ABOUT THE BOOKOne morning, as the city of Bhopal sleeps, a group of children join Sohail Hashmi to visit the stupas of Sanchi. Spellbound by the carvings on the gateways and pillars, they learn about the ancient history of Buddhism in India. This book is one of a five-part series about India’s World Heritage Sites.
- The UNESCO World Heritage Sites of India Series deals with five of India’s most fascinating heritage spots. In Sanchi: Where Tigers Fly and Lions Have Horns, readers are taken on an engaging and deeply informative journey into the history of the Sanchi Stupa. The narrative follows a group of school children who go to Sanchi on a field trip. Their guide is the historian Sohail Hashmi, the author of the book, who neatly inserts himself into the story.
- The story is very well-written. It seamlessly blends a realistic narration of the field trip with nuggets of interesting historical trivia. The information is presented in a way that is both fun as well as challenging. At no point does the writer try to over-simplify facts in order to make them accessible.
- The book carries a very strong and visceral sense of Sanchi as a space. This is in part a result of Pervez Rajan’s subtle but detailed illustrations, which give the reader a picture of the whole stupa complex as well as of specific aspects of the stone carving and sculpture. Combined with the gentle narration, the book effectively transports the reader to Sanchi. Hashmi literally guides both the school children on the field trip and the reader through the layout of the site, and points out particular landmarks and quirks that bring the space alive. Rather than simply rattling off information about Sanchi, he gets the children to examine the space – its ceilings, walls, and pillars – in order to learn about it.
- Hashmi also succeeds in conveying something of how historians think. Rather than focusing on facts, he highlights the importance of interpretation. His character engages the school children by asking them questions (and always maintaining a sense of humour) – what script an inscription is written in, or who is depicted in a certain sculpture, for instance. For a book with an explicitly educational purpose, this is unique. It encourages active thinking in readers, rather than simply a passive absorption of facts, dates and information. The activities at the end of the book have a similar quality, and are geared towards open-ended discussion and expression.
- Fact boxes alongside the story provide additional details and historical episodes. They too are well-written and informative, and enrich the educational content of the text without making it too dense.
- On a few pages, the text is printed on or near the illustrations in a way that makes it a little difficult to read.