There is a moment in the latter half of this book where Dattatreya, the protagonist, is engaged in battle with anti-Mughal forces as a scout when he suddenly falls off his horse because of an attack from an assailant (whose identity shall remain undisclosed for obvious reasons). And this is perhaps the point where this book stops being the effortlessly smooth ride it had been till that point. Unfulfilled promise, to sum it up in a couple of words.
I had the pleasure of reading Aroon Raman‘s debut novel ‘The Shadow Throne’ last year, a gripping espionage thriller set in the backdrop of a possible nuclear armageddon in the subcontinent. ‘The Treasure of Kafur’ is his second novel, but it was actually written before ‘The Shadow Throne’, so in essence it is his first book.
The story, though most of it being set in the 16th century during the reign of Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great, opens in AD 1312 where a trusted band of men led by Malik Kafur, the famed general of Alauddin Khilji (Sultan of Delhi), covertly bury sealed chests in an unknown location in Central India. Fast forward two hundred & fifty years and we are in Khandesh, whose tyrannical ruler Asaf Ali Baig is plotting against the Mughal Empire & has stumbled upon the secret of Kafur’s legendary treasure. The only person who knows where the treasure lies is Ambu, an old woman who lives in Sillod with her adolescent grandson Dattatreya. Both possess some incredible gifts on account of their lineage as Guardians, a fact that is unknown to most people in the world. When Baig realises this, he abducts Ambu & orders the capture of Datta as leverage, but Datta manages to escape somehow. But will he able to seek an audience with the Mughal Emperor & moreover, will Akbar believe what he knows? Plunged into a race against time & death, Datta’s actions hold the key to the course of history of Hindustan as well as the Mughal Empire.
Despite being billed as a historical thriller, the book has a strong element of fantasy to it as well. Initially, this aspect was a bit irksome but as I read on it integrated itself well into the story, so much that I began to enjoy it too, such as this one sequence when Datta has to make a run for the Babur Darwaza (the gateway to the Mughal Empire in central India) with Baig’s soldiers in hot pursuit. Characterisation is definitely a strong point of this book, as even the supporting cast such as Akbar’s confidante Raja Man Singh, his daughter Princess Ahilya, Datta’s companion Dilawar Khan, the Khandeshi army commander Rahmatullah Khan or even minor characters like the Sufi saint Zaheer-ud-din are well drawn out.
The writing is also very good for a thriller & Raman vividly brings the story to life, painting it on the canvas of 16th century India. Raman avoids the trappings of resorting to cliches as the budding friendship that develops between Datta & Princess Ahilya takes its course & instead chooses to portray the tension that is obvious between two intimate souls.
But the end, oh man – if only Datta had not fallen off that horse. Contrary to what I expected in the climax, the story veered off in a entirely different direction. I understand the need to bring closure to a certain set of events set in motion or characters & I do agree it certainly accomplished that, but what could’ve been a final flourish feels as if the conclusion misses its mark completely. That is where I stopped caring about what happened to either the central characters or the treasure or well, the story itself.
It is perhaps a point of criticism I levelled against the author even when I reviewed ‘The Shadow Throne‘ – that he resolves things far too easily for a thriller. While the novels overall are enjoyable, the endings leave behind a bittersweet taste. I hope I can say something to the contrary when I read his next book.
Despite its flaws, I’d suggest you do not give Aroon Raman‘s ‘The Treasure of Kafur‘ a miss. Recommended for readers of Indian popular fiction & those who love a good ol’ adventure tale.
If you find the book interesting, buy from Amazon or Flipkart here: