Published: 24th April 2017
Here's why author Nayanika Mahtani is retelling Genghis Khan's story with Star Wars references
Author Nayanika Mahtani implores us to expose students to the other side of history just like her book does — so that they actually get a look into a side of history that most books tend to ignore
We don’t pick stories, they pick us — this rings true for many authors, one of them being Nayanika Mahtani. For this copywriter-by-day and storyteller-by-night, it was the photo of a tiger and a poacher that compelled her to write her debut novel Ambushed in 2015 about an adventure in the wild. Next, it was Mongolian warrior, Genghis Khan, who “came galloping on his horse into my head and conquered the territory in my brain, and wouldn’t bulge,” laughs the UK-based author.
The outcome of this conquest blossomed into her second novel, The Gory Story of Genghis Khan: AKA Don’t Mess with the Mongols. Layered with jokes (“some of which are quite appalling”), puns and several relatable references — from Harry Potter to the Ramayana to Star Wars — this book “introduces Khan to children when he was a child himself.”
Cover That: The cover of The Gory Story of Genghis Khan: AKA Don’t Mess with the Mongols
Nayanika’s idea to write this type of book stemmed from her desire to make ancient history fun for her 12 and 14-year-old daughters. She wanted to introduce them to another side of history besides what was being taught in school. Even the fact that the UK conquered countries only to plunder them, was painted as their greatest achievement. “I had to remind them that there is a whole other version of history told from a different perspective,” she says, also emphasising that this becomes even more important with today’s mentality of low tolerance. Fazed by the attitude of parents as well, she wonders, “We teach children to be tolerant, but are we being good role models to them?” Her mission with this book is to ingrain in children that there can be different opinions to a particular story.
Reading list: Mahtani often feels like an old dog learning new tricks when it comes to social media. In this matter, she considers her daughters to be her “spiritual guide”
Flashback: Growing up, Mahtani, a self-proclaimed gypsy, had the chance to live all over the country — from Hyderabad to Delhi — as her father had a transferable job
Even while researching for the book, Mahtani came across many contradictory opinions about Khan. While one body of thought slotted him with Hitler and tagged him as a horse blood-drinker, another gave him credit for uniting Asia and Europe. Such contradictions called for thorough research and she took to the British Library with vigour, and it led to a great deal of reading and cross-checking. “If I had a Mongolian account of an incident, I would cross-check it with a Persian account, then Marco Polo’s travels, and then with Baburnama to make sure that everyone’s version was considered,” she explains.
I wrote this book because I wanted children to remember that history depends on who is telling the story. It is very important for them to keep this in mind
Nayanika Mahtani, Author
She incorporates contemporary characters like Yuherdit Hearfust (Yes, you heard it here first!) who delivers breaking news from Mongolia; all in a bid to keep the book relevant. But nothing draws attention away from Khan himself, who was poor and illiterate, and lost his father at the age of 9 and yet emerged as one of the world’s leading conquerors