Title: The Case of the Vanishing Gods: An M4 Mystery Book 1
Author: Mallika Ravikumar
Publisher: Talking Cub, an imprint of Speaking Tiger Books
No. of pages: 264
Age: 10 years+
This was unputdownable.
The book starts with Malhar, bored during the summer holidays and seeking adventure. The adventure presents itself when the Shenoys have a robbery in their house. All the jewelry that the Shenoys had, is stolen. The raddiwalla chatting with Malhar’s Ajji is lamenting how the house help is now under suspicion and that she couldn’t have done it.
Malhar now has a case that promises to sweep the summer boredom away. But he can’t do it alone. Enter Meera, Malhar’s elder sister. The Sherlock Holmes to the Doctor Watson. But how will the two of them, sheltered in the high-rises of a city, navigate the world outside?
Mirchi, casually introduced into the story, quickly joins the gang, and brings with him his lovable dog Munna. Belonging to the Valmiki caste, his family has since long been cleaning the waste created by the upper castes, and therefore initially apprehensive of the two rich brats who want access to his world. But Meera’s kindness and egalitarian views, quickly wins him over.
And that’s how M4 is born.
Thus begins an exciting pursuit, that takes them to the dark innards of a police station, the dazzling world of a shopping mall in another part of the town, a factory that reminds them of Ali Baba’s cave, and even a step-well that resembles “Rani ki vaav” – the only step-well built by a queen, in Patan – my home-town.
The vivid characters are brought to life beautifully, leaving me eager to see what happens to them next. Malhar as a young boy, from being out to simply live his favourite books, to becoming a more aware young boy who wants to do the right thing. Meera the kind elder sister who wants an equal world. But my heart was all for Mirchi, the street-smart rag-picker, with his Bumbaiyya lingo and the courage of a lion.
Even Mrs. Ghosh, a student of Satyanveshi, the truth seeker, Mr. Byomkesh Bakshi, is endearing in the few scenes she appears in. I look forward to reading more about her as their confidant and guide. I appreciate that she doesn’t take center stage, as it’s the children who drive the story..
Of course, true to the spirit of Enid Blytons, the final tying the bow is done by Malhar and Meera’s father, the SSP, Mr. Dhurandhar Bhattavadekar, er Dhananjay Bhalerao Pradhan.
But this book is so much more than a homage to Enid Blyton.
As the children decipher each clue, Mallika skilfully incorporates scenes that promptly hold a mirror to the inequities, elitism, and hypocrisy inherent in our society. Malhar, initially reluctant to be associated with the rag-picker Mirchi, has a realisation, and quickly changes his ways. This is done quite organically, and as part of the plot and not a moralistic-holier-than-thou sermon from anyone else.
The heirloom that the Shenoys lost also includes an old idol. The idol that was hidden away from the Portuguese who were on a conversion spree when they landed in Goa, looting, desecrating all that people held holy. Through the story, Mallika quickly introduces us to India’s art-heritage and the sad state of idol and art-theft that is now almost a billion dollar industry.
As I read the story, I couldn’t help but think about the temples in the wild outskirts of Purulia. Not as famous as Garh Panchkot, these temples are marked by neglect with empty crevices where idols must have stood at one time. Perhaps they lie safe, housed by ASI. Or maybe they, like other idols in so many places in India, are now a decorative piece in some faraway land. Or as an illegal exhibit in a museum. We have a responsibility too, towards our art heritage. At the end of the story, there’s a small note that talks about what and how we can make a difference to preserving the art-heritage.
Through this book, Mallika, who used to be a legal practitioner, also introduces us to legal aspects of Indian law, and police and court procedures. I felt it slowed down the pace just a little at times, but still not enough for me to put it down — I read it in one sitting.
Even as I liked it, I wondered how my ten-year-old would respond to it. She loved the book. She said that the mystery was good, but she loved the characters more. Of course, her favourite was Munna, the adorable dog.
Final verdict – Buy it and read it during the upcoming holidays and have a cracker of a Diwali. I, for one, can’t wait to read the next one.
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Disclaimer: Mandira is part of the #kbcReviewerSquad and received this book as a review copy from the publisher via kbc. She is the author of the award winning book Children of the Hidden Land.