Natasha Sharma: Ooty and Orissa

Natasha Sharma, the author of the History-Mystery series, on her struggles with history and geography at school and beyond!

There is one bit of history that I recall clearly from school – the Indus Valley civilisation. It intrigued me. The layout of their cities, the thought put into buildings and public spaces, the drainage system, the statue of the dancing girl, the seals … it all built up this world in my head that has stayed with me ever since. On my earliest visit to the National Museum, I remember heading straight for the Harappan section and getting goosebumps on seeing the relics from thousands of years ago.

And that’s really where all my fascination with history ended back then.

History, apart from that first chapter, was my most dreaded subject. Okay, probably second from the bottom of my list, geography being the lowest. I was extremely geographically challenged back and even at the risk of being ridiculed ever after, I shall reveal the moment that I look back at myself in utter horror.

The event: IIM Bangalore final interview. The interviewer asks, ‘Which state is Ooty in?’ I am prepared with everything around the economy, brands, advertising, maths … but Ooty? What does that have to do with anything?

My brain seizes in a moment of utter panic. This cannot possibly be happening to me. Then as if by magic, bulbs, tubelights, nerve synapses and whatever else flashes in my head. A calm descends. I know the answer. I can’t believe it. I know.

I look the interviewer straight in the eye and answer …

Orissa.

The interviewer looks back at me with an equally straight face (I am sure he clears the table in poker) and whispers, ‘Orissa?’

‘Yes,’ I say, ‘Orissa.’

All smug and delighted with myself.

Needless to say, I didn’t get into IIM Bangalore.

So now you know. History and geography and any combination thereof were really not my cup of tea.

That is till I began reading up on history. Amazing biographies, chance encounters with gorgeous coffee table tomes, visits to monuments on my travels, hearing about their past, reading historical fiction, poring over old maps … and history had me hooked. Geography, or at least bits of it, sorted itself out in my head as I read up on civilisations, travels by monks, wars fought to spread empires, trade routes, how each affected the other and determined the order of things through the centuries.

Then History Mystery came along. After all my dreaded encounters with history as a child, I was delighted to possibly have a way to introduce young children to some bits of our country’s past, while being hysterically historical. To have them read it like a mystery with spies, investigators and traitors, all the while slipping in various facts about the rulers and the time. To create mysteries they will never find in history books, following paths through our subcontinent that they can hopefully find in geography books.

To set the record straight, I now know where Ooty is. Orissa was of course a panicky answer spewed out based on the common letter ‘O’. I am absolutely certain I know which state Ooty is in. I won’t write it here, just in case any geographically challenged people out there want to have a go at it. (Hint: It’s certainly not Orissa.)

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