*Award winning book!
Title: Children Of The Hidden Land
Author: Mandira Shah
Publisher: Speaking Tiger YA (Young Adult)
Age group: 13 years+
Very few books are centered around the North East and this insightful, soul searching story by Mandira Shah is riveting.
The author is an accomplished IT professional, who amazingly finds time to research facts and convert them into fiction. She also runs a creative production house for short films, Paradox of Fiction.
For most readers (my 14 year old daughter and I), the setting of the book is breathtaking. Forts, forests, lakes, are what epitomise Manipur’s natural beauty.
Sadly among this beautiful backdrop of brilliant sunrises, full moon nights, romantic rainbows, there is a big thick grey line of insurgency, militancy, child trafficking, drug cartels, sadly a complete breakdown of law and order.
The saddest event happened in December 2021, when a group of innocent coal miner civilians, who were returning home in a truck, were mistaken for insurgents, and shot dead by the Indian Army.
That’s the perspective we need to develop to understand this book. The (dis)respect for the Army as well as Police, the strong arm tactics of the law makers, who are empowered to take anyone into custody, no questions asked.
But the way the fabric of the story is woven is the challenge, and Mandira’s book is absolutely incredible reading. There are cute dogs, and even cuter hacks. Did you know that you could trace the owners fresh fingerprint pattern on their mobile phone, and unlock it. Fiction? Fact? You decide!
The two girls who star in this mystery novel, are all of 15, and for them to steer through snake infested jungles, and use ‘sutli’ bombs to pincode their location for rescue, are the smart, brave acts credited to this intelligent duo. Drones, AK 47s, little kids from villages held captive, gold being smuggled, make for a heady Manipur cocktail, and with a best friend disappearing suddenly, the two girls navigate hostile terrain and cunning locals, to get to the bottom of this whodunit.
Reading about the floating island on Loktak Lake or even visiting it is an ethereal experience, but this book jolts you in exposing the uncomfortable truth and reality in today’s Manipur.
Piecing the jigsaw puzzle keeps the reader engrossed, as the scenes and characters, engage dramatically in this fast paced thriller. See if you can guess who the bad guys are, the author has skillfully camouflaged them, in a cloak of respectability.
Most of us, would hope and pray for peace to return to this beautiful land, and its talented diaspora to flourish. There is so much talent lurking in this fascinating land, from music to sports to fashion and food.
This review copy came for our soon-to-be 15yo daughter, Aarini. She kept on raving about the book while reading a bit of it on every school night, so I thought I should give it a read as well. Here is a mini review, from her perspective:
When I read the synopsis of this book I was really intrigued. The first thing I did was look up the word ‘insurgency’. Either my vocabulary sucks, or it’s just that life in Goa is very different from Manipur. I knew I needed to read this book to understand what teens in other parts of the country might’ve gone through.
The story is set in Imphal. It starts off with Henthoiba, a genius in engineering, flying his eagle shaped drone meant for wildlife conservation, who comes across something…criminal. The next minute, he’s gone.
Fifteen year old April already lost her sister Alice to the insurgency in Imphal; she wasn’t about to lose her best friend, Henthoiba.
There is a new girl Shalini in town, who is the daughter of an army officer who has been posted in Imphal. April has been appointed to show her around. At first, they’re both reluctant to befriend each other, but we see their friendship grow when they get involved with all the events that follow – from deciphering encrypted notebooks to breaking and entering, chasing the bad guys to being held at gunpoint.
It is truly a fast paced book – it had me hooked till 3 in the morning a couple of times. It had me scared and speechless at places. I almost shrieked a few times! Clearly, I was always on edge! The depth of the emotions of the characters (who happen to be my age!) ensured I was pretty much involved and curious to know what next…?
The author states that some of aspects are based on true stories, which is a frightening thought.
What fascinated me the most was that two teens were brave enough to endanger their lives in order to find Henthoiba. The fact that they might encounter insurgents did not discourage them.
There are mentions of rape and child trafficking. There is a part where they mentioned the shooting of women in their genitalia when they tried to run away, which I found very disturbing.
All in all, the book is wildly interesting. Definitely a topic I never thought I would read.
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