Thirteen-year-old Kabir’s journey towards unexpected events begins with a dream on a long-distance train. Ms Rahel, his teacher, asks him to have faith in himself because "scary moments await him around the corner” and he would have to take chances.
He smells her “sweet, heady smell” but wakes up to darkness which precedes his arrival at Antarpur, a (fictitious) town near West Bengal. What waits in Kabir’s immediate future is a man who disappears like smoke, and, in a more distant one, a murder mystery which seems to have no real answers.
Rahul Srivastava’s new YA novel, What Happened To Regina That Night, is about Kabir’s trip to Antarpur and his unexpected involvement in solving the murder mystery.
The town of Antarpur is native to the Kands, a tribe with a rich, fascinating history which Kabir reads about in history books. More than 500 years ago, the community, largely based in forests, established a kingdom. In 1757, a warrior prince from the Rajhans dynasty won over Antarpur after a fierce battle with the freedom-loving Kands. The tribe, which despised anyone ruling them, waged constant battles against the prince, lost their hold over the town and continued to be shunted to the forest in Antarpur.
Soon, Kabir befriends Alika, a feisty girl from the Kand tribe, and finds out about Regina, a nun, who was killed in Antarpur many years ago. Curiosity gets the better of him, but the reticence of the Kands, people’s reluctance to talk about the murder in general and the hostility of the people who really knew Regina threaten to throw him off track. What Happened to Regina That Night is a racy thriller which weaves in murder, mystery and some fascinating history beautifully. What really makes the book work is that the problems of the Kands are relevant and similar to the issues of most Indian tribes — alienation and the imminent threat of having their lands and ways of life being taken over by a more ‘developed’ populace.
The animus they harbour and the disadvantage they feel, comes across without being stressed on in as many words. Srivastava is sensitive and sensible in the portrayal of the tribes without being didactic in the book. Young adults, and adults, will enjoy the book because it appreciates the need for an intelligent plot with all the elements of a fast-paced read weaved in. Srivastava knows how to keep a story, and history, alive.
What Happened To Regina That Night Rahul Srivastava Published by Scholastic Nova Rs199