‘The Heartstone Odyssey’
by Arvan Kumar
On the 26th March 1985, a train pulled out of Central Station in Mumbai and headed into the night and the foothills of the Western Ghats mountains of Maharashtra State, India. Three days later it arrived in Chennai, far to the south. On board were hundreds of people and one of them entertained some of his fellow passengers by telling a story - 'The Heartstone Odyssey'. By the end of the journey, he had been given a new name and nothing was ever quite the same again.
The passenger told his companions an epic tale which spanned two hundred years and touched on the deepest and sometimes most sensitive elements of the relationship between India and Britain. The story was introduced as being for children and it has been they who have taken what became a book, most to their hearts. In that first telling though, it moved many adults, as it has done ever since, opening up experiences that some had never found a way to talk about before.
The storyteller thought he was passing the time of the journey but his audience had other ideas. One of them, Sitakumari, became the leading figure in seeing that the story was published. Another gave the storyteller a name to present the book under, Arvan Kumar, meaning 'Horse Messenger of the Moon' and anyone who reads the book will realise where the idea came from.
'The Heartstone Odyssey' has sold over 90,000 copies since it was first published in the UK. It is now read in the USA, Germany, France, Australia and other parts of the world. Here is what others have said about it:
"The epic saga of the mice, I have found to be beautiful and fascinating. The appeal to children from 7-70 is, I believe, irresistible."
"....The Heartstone Odyssey is both an admirable work of art and a real contribution towards greater understanding and recognition of the cultures of India and Britain and how they can develop and thrive together. Anti-racist is too glib an adjective for this profound and magical epic but its messages and resonances cannot fail to raise the consciousness of all who read it. Those of us who have visited Britain and India at once feel at home with the style, atmosphere and idiosyncrasies of the writing and the finely-drawn, charming characters. It is clear that Arvan Kumar has deep roots in both England and the sub-continent. The story of the dancer, Chandra, has a special meaning for artists who seek to share their cultural heritage with others but its theme is accessible and universal. Literature - like music or other art forms, has a special ability and a responsibility to change people's appreciation of the world in which we live. The Heartstone Odyssey is a shining example of a book, which can enable readers to look at their environment and the people in it, with new eyes. I am happy to have the opportunity of commending Arvan Kumar's book to children and adults of all ages, wherever they may live."
"...Some of the most influential animal characters in children's (and for that matter, adult) fiction - Watership Down's rabbits, Winnie the Pooh, Toad of Toad Hall - are about to face competition from the mice of Wellminster Cathedral and the old Eastwich Observatory..."
R.A. German, Former Principal Education Officer, Commission for Racial Equality
"...The epic saga of the mice, I have found to be beautiful and fascinating. The appeal to children from 7-70 is, I believe, irresistible. At the same time, this powerful tale gives an insight into many areas of life and provides very positive and worthwhile models. I am looking forward with some impatience to the next part of the story."
"...This book has introduced children to the very real injustice that exists in our world. It has given children the confidence to talk about their own experiences."
"...I feel that The Heartstone Odyssey is a milestone in putting markers on a programme towards a wholesome and integrated society which inevitably comes into conflict with itself and is afraid to explore what individuals mean to each other. The Heartstone Odyssey sets about laying the foundation for such an exploration and the rest of us must follow its example by providing the brickwork. Hearts and minds are not won by laws and shouting about rights. That way lies confrontation. Live and let live may be a good policy in a prison camp but living with each other in harmony and love will only come about by making outsiders feel insiders. The story told is a moving one, the narrative spellbinding. No person who reads it will ever be the same again. I wish The Heartstone Odyssey well. It is an oasis in a world of conflict."
S. S. Bakhshi
Birmingham City Council
Review by Anatol Lieven
The Times correspondent in Pakistan
The Heartstone Odyssey by "Arvan Kumar" is one of the best children's books I have read since ceasing to be a child. It seems to have many of the ingredients for a great success, or even a classic. It is a fantasy, but one skilfully interwoven with real life. Its formula is the classic one of a quest, and it succeeds in combining the fantasy element which has been the key to perennial attraction of the most successful children's books of the past with the harder and more realistic conventions of the present.
The basic premise is of a sort of counter-culture of mice, possessing the enviable characteristic of being small enough to escape notice when necessary, but large enough to eat at table with humans. The mice befriend an immigrant girl, Chandra, a dancer in the classical Indian tradition. They set off together in search of the fragments of a miraculous stone, the treasure of the mice of South India. It was shattered in an accident during the British conquest of India, and one of the fragments brought to England and set in the window of a cathedral. This stone has a mystical significance or message, which will not be fully revealed until the second or maybe the third volume, of the series - a fair enough way of holding your audience.
The heartstone is associated with elephants, and porcupines also feature. These rather resemble bourgeois intellectuals in the traditional socialist schema, being morose, withdrawn and concentrated on private researches, but basically on the side of angels. Not so the rats and crows, who are out to frustrate the quest, and almost do so in a number of frightening scenes - too frightening, perhaps, though doubtless the infants of today can take it.
The animals, and humans, are vivid characters, and the narration is fluent and exciting. The strong moral of the tale does not get in the way of the story, though it is evident throughout. In this, The Heartstone Odyssey resembles the Narnia stories, to which it has been compared - justly, in my opinion.
It is the moral, however, which made the publication of this book a story in itself. The Heartstone Odyssey is an impassioned appeal against racism. The rats and crows are in league with racist thugs, the heartstone evidently in some sense a symbol of racial and social harmony.
The pressures under which an Indian girl in England may live are summoned up very clearly, stemming as they do from the author's own experience…..
The Heartstone Odyssey is intended to appeal rather than lecture, and to evoke universal emotions and principles in a way that children can understand and participate in. It is also a very good book in itself, capable of entertaining the reader, even without its message.
Racism - or at least systematic racial
and ethnic hatred and contempt - is, alas, an almost universal human feature,
and is best confronted as such, and not only at the political level, on the
grounds of humanity, justice, order and social harmony. This battle The Heartstone Odyssey, with its natural
limits, conducts almost perfectly.