The Hidden Children: The Lost Grimoire by Reshma K. Barshikar is about magic and fantasy. The story is set in modern-day Mumbai. An excerpt from the book when Shui and Anya visit the Mahim Fort:

The look became a story in my head. There was a chance he might have been looking at the wall behind me, but I lounged on my very own cloud until the evening bell rang. I continued to float as Anya and I left school in an auto to meet the taxidermist. I watched the sky twist from a bright afternoon blue into a milky charcoal; realised it was going to rain. Cars honked into my ears and men on sidewalks stared at me. I’d never ventured beyond the main Mahim road, because school was just off the artery that linked Bandra to Prabhadevi and now the auto was taking me into bylanes where homes spilt unto pavements.

‘Do you know where you’re going?’ I asked Anya, who was consulting Google Maps while I wrestled my hair into a knot.

‘What did you say?’ she shouted above the whirring bus racing by us.

‘Where are we going?’ I shouted back.

‘Oh,’ she said, ‘I’m looking for a tree. The taxidermist told me he lived next to the largest tree in Mahim. He gave me his address but I think the tree will be easier to find.’

‘What?’

She turned to me with an air of impatience. ‘The Bile Raths are always built around large trees, at least in Scotland. That’s why they’re called the Bile Rath? Sacred tree?’

‘Oh. Why a tree?’

‘Because Witans are always about the trees. And the nature, and the animals, the birds and the bloody bees. The grass-eaters rule the world.’

‘Well, Mom always said, “beware the botanists”,’ I shouted. She didn’t smile; I had thought it was quite clever.

‘How did you find him?’ I asked her.

Internet,’ she said.

‘So it’s just there?’ I screamed, ‘Like a yellow pages for Witans?’

If you know where to look. The taxidermist told me the tree is next to a fort,’ she said, putting her phone into her bag; she’d obviously given up. ‘Can you ask him if there’s a large tree near a fort?’

I translated the question into Hindi. He gave strange look that said, ‘Of course we have trees next to the fort.’

‘Do you know what kind?’ I asked her.

‘No,’ she sighed again, this time loudly and sat back, wincing when he ignored a speed breaker.

My Aadyant uplift was fading. This seemed pointless. I was looking for a tree where librarians lived. My life had become an Enid Blyton novel. Folk of the Faraway tree. Banyan. Aha!

‘Sacred tree, right?’ I said, and added, ‘it’s probably a banyan.’ I asked the auto guy for the largest Banyan in the area. The auto came braked abruptly and he yelled, ‘Get out.’

‘I don’t think he likes us,’ I said, paying him 50 rupees.

‘I’ll find it myself,’ she said.

He put-put-puttered away, babbling about ‘Mad young girls these days’. I looked around and saw he’d dropped us in the middle of a quiet street that led to a white open space. A fishy smell floated on the breeze, which meant the ocean lay straight ahead. We walked alongside small makeshift shops, until we came to a very Bandraesque house on my left; I remembered this house.

A fishy smell floated on the breeze, which meant the ocean lay straight ahead. We walked alongside small makeshift shops, until we came to a very Bandraesque house on my left; I remembered this house.

‘That’s probably it,’ she said, looking at her phone again. ‘Let’s wait until it gets less crowded.’

I nodded and stared at a turbaned guy grilling corn on the cob and a raddi wala arranging old newspapers. Anya nodded at three sari-clad women at the bus stop who were obviously gossiping about us.

‘Corn, then?’ I asked.

We took our masala corn and sat on a bench near the gate. I had to admit I was impressed. For a foreigner she was yet to even blink at the smoke, or turn her nose up at the smell. She even licked the dusting of chilli and salt on the corn.

‘So was your mother a witch?’ I asked.

‘She was a Witan,’ she said.

‘What’s the difference?’

‘Well a witch is anybody really. A Witan is someone with grace,’ she said.

‘So all Witans are witches, but not all witches are Witans?’

‘I guess.’

‘So there are witches?’ I asked.

‘Obviously,’ she said, ‘and wizards. And sorceresses and priestesses.  Honestly, they call themselves whatever they want.’ ‘Tell me more about graces,’ I said, turning to her.

She put her corn on her lap. ‘See, that’s the problem,’ she said, ‘I don’t know where to start. I’ve never actually met someone who didn’t know anything.’

‘See, that’s the problem,’ she said, ‘I don’t know where to start. I’ve never actually met someone who didn’t know anything.’

‘You know how to make someone feel special,’ I turned away, digging at a kernel.

She laughed, ‘I’m sorry. We have classes at home.’

‘Like magic school? Like—’

‘Don’t say Hogwarts,’ she said, with a smile.

‘So, no enchanted castle that becomes a school that no one can see?’

‘I wish,’ she said. ‘But the Bile Rath is pretty cool too. Everyone can see it, as long as they get there. And while there’s no formal education, because, well so much of it can’t be taught, there is orientation for Witan families and yes, classes for hidden kids. But mostly to lecture them on rules and laws, because no one in the family can guide them. So much has been lost.’

‘What laws?’

‘Laws of protection, laws of name, laws of secrecy – you don’t mess with those – laws for everything really. They’ve put quite a few in place to keep us in line,’ she said. ‘I don’t know why; most of us can hardly do anything more than shoo a fly.’

I sensed a tone. While Anya might look the part of library girl, I was fairly certain she wouldn’t care to return the books on time.

‘Who’s they?’ I asked.

‘The Witan—

She was interrupted by the sound of the second evening prayer, which drifted in with the breeze and came from my right. I turned to see a pink minaret. A dargah, this home, this street. It’s that dream, I thought. How is that possible? Denial cracked at the seams.

She was interrupted by the sound of the second evening prayer, which drifted in with the breeze and came from my right. I turned to see a pink minaret.

Anya threw the corn into a makeshift bin; it didn’t even touch the rim. ‘Nice one,’ I said.

‘Let’s go,’ she said. Whatever sign she’d been waiting for had obviously revealed itself; I was getting used to her secrecy; it seemed the way of things.

Extracted with permission from The Hidden Children: The Lost Grimoire by Reshma K. Barshikar published by Two Ravens Publishing.

Also Read: Meet Ilana From Esther David’s Bombay Brides

Love books? Follow authors? Join the SheThePeople Book Club On Facebook. Click Here

Get the best of SheThePeople delivered to your inbox - subscribe to Our Power Breakfast Newsletter. Follow us on Twitter , Instagram , Facebook and on YouTube, and stay in the know of women who are standing up, speaking out, and leading change.