It is a meeting of young cousins, Meera, Tara and Samir, a holiday which spins off an adventure. In the quiet, spiritual town of Dharamshala a storm is brewing. Unknown to anyone, a drug racket takes off, a man dies, a spirit guide helps and three teenagers are busy tracking the rascals. And then there is the theft of idols, sacred temple idols, the proverbial police-chor drama ensues and the children find the missing links. There are secret passages, mysterious doors, abandoned churches and strange men, green boots and shiny belt buckles… Maulshree Mahajan’s debut novel, The Mystery of the Missing Buddha, reminds me of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven series. It thrills and chills but being set in an Indian context has more Indian than sleuthing moments. Though much like the ups and downs of the hilly town, there are high and low times, there are some heart-stopping scenes, betrayals and masks. The curiosity of young children and their love for adventure and mystery leads the Singh Sisters on a drama trail. They rope in their young male cousin, Samir, to satisfy their curiosity and move around the quiet town in a stealthy manner much like a cat on the prowl for its prey. Intelligent, articulate and thinkers, the children can give the police a run for their jobs. Then there are the veritable tourist spots of Dharamshala mentioned in the book which actually make you long for a trip to the town. Set amidst picturesque Himalayas, the serenity reflects in the book and in the mindsets as the children visits Dalai Lama’s monastery, go for treks, and find an old church.
Written simply and without much ado, the book makes for an interesting read for all age groups. From the young to the old, all will feel like taking a trip to the town to see where the mystery unfolded. Carry it along, and you just might meet your favourite character.
In the meanwhile, author Maulshree Mahajan emails from her Delhi-home how the story spun and what more to see in Dharamshala besides the places mentioned:
Before we know about your journey as an author, please tell us some places in Dharamshala, where few go, but most must try to go.
1. Norbulingka Monastery.
2. Triund Trek- it’s a difficult trek so depends on the tourist’s interest (but very beautiful)
3. Drive to Palampur Tea Gardens
4. Kangra Fort
5. War Memorial -for a quiet walk in and around the pine forest.
6. Masroor Rock cut temples- 42 kms from Dharamshala (little far but one can visit if there is sufficient time).
Tibetan cuisine and momos in McLeod Ganj are a must.
Now your book, how did that journey begin as you are a hospitality person?
I started penning down stories when I was in my pre-teen years and would contribute my articles to the school magazine every year. At age 15, I submitted a poem on Sachin Tendulkar to the children’s section of The Tribune, Chandigarh and it got published. Many of my short stories, poems and essays were published in the children’s section and Saturday Plus magazine of The Tribune in the following years.
Career took over in the latter years but I returned to my deepest passion last year via my blog My Place Under the Sun and then with my first novel The Mystery of The Missing Buddha- A Singh Sisters’ Adventure.
Not many Indian authors have chosen to write a children’s mystery series…How did this thought occur?
I’ve always had a vivid imagination and I love reading mysteries. Even as a teenager, I was fascinated by Hardy Boys and Sherlock Holmes instead of the, then very popular, Mills and Boon.
I didn’t just read mysteries but became part of the adventure and imagined myself finding clues and solving a case some day! And I always wished that we had an Indian perspective and setting for this genre. When I couldn’t find much on it, I would weave my own suspense stories with Indian characters. In these stories, the characters would use a lot of logical reasoning to solve cases, that’s what you would find in my novel too.
It was and is the love of mystery-adventure that has brought ‘The Singh Sisters’ into existence. Also, I am extremely fond of travelling and exploring new places and that has simply added fuel to my imagination.
Which authors have inspired you?
I love reading Jeffrey Archer, R.K.Narayan, Arthur Conan Doyle and Ruskin Bond.
Is there any particular reason you chose the quiet town of Dharamshala?
My early years have been spent in Dharamshala. I have lived and studied there for 14 years and feel like a part of me still resides there. Growing up in this small town, we had a lot of time on our hands. My cousins and I would make up games and go trekking quite often, and finally that led me to create the setting for this novel with not just the fictional places but with real streets and places in the same bag.
It is a very Indian perspective of a spirit guide helping people…how have people reacted to this?
I was apprehensive about how the little Lama would be received; interestingly it has turned out to be one of the best features in the novel, according to the readers. They have described him as a lovable character who brought a sense of peace. Whereas one reader said in his review that he loved the serene smile of the Lama and the suspense induced by his presence, another one said ‘the little Lama will stay in my heart forever’.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I am not letting the Singh Sisters take a break. They are already gearing up for their next adventure. Apart from The Singh Sisters series, I have an untitled novel in the pipeline aiming at women above 20.
The Mystery of the Missing Buddha by Maulshree Mahajan (Paperback)
Publisher: Partridge India
Price: Rs 350