THE DREADFUL BEAUTY By Sunil Gangopadhyaya
Ponytale books,Rs 125
Thirteen-year-old Sunanda Roy Choudhury (alias Santu) is the nephew-cum-assistant of Raja Roy Choudhury, aka Kakababu (uncle), a former archaeologist. Kakababu is an exceptional hero, who is physically challenged and walks on crutches. Despite the handicap he is sprightly, and quick-witted too — in the league of Sherlock Holmes and Feluda.
The Dreadful Beauty, a translation of Sunil Gangopadhyaya’s Bengali book Bhayankar Sundar, marks the debut of the duo in the pristine Kashmir valley. Even though young Santu wishes to enjoy the breathtaking views of Pahalgam and the Dal Lake, all he can do is measure roadside mountains and caves on the Sonmarg-Gulmarg highway.
Gradually he gets to know that Kakababu is looking for an archaeologic relic from ancient India. It is the priceless broken head of a statue of Emperor Kanishka of the Kushan dynasty, the most powerful dynasty that ruled India around the first century AD. (The headless statue can still be seen in the Mathura museum.) But the duo bumps into a local gangster, Sucha Singh, who harbours the belief that Kakababu is looking for the fabled gold mines hidden somewhere in Kashmir. Will the duo be able to outwit the gangster and his fierce cronies? Can they unearth the archaeological mystery hidden in the Valley? We don’t wish to play spoiler, it is for you to explore.
The book has all the ingredients of a spine-chilling thriller. It offers a glimpse into the world of archaeology — how an archaeologist works or explores in an unfriendly terrain. It also serves as a window to ancient India — full of legends, mysteries and magic. However, it falls short of being a page-turner because of a somewhat literal translation. It seems, to keep the natural elegance and verve of Gangopadhyaya’s original narrative, the translator, Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharjee, has moved away from contemporary idiomatic English (sample this: Kakababu wiped his tears and said, “Santu, my persistent effort has been crowned with success today. I had dreamt of this day for long, but I was never really sure that I will really succeed…). Even the title The Dreadful Beauty is a literal rendering of Bhayankar Sundar.
Nevertheless, the book is a must-read for armchair adventure-seekers of all age groups.