Thursday, May 29, 2014


Title: The Treasure of Kafur
Author: Aroon Raman
Publisher: Pan Macmillan India
Pages: 400

It was Rudyard Kipling who said, “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” After reading The Treasure of Kafur by Aroon Raman, you will find yourself nodding vigorously.

The premise of the book, however, is far from historical. Raman has taken a single character from the hoary pages of history, the merest slice of our illustrious past, and peopled that colourful world and time using the strength of his own intelligence and imagination.

In this strange, anthropormorphic world, there are people who are capable of understanding and interpreting the language of animals and birds. The creatures themselves speak lucidly and coherently, and are capable of strategising and detailed planning.

It is a little disconcerting initially, this talking by animals in what seems to be historical fiction, not fantasy, but after a while, one gives in to it and begins to find the whole premise very believable. Such is the force of Raman’s writing.

The story begins in the early 14th century, when a warrior named Kafur is hiding an enormous treasure. The exercise of hiding that treasure is conducted in the dead of the night, and all those who are involved in putting the treasure away willingly put themselves to death in order to maintain secrecy. And yet, more than 270 years later, the knowledge of the existence of that treasure becomes the reason for spilling blood and unleashing carnage across the length and breadth of Hindustan.

At the height of Akbar’s reign, there are still those that are not under his sway. The fiercest of Akbar’s foes is Asaf Baig, the despotic ruler of Khandesh, who fills his treasure even as people die of hunger. Adept at reading minds, he comes to know that an old woman named Ambu knows where Kafur’s treasure lies hidden. That treasure which could finance the biggest and longest running war against Akbar.

When Asaf abducts Ambu, in an attempt to wrest the knowledge from her, Dattatreya, her 20-year-old grandson, tries to get Akbar to help him find his grandmother and save himself.

What follows are a series of adventures, spread across the nation, as Datta and his friends, Aditi, the cow, Manas, the tortoise, Kanka and Shukra, the ravens, and their flock of birds, and Sheherezad, the coloured parrot, set out to foil Asaf Baig’s attempts and rescue Ambu. On the way, they meet Raja Man Singh, who takes them under his wing. To add to the difficulty of their journey, it becomes known that Datta’s life faces threat at the hands of an ancient race of cannibalistic and bloodthirsty tantriks.

Another good feature of this book is that the minor characters are as well developed as the lead ones. Raman has invested almost as much energy in building up the characters of Dilawer, Inayat Khan, Rahmatullah Khan, the Aulia etc, not to forget Datta's non-human friends. Read the book to find out more about all these interesting characters.

As the female lead, Ahilya, the daughter of Raja Man Singh, is a delight. Her skills in archery are crucial to the story and helpful to rescue the hero.

I particularly liked the many friendships in this story, between Datta and the animals, Datta and Dilawar, the understanding between Datta and Akbar, and the fledgling friendship between Datta and Ahilya.

Building on many of the legends associated with Emperor Akbar, Raman builds the Mughal leader into a man of almost mythical attributes. His bravery in battle, his habit of moving about his kingdom incognito, in order to better understand the pulse of the common people, and the respect and honour he accords to Rana Pratap, a brave son of India, helps his stature in the eyes of the reader.

The plot is tightly constructed, and the writing sweeps you along into the mood of the story into another time, a few centuries ago when India was not a nation but a loose collection of principalities and kingdoms. Before you know it, you are as much a part of Datta’s band as his non-human friends are. 

The mock battle scene where Datta’s prowess at directing animals and birds is witnessed by Man Singh serves to show off the famed Mughal penchant for stratagem. Raman also does a great job of recreating the war room hustle inside the Mughal camp. I also liked the encounter that a disguised Akbar has with Rana Pratap. It shows the greatness of both the rivals.

The author has also taken great pains and conducted a lot of research to recreate the life and times of 16th century India.

Nothing puts me off as much as Indian words set in italics. And Raman melds Indian words here into the drama, inviting readers to decipher their meanings as they go along.

In this curious and strange time, the enemy is everywhere, in rival principalities and superstition-led tantriks alike. Raman manages to recreate the sense of discomfort and the perils of following the scent of an adventure in these difficult times.

The only negative elements in this story are the many grammatical errors that dot several pages. The chronological narrative also takes a slight beating when Shukra lands with a message at Ahilya’s quarters first, and later, we hear of Akbar telling Datta to send that same message. I really wish these errors had been taken care of by the publishers. They tend to draw away from the quality of a good book.

The story ends at the cusp of a fresh new adventure, with Raja Man Singh forcing his daughter to undertake a marriage alliance that her heart opposes, one that Datta must rescue her from.

Hopefully Raman will oblige.

(I received a copy of this book from the author, in exchange for a fair review.)

1 comment:

  1. Once again a good review Cynthia. Will try to read the book if I get hold of it.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...