Can you imagine a rollercoaster that also travels through time? One minute you’re gaping at a battle, which took place centuries ago and the next you’re rushing in a metro in present-day Bengaluru?
‘Eleven Stops to the Present: Stories of Bengaluru’ achieves this through the rare feat of bringing history to life via a set of 11 stories written by some of the best-loved names in children’s fiction in India. As the book says, ‘a lot of the past still exists all around us, if we know where to look for it. It’s in the names of the roads, the buildings around us, the foods we eat, the festivals we celebrate, even the ground we stand on’. And this book does exactly that — makes us look at the past through the present with stories by Aditi De, Meera Iyer, Edgar Demello, Shruthi Rao, Zac O ‘Yeah, among other equally illustrious authors. In 2019, the Bengaluru Chapter of INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Heritage) published ‘Discovering Bengaluru: History, Neighbourhoods, Walks About the City’s History and Cultural Heritage.’ Edited by Vrinda Baliga, Eleven Stops… is a milestone of a different kind as this is the first time that it has come out with a collection of short stories based in and around Bengaluru for children.
History through tales
All the stories tell the history of the place in an engaging manner, which take the reader to the past of the city. Which important landmark was there right opposite Swami Vivekananda Metro Station and why was it important? What happened on the day Russell Market was inaugurated? And what about, how old is the name Bengaluru? ‘The Hero of Begur’ tells us about the first-ever mention of the name on a ‘hero stone’ and the inscription, which dates back to about 890 CE, 1,100 years ago, when the name Bengaluru was first mentioned.
Packed with these fascinating facts from the past of Bengaluru, the collection is a far cry from the dry history textbooks, which we are used to. So, if Shruthi Rao’s story is a mystery/fantasy involving time travel with an unlikely ally, rather like the Dickensian Ghosts of Past, Present and Future from The Christmas Carol, who whooshes ‘Bamma!’ from one era to another — from the era of Tipu Sultan to the present with alacrity; the beautiful fable ‘When the White Owl saw Red’ speaks about the birds’ battle to save their Fire tree, an allegory that refers to the rescue of the Old Court House building; another story is a gloriously imaginative deep-dive into the inauguration of the iconic Russell Market and yet another takes us back a few centuries and tells us about how a little group of young heroes save their village from pillagers and asks some serious philosophical questions about the sanity of wars — “…Then we’d have gone and taken revenge on them. Then they would in turn have to come and seek revenge against us and it would go on and on. Why? What would all that achieve except a lot of bloodshed and suffering… Why do we pretend there is glory in war?”
All the stories take the reader on an intriguing journey through the city’s past with many fascinating facts — for example, Mysuru was sold for Rs 3 lakh — wrapped in a bundle of stories. While all of them zigzag through Bengaluru’s historical and geographical past, each of the story comes with thought-provoking questions. They also deal with pertinent themes like gender equality, bullying and standing up to bullies, the futility and the tragedy of wars, as well as conservation of nature and monuments.
The stories are followed by glossaries and an illuminating epilogue or anecdote, taking the reader to the historical and archaeological facts behind the story. The illustrations, by Sarada Natarajan, give the names in the stories believable faces and bring to life the times the stories are set in. A must-read for everyone who loves Bengaluru. And who knows, it may take you on a quest of your own and you end up unearthing some historical gem of your own!