benches to cheer. The mosquitoes hummed a musical chorus from under the seats. The lizards on the panelled walls ticked a lively beat to celebrate this historic event.' Evidently the building which is the seat of power for humans during the day belongs to other species during the night. It is the author's ability to bring each character to life and make him or her an individual which sets this book apart. Sahu populates the narrative with characters who have their own distinct personalities and mannerisms. There is the wise and brave old bandicoot who counsels Rishabh, Balu, ...

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