‘Long, long ago there was a kingdom called the Golden Valley, nestling amidst evergreen forests.’ Manoj Das’s book opens in the manner the best fairy tales do–by evoking an idyllic sylvan world where ‘everyone lives happily’. However, he says, even in Golden Valley, encircled by forests and hills and rolling clouds and apparently suspended in space and time, there were some who ‘were never happy. They were those who always hunted for happiness.’ With that warning note sounded, the story moves along at a rapid, almost breakneck pace when the protagonist Raju escapes the clutches of the cruel irrational ruler (who is addressed as ‘Your Awful Majesty’ in a wonderful bit of wordplay) and launches into a fantastic adventure that takes him into other worlds.
The lands that Raju ventures into hold up a mirror to all that’s broken in our society. One encounters communities that follow the letter of the law without understanding the spirit behind it; greed and sloth; apathy; bloodthirsty ambitions; wide-spread corruption; sycophants and yes-men filling up a ruler’s court. But the reader–carried along by Raju’s optimism and Das’s subtle humour–is never allowed to feel despair. His beautiful descriptions of the landscape and the innate goodness of some of the characters lead you to believe that there’s a rainbow waiting for you, around the corner.