For some reason, strong women protagonists in books, as well as movies, have always fascinated me. With a woman as a protagonist, the story immediately takes on multiple layers, because then it is not just about seeking thrill or vengeance, but it is also about bearing pain, suppressing emotions, and higher mental and, at times, even physical growth. As readers, we all have seen that stories centered on women are much more nuanced.
When I decided to write my first story, Maya’s New Husband, I did not have a second thought about having a woman as a protagonist. In fact, the idea presented itself to me so naturally that I realized only in retrospect that I had written a story about a woman. And the fact that it was well-received, and that people complimented me on how I had portrayed Maya in my story (a schoolteacher married to a cannibalistic serial killer), told me that I had chosen the right subject to make my debut with.
As readers, we all have seen that stories centered on women are much more nuanced.
Three books later, in 2017, the idea of Yakshini presented itself to me. This was the time when several cases of women being sexually abused were making headlines. Most of these stories came from the rural parts of India where women did not have a strong enough voice to be heard. The tales of these episodes of abuse were sordid and brutal, and it was evident that the perpetrators of these crimes weren’t looking for mere sexual gratification but, in their own warped way, believed that this was giving them a higher place in the gender politics of society. At that time, a thought presented itself to me: What if there is a woman who is extraordinarily empowered? What if she has something, a weapon that only she can see and utilize, which makes her formidable and even invincible? Would she use that power for her defense? Would she, maybe, start to abuse it too?
It was with this single thought that the story of Yakshini began brewing in my mind. However, I did not want the woman to be different from society. I did not want to create a superwoman. She had to be part of the society and just as affected by it as any other woman.
This was also the time when I was just done writing my supernatural romance novel Pishacha. I had done a fair bit of research on Indian supernatural entities and mythical beings. Among these, I was fascinated by the yakshinis—semi-divine beings who are propitiated for boons but who can also lay the worst of curses. It was also their physicality that stayed on in my mind—they can be celestially beautiful as well as grotesque and intimidating. Different Indian texts have portrayed yakshinis differently—benevolent, cruel, alluring, hideous, vain, selfless. As I read more, I was fascinated as to how I could make a yakshini of my own and paint her with colors from this very diverse palette of attributes.
As I began writing the initial chapters of the first draft, I found another layer to this story that I had not really given much thought to at the outset. It was the dichotomy of two beings living in one body—one human and the other supernatural.
And so, the plot of Yakshini was hatched in my mind. It was to be the story of an immensely beautiful teenage girl who is growing up in a society of men. As she grows, she becomes a victim of the male gaze. But this girl, Meenakshi, is born with the spirit of a yakshini inside her. And when the lechers make their move, the yakshini wakes up and takes control…
As I began writing the initial chapters of the first draft, I found another layer to this story that I had not really given much thought to at the outset. It was the dichotomy of two beings living in one body—one human and the other supernatural. Who would really control the body then? It was an interesting challenge for me to understand this duality and keep it different from straying into the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde territory or of schizophrenia. For us authors, such character challenges are what keep us going!
In all, writing Yakshini has been quite an enlightening experience for me too. I could not write this story without entering into the skin of Meenakshi and seeing the world through her eyes. In doing so, I saw the festering rot of some parts of our society. Maybe a yakshini is what is needed to fight this rot. But would it be a solution to have someone else invade our body to fight the evil that is outside? Yakshini treads on this very difficult precipice. I hope the story evokes mixed feelings in my readers as it did in me when I was writing it.
Author Neil D’Silva is known for his works in the horror genre. His debut novel, Maya’s New Husband came out in 2015 and has been acquired for screen adaptation. His other works include Pishacha, Right Behind You, and his latest book is, Yakshini. The views expressed are the author’s own.