Magic Realism Books

‘Magical Women’ edited by Sukanya Venkatraghavan:Magic with masala peanuts

Fourteen stories that rework myths, foregrounding woman power

In her book, Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home, Toko-pa Turner writes that magic, dreams, myths and fantasy help us ‘re-story’ ourselves out of the places where we feel trapped or stuck. They are, she writes, “windows of opportunity to escape our outdated myths”.

Our country is built on millennia of folklore and myths. They are certainly not outdated, but an upgrade — especially one that moves beyond patriarchal narratives — is welcome. That is what Magical Women, an anthology of fantastical and magical short stories by 14 women writers, aspires to do. And given how Herculean that task is, the book has largely succeeded, relying on magical realism, mythical storytelling and tropes of sci-fi.

In her introduction, editor Sukanya Venkatraghavan writes that a book such as this is necessary to reclaim narratives in a world that is afraid “of a female who knows she is powerful”. Across 14 stories, we meet rakshasis, vegan chudails who have ambitions of working in human resources, time-travellers, demon-hunters, marionettes travelling across the edge of worlds, and stone goddesses trapped in an Orwellian world of surveillance. Also making an appearance are familiar deities in their 21st century avatars, like Lakshmi in red athleisure and a haggard-looking Saraswati in a tattered, saffron-stained sari (in Trisha Das’ ‘Tridevi Turbulence’).

Many stories work because they are refreshing, providing some respite from the same old bedtime tales many of us have grown up on. They unabashedly put women at the centre, and do not shy away from sharing their rage (about issues as widespread as climate change, rape and slut-shaming). And in a world where fantasy is largely equated with Western narratives (like Game of Thrones, for instance), it’s exciting to encounter recognisable characters (even if they be demonic), munching on masala peanuts or neon-orange jalebis (Shveta Thakrar’s ‘The Carnival at the Edge of the Worlds’).

As with any anthology though, some of the storytelling experiments fall flat. In Sejal Mehta’s ‘Earth and Evolution Walk into a Bar’, for instance, we meet Mahi (earth) and Sangatarash (evolution) who report to a ‘board’ and ‘management’ — the framework, unfortunately, feels strained. But the book will, with any luck, pave the way for more original worlds and creations.

Magical Women; Edited by Sukanya Venkatraghavan, Hachette, ₹399

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Printable version | Mar 27, 2020 9:12:41 PM |

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