Of spiders, ice and codes

I recently spent an absolutely delightful morning at The Shriram Millenium School in Noida with grades 2 and 3. The children brought tremendous energy, enthusiasm and curiosity that made for a really fun session for me as I spoke about my History Mystery book series.

In fact, those are the very same things that the history of India brings forth in me today. I wasn’t too fond of history back in school but I have gone on to discover it to be a fabulous, fascinating and fun subject. Combining it with fictional mysteries full of humour has been very exciting and I was glad to see it spark an interest in the children as well.

History though can often be quite abstract in terms of comprehending time for little children. What are CE and BCE? How far back in time was Ashoka compared to Akbar? I decided to enlist the help of the children, as they became markers in my timeline before the audience. A birthday girl marked the year Jesus Christ was born. We then hopped a few hundred and thousand years back and forth to get a good sense on eras, where we are today and where on that timeline are the main characters from my first two History-Mystery books.

We discovered what we knew about Emperor Ashoka as a group. We spoke of the emperor trying to spread his messages across the country without television, radio, newspapers and internet. The kids came up with all kinds of ideas and learnt about Ashoka choosing inscriptions on rocks and pillars. They were intrigued that this well-known emperor was lost to India for almost 2,000 years till James Prinsep deciphered the script on his pillars and rocks in 1837. We spoke about cracking codes and discovering answers to mysteries. I hope that many will visit my website and download code sheets that we’ve created with the key to crack them. They contain the messages that emperor Ashoka left on rocks and pillars across our country.

I did get a few suspicious looks when I claimed that Akbar used to like to watch spiders fight, or that he would have ice carried down from the mountains for chilling his drink. It took vigorous nodding of my head and standing straight for two whole minutes rather than jumping around as I usually do, to lend some credibility to my claim.

We did a fact or fiction quiz and as an author writing historical fiction, I explained to them the need for research, accuracy of setting and how I almost referred to oranges in the Ashoka book, when there were no oranges in India at the time! The children were quite amazed that they eat fruits and vegetables today that were not known in our part of the world many years ago.

It reinforced my belief that by introducing kids to the fun bits of history at an early age, we’ll have many little historians around! The History Mystery books have mysteries you’ll never find in history books – since they are fiction! However, the books are loaded with facts about the ruler and the time and a section at the end sorts it all out. The first two have released and more are on their way!

Natasha Sharma


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