Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Devi Vs The Demons

S.V. Sujatha's 'The Demon Hunter of Chottanikkara' is a gripping read

By Shevlin Sebastian

Devi turned the trident so its prongs faced downward, and then she stretched out her other hand. Her veins stood out prominently. She took aim at the three dark scars that still remained from the last sacrifice and she plunged the trident into herself in one swift motion—blood spurted out. She placed her open flesh over the mouth of the altar, pouring her blood into the sacrificial pyre, watching impassively as it dribbled onto the blazing wood. The chanting ceased.

I offer unto the stomach of our gods, of Agni, the fierce God of fire, my blood, my life force,” Devi cried. “And I ask in return for strength to protect my people from evil. To cure them from disease. To save them from demons.”

This is an extract from 'The Demon Hunter of Chottanikkara' by debutant novelist S.V. Sujatha.

And as the title indicates, the Devi is the one whose job is to slay the demons. And while she does the job with ease, soon, there comes the news of a dangerous demon who would be more than a match for the Devi. The story then shows the various twists and turns in the battle between the two, along with a back story.

For the Tamilian Sujatha, who lived in Chennai for many years, a novel set in a temple in Kerala happened by accident. During a low point in her life, someone suggested that she could visit the Devi at Chottanikkara (16 kms from Kochi), because the goddess is extremely powerful. And so, eight years ago, Sujatha did go and spend three days at the temple. And it was an exorcism which she witnessed at the temple that had a profound impact on her.

A lot of people, who were possessed and had mental afflictions, sat in groups,” said Sujatha. “A strand of hair taken from the pilgrims was nailed to the trunk of a tree. The whole tree was covered with pieces of hair. The priest was chanting around them. A few were ranting and raving, while others were screaming. ”

But after a while, Sujatha noticed that the chants were working. People began calming down. “But at that age [21], it was frightening for me,” said Sujatha. “It stayed with me. When I wanted to write about folklore and Indian mythology, somehow, this temple came to my mind. I wanted to write about the Devi.”

Sujatha did a bit of research, by reading books and looking for material online, but mostly relied on her imagination. “I have personified the Devi,” said Sujatha. “She is an orphan child who is raised by a foster father called Kanappa, a reformed bandit. He has already lost his daughter, so he raises Devi as his own.”

The writing is assured, confident and gripping, thanks to Sujatha's natural story-telling gifts. These skills could have been developed at the one-year Writing Programme that Sujatha attended at Warwick University, UK, in 2010.

No course can teach you how to write,” said Sujatha. “But I learnt how to shape characters and tell a story. It was more about the craft of writing. The teachers pointed out what I was doing wrong, and the ways to use fewer words to say more.”

Meanwhile, Sujatha is busy looking for her next subject at her home in Seattle, USA, which she shares with her husband, an IT professional.

The writing bug has bit me,” she said and laughed, during a recent visit to India. 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South Indian and Delhi)   

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