Ashoka and the Muddled Messages



Ashoka and the Muddled Messages

By : Arefa Tehsin  /  2014

Ashoka and the Muddled Messages

Ashoka and the Muddled Messages
Natasha Sharma
Tanvi Bhat,
72 pages
Rs 175.00
ISBN: 978-93-83331-12-3
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History is much more than dates and events. It is an uninterrupted, captivating story. And yet, it was one of the dullest subjects during our schooling. Much later we realized that it could’ve been the most absorbing one. That’s what Natasha Sharma achieves in this History Mystery book – Ashoka and the Muddled Messages – bring fascination into what children avoid as mundane.

The story of King Ashoka in our subcontinent’s history is intriguing to say the least. The author uses a fictitious story to put forth the facts that defined King Ashoka and his rein. The story starts with a problem and a mystery – someone’s trying to mess with Ashoka’s messages, which are inscribed on stones, addressed to his populace. Who’s doing this and why? The Mauryan emperor is baffled and sends out one after the other of the T10 – his most trusted Tremendous Ten personal women bodyguards - to solve the mystery, as the meddlers continue spreading confusion.

Through this detective story, the author recreates the kingdom and era of the great king, his ways, his beliefs and his functioning. Finer details and facts like how the king was addressed as Raja Piyadasi and Devanampriya, how he spread his messages through his edicts, how the different courtiers were addressed - the chief minister was Agramatya, the commandant of the king’s guards was Antarvamsika, the chief queen was Agramahisi and so on – are woven into the story.

There is a hint of humor throughout the book, starting with the Agramatya’s beard colored a shocking purple; the fearful warriors from the T10 land in humorous situations as they go on their detective endeavors through their yearning for meat in a declared vegetarian kingdom. The chapter headings are also attention grabbing.

The fearsome, heavily armed, always ready to attack, Amazon-like T10 add to the color of the story but they seem conflicting with the non-violent image of Ashoka. Apparently, the author points at the end, the king did prefer women bodyguards to men.

The black and white illustrations throughout the book have a distinct character and give life to the story. The shading gives a deeper feel and depth to the images, making them more lifelike. The flowery pattern on the chapter headings also gives it a good feel.

Although the book has a good premise, the amount of information given sometimes gets difficult to follow. The use of unfamiliar words like Agramatya, Antarvamsika, Angramahisi can be somewhat confusing. Also, the language could have been a bit simpler for the younger readers with less use of passive voice. The editing is good and taut, though a few proofreading corrections like “Akbar’s youngest queen” instead of “Ashoka’s youngest queen” towards the end can be incorporated in the next edition.

The Fact or Fiction section is a good way to distinguish the two in the story. Tit bits of information like it took the British to rediscover Ashoka for us are quite valuable. Since there are many unfamiliar words used in the story, an alphabetic list of these words with meanings (antaria=saree, pana=coins etc.) at the end of the book would come in handy.

The popular image of King Ashoka is that of a drab, visionary, non-violent king who won’t leave much of a dent in a child’s imagination. But the Ashoka presented in this book is colorful and cranky with a happening life that many a child would like to read about.

Arefa Tehsin is a Columnist and Hon. Wildlife Warden of Udaipur district, Arefa is the co-author of Tales from the Wild. Her upcoming titles include fantasy novel Iora and the Quest of Five and fiction, non-fiction and picture books.



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