More than just a treasure hunt
One helping of history, one helping of fantasy and a spicy mix of adventure make for a thrilling read.
In the author’s note, Aroon Raman states that he has not hesitated to play fast and loose with historical facts. This is a disarming confession, and one that has the reader look at the context ofThe Treasure of Kafur with new respect. A skilful mixture of fact and fiction, this high adventure involves the hunt for a lost treasure, a family with telepathic powers, birds and animals that can communicate with each other and with the family, sinister members of the Taraka cult, human sacrifice... and, oh yes, Akbar, the Emperor of Hindustan.
Set in the 1580s when Akbar was firmly ensconced as sovereign, with Rana Pratap and his cohort setting up running battles with the Mughal, The Treasure of Kafur opens on an intriguing note, still earlier in time — 1312 to be exact. In an operation marked by great stealth, a massive treasure is lowered into the depths of a river in Deogiri district. The men involved then proceed to kill themselves so that no one but their overlord, General Malik Kafur, faithful soldier of Sultan Alauddin Khilji, will ever know where the trove is located.
Several hundred years later, Asaf Baig the ruler of Khandesh, hears of an old woman who knows the whereabouts of this fabled treasure. Baig proceeds to kidnap Ambu, which sets him on a path of confrontation with her grandson, the young Dattatreya. Datta is helped by Manas, Aditi, Khanda and Shukra, short for Shukracharya.
If you imagine this lot to be sage mentors to Datta, you would be right. But they are not human: Manas is a tortoise, Aditi a cow, Kanka and Shukra are ravens. A little later, another colourful non-human enters the story: the multi-hued parrot Sheherazad. Together, this motley crew plan to rescue the frail Ambu and the only way they can do that is to engineer a meeting with Emperor Akbar himself.
Of course, the road to the royal personage is littered with hurdles. However, our hero and his companions get to the sagacious Akbar who then decides he needs to rescue Ambu himself. Baig has sent forth his men to stop Datta and, when they fail to do their job, he calls in the deadly Tarakas. According to their rules, if a tarak fails to apprehend or kill a victim the first time, the victim becomes theirs. Well, they don’t manage to capture Datta, so he becomes the marked one for their ritual sacrifice when the full moon next rises.
There are fights with ravening crocodiles, an unexpected encounter with a leopard, a romantic interest in the comely form of Raja Man Singh’s daughter Princess Ahilya Bai. There is a brotherhood forged between Datta and young Dilawar Khan. There is an interesting meeting between the disguised Akbar and his arch foe Rana Pratap.
Here and there, the odd sentence constructs crop up: a heart spurts, something is described as being soft as a bale of straw; a person `lay about` with a stout stick, people swear eternal silence to each other instead of being sworn to eternal silence; waters shallow; and in 1580, someone actually says “I want him taken out.” The errors, though, do not impair the telling of an interesting tale.
The story is well paced, the prose is lushly descriptive and all the characters are well fleshed out, from Ambu the grandmother, our hero Dattatreya, Raja Man Singh, the very likeable Akbar, to the villains Asaf Baig and Rahmatullah Khan. Jodha Bai makes an appearance, Meera Bai is mentioned. The story ends inconclusively and you know the reader will meet Datta, Manas and company again. Which, if you come to think of it, is not a bad thing at all.