How would you like to bite into a Samchori, where the soft, fragrant filling of a Samosa meets the crispy crunchiness of a Kachoiri? Have you ever imagined zipping past traffic on an Acquauto – a vehicle that travels on both water and land? Author Roopa Pai has – in her Taranauts series, she creates a world where samchoris, acquautos and other flights of her imagination take children into the sci-fi world of Mithya. While international authors have done sci-fi before, the inspiration from Hindu mythology and the Indian frame of reference differentiate and define the Taranauts books.
The story is set in the fictional universe of Mithya made up of eight planets that float around Kay Laas in the endless sea, Dariya. Kay Laas, is the abode of benign Emperaza Shoon Ya who rules over the eight planets. Each of these planets gets light from four of the 32 stars of the supersun, Tara. When Shaap Azur, the evil twin of Emperaza Shoon Ya, captures the 32 stars of Tara, he plunges Mithya into darkness. Shaap Azur hides 4 riddles on each of the 8 planets and challenges the Mithyakins (the people of Mithya) to solve the puzzles. Shoon Ya selects Zvala, daughter of fire, Tufan, son of the wind, and Zarpa, daughter of SuperSerpent Shay Sha to solve the 32 riddles and bring light to Mithya. Zvala, Tufan and Zarpa manage to recapture eight stars much to the chagrin of Shaap Azur and bring light to the planets Shyn and Lustr.
In the third book the children are called upon to rescue four more stars – they choose to bring light to the planet Sparkl, by rescuing the four Amethysts stars. Shaap Azur’s challenges the children to four games – three individual games that call for different strengths, while the fourth is a team game where the Taranauts will face off against the Downsiders, the minions of Shaap Azur. Zarpa opts to crack the puzzle of SeeZee (a life size game of snakes and ladders), Tufan decides to play Latang, a Game of Skill and Zval tries her hand at Brain Drain, a game of that requires quick thinking. The fourth game Bel Nolo, is kind of horse polo, the only difference being that instead of horses, the players get to sit on animals of their choice. Will the Taranauts face the challenges successfully? Or will the cheating tactics of the Downsiders prove to be their downfall? Read the book to find out.
One has to applaud Roopa Pai’s Mithya – creating a world that exists only in imagination is a mammoth task. She combines humour and imagination to come up with names with a twist for interesting things. So Taranauts is a play on Astronauts, Shuk Tee (the name of the most intelligent person on Mithya) comes from Shakti, and the abode of the Emperaza Shoon Ya is Kay Laas derived from Mount Kailash. The delightful illustration by Priya Kurian infuses the characters with a life and definite character of their own.
On the flip side, however, since Mithya is purely imaginative and everything has a different name; ironically, this impedes the reading process. So minutes are dinglings, fantastic becomes mastastic, maharani is marani – it’s like reading a whole different language that act as temporary breaks as you are reading the story. It’s a fine balancing act getting that equation of imagination and the familiar right. It’s also not that easy to ‘get’ the back-story, again with special names for simple things. This is a book that I would strongly recommend be read in chronological order – the reference to previous plot points and characters in earlier books can be daunting to the reader who has plunged into the middle of the series.
All in all, this book will of interest for those who love the sci-fi genre. The book leaves us with an interesting hook; Shuk Tee gleans through her super meditative powers that a traitor has been placed in their midst. Will the Taranauts manage to outwit a furious Shaap Azur who will stoop to anything to ensure the Taranaut’s failure? Fans wait with bated breath to find out.