Title: Wayel Kati – The Quest of the Seven Guardians
Author: Linthoi Chanu
Publisher: Niyogi Books
Age Group: 10+ years (Publishers recommendation is 13/14 years+)
Genre: YA Fantasy
Posting this on behalf of my daughter Sonimrin Shimray almost 16 years, who loves to read and paint.
Wayel Kati: The Quest Of The Seven Guardians by Linthoi Chanu delves into the mythical folklore of the hills and the valleys of Manipur. A composition of various traditional folktales – their characters are set in a world of Good vs Evil. Due to the sheer number of so many folktales clubbed together in one story, the characters in this almost 400 page novel are a diverse miscellany of heroes, quite frightening monsters, mighty celestial beings, protectors and dark antagonists.
As readers, we are first introduced to this outré nine year old Meitei boy named Laiba. Aside from his unique pair of heterochromia eyes, Laiba was born with a gift – he can sense trouble before it happens either through his instantaneous dreams or vision oracles. But here’s the catch, most of the villagers, especially the children, are fascinated and piqued by his appearance rather than his capability which invites unwanted attention into his life. Things do take a turn when Laiba discovers he’s the head priest of the hand picked set of seven youngsters chosen by Atingkok, the Father God in the form of a silver bearded hermit. Atingkok commands the seven guardians (who perhaps may symbolise the seven clans of the Meiteis) to seek and find the lost divine scissors of justice – Wayel Kati, hence the name, that guards his realm.
As for the antagonists which I personally find so beguiling, include the Khutsangbi, twin giants and another pair of charming twin feline beasts, dragon-headed giant serpents, a guardian at the door of death, a magical lake where any human who drank of its waters turned into a tiger. Speaking of tigers, there’s also a hybrid tiger-man called Keioba.
It sounds like a plausible challenge to weave a story that is home to a pantheon of characters and an accumulation of oral legends while still keeping a balance to maintain a figurative plot. Despite this challenge, the author has weaved an engrossing tale that gives a glimpse to the cultural heartbeat of Manipur. Furthermore, the illustrations inside the book, hand drawn by Yaiphahenba Laisham are meticulously detailed that invites the reader to stop and study each ink stroke. The jacket illustration is easy on the eye and communicates perfectly the fantasy genre between its pages.
Yet, maybe it’s a shortcoming at my end to fully appreciate this book. But this novel suffers from a poor case of editing which leaves the reader struggling with awkward language, awkward descriptions and an immense amount of practical errors. To begin with, at the pivotal nail of the story, the lost scissors is written in the singular – ‘scissor’ – although, despite the fact that in modern English, the word `scissors` has no singular form.
My biggest pet peeve is her literal connotation of emotional experience using words like ‘hahaha’ , ‘hehehe’, ‘ahehehehe’ which diminishes the otherwise solemnity of her narrative. There also seems to be a brevity in the author’s narration that at times seem abrupt but this could be an attempt to stay true to the essence of the oral tradition. Afterall, this book was a venture by the author to reconnect with the past and lost knowledge of oral storytelling.
However, as we currently live in a world where the colourful cultural diversity of North Eastern India is largely ignored or unknown. Chanu has a strength in setting this important monumental work, down in a manner to all of India and the entire world. For that alone, I convey my gratitude to her.
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Disclaimer: Sonimrin Shimray is part of the #kbcReviewerSquad and received this book as a review copy from the publisher through kbc.