Upinder Singh’s Mysteries of the Past: Archaeological Sites in India is a guided, instructive tour through the ancient history of the subcontinent. In a journey that stretches from Burzahom in Kashmir to Arikamedu in Pondicherry; from Dholavira in Gujarat to Madan Kamdev in Assam, Singh provides an easy to read account of specific archaeological sites and the lives of the people who lived there.
The book’s language is simple and interactive. Added to this are the little grey boxes in every chapter, containing a question and answer relevant to that particular site, offering a handy and visually appealing way to present often difficult-to-remember facts. The use of photographs and pictures imparts character to the book. Sketches outnumber the photographs by a huge margin, but are done well with a load of detail – good enough to make up for the lack of actual photographs. It might have helped if some of them were in colour, though: that way they could be made more attractive and the aesthetic appeal of the book rise.
At times the book does drag, much like a bus ride (no matter how exciting the destination) can seem to stretch on interminably. Perhaps if Singh had focused a little more on the people of these places, the way they lived rather than on the exact descriptions of the buildings found there, interest could be better maintained. Iron tools, statues and thatched huts, no matter how well described, cannot possibly interest children very long. Singh’s preoccupation with the more material aspects of history is understandable though, considering his book is an archaeological view of the past, and material is precisely the kind of study archaeology is!
Mysteries of the Past: Archaeological Sites in India is an educative and enjoyable book. It opens its readers’ eyes to the many ‘unsung’ relics of the subcontinent’s long history, breaking away from the more conventional formula of Mauryans, Guptas and Chola kingdoms – the normal ‘stuff’ of textbooks on ancient India. It takes the reader on an unforgettable journey, shedding light on a lot that remains hidden, otherwise, in the (seemingly) impenetrable dark of the past. No run of the mill history text, this!
Achala Upendran is studying English literature at St. Stephens College, New Delhi. She can be reached at [email protected].