CHENNAI: A 15-year-old girl travels across the world through blizzards, snowstorms and turbulent oceans, along with Death. A courtesan and performer loses her eternal lover only to find her true voice. One of the few humans in a dystopian future consisting of genetically made cyborgs falls in love with a long-forgotten God. These are but few of the stories in Magical Women.
Published by Hachette India, Magical Women imagines the possibilities of fantasy in the feminine form, with 14 short stories from 14 authors across the country. “The idea came from a couple of anthologies in Western literature, such as Toils and Troubles, which featured an incredible roster of female authors. As a fantasy author, I am drawn to speculative fiction. I believe that intrinsically, as a race, we are made of magic, but we’ve forgotten how to use it. I feel that women especially carry ancient magic,” says Sukanya Venkataraghavan, editor of the anthology.
In another world
This ancient magic is shown through stories like The Rakshasi’s Rose Garden, which speaks of an immortal rakshasi who channels her rage into magic, which turns men into flowers. Honest to a fault, she tells people of her origins and their sins, only for them to ‘forget’ what she had told them. For all it’s magic and fantasy, this forgetfulness acts as a mirror on society’s short memory for horrific abuse and crime by men.
Magical Women weaves it’s ancient mysticism and women into the contemporary world. Trisha Das’ Tridevi Turbulence has Goddess Parvathi causing troubles for Instagram-obsessed tourists and Lakshmi sporting a tracksuit and smartphone. But it is Ganga’s plight that twists the readers smile into a grimace — the goddess says she is drying up and wants to leave the Earth, for humans no longer worship her with flowers, but with sewage. Women and magic are too often represented in the form of a witch or a chudail — a nefarious woman out to ruin man’s life. “I didn’t give it too much of thought.
Magic, in the hands of good people, can lead to good outcomes, and in the hands of flawed people, can lead to flawed outcomes,” says Nikita Deshpande, who penned The Girl Who Haunted Death. Perhaps the best example of the authors’ irreverence to the morality of magic is seen in Shweta Taneja’s Grandma Garam’s Kitty Party, where the chudails are deliciously happy with their skullduggery, with a vegan and hair-straightening protagonist who wants to do away with her family’s long tradition of capturing and sacrificing the men who summon them.
Twists and turns
But magic also establishes a power dynamic, with women having the upper hand, and SV Sujatha’s blood-chilling telling of a serial killer in Gandaberunda establishes this early on. When chatting with a taxi driver, Sujatha found out that his wife, who had been expecting twins, only had one child in her womb, due to a phenomenon called Vanishing Twin Syndrome where one twin absorbs the other. The protagonist in Gandaberunda hears the voice of her evil twin, and channels her through a tattoo on her body to kill.
“I didn’t want to make it too dark, but I didn’t want them to act righteously either. I liked that I could create monsters driven by lust, greed and money. I didn’t want it to be about justice or revenge,” says Sujatha. With women needing to take several precautionary measures even when going outside, Sujatha says she wanted to flip the equation and create a scenario where men would be the targets of her dubiously motivated duo.
Each story in Magical Women creates a world whose rules and magics are kept before the reader to mull over and process. The women in the stories are familiar, their motivations relatable, despite their fantastical actions. However, it is the magic that leaves the greatest impact. Each form of magic tingles the senses and sends the imagination into an excited sprint across the printed pages, with sparks of joy and wonder erupting from each chapter it lands on.