Occult detective Anantya Tantrist navigates her way through chandaalis and sorcerers to solve the mystery behind the murder of a tantrik. An excerpt from Shweta Taneja’s The Rakta Queen:

‘Who’s your tantrik?’ asked a 17-year-old lanky boy, a Vama apprentice, standing in front of me.

‘I’m my own tantrik.’

‘Don’t be silly. No woman can be a tantrik!’

‘You’ve not met enough tantriks, boy. Some of them have breasts and shakti that can sop you up like old crusted bread.’

He considered it, his mouth moving, as if he was chewing cud. ‘You should be more polite. My guru is a very successful Vama and if he hears that a mere woman insulted his brightest apprentice—’

My boneblade reached his Adam’s apple, its sharp edge gently pressing in. Just a drop of blood. That’s all you needed. Mostly.

‘If you want to survive to turn into a successful Vama tantrik, I suggest you become brighter than the brightest and think twice before opening those baby lips of yours.’ He gulped. His Adam’s apple bobbled touching the sharp blade. A drop of blood.

‘Mr Gyana Vama, you may enter.’ The voice came through an intercom of the pub in Hauz Khas Village. A door opened behind us and Gyana almost ran in. I put my boneblade back into its scabbard and pressed the bell again.

‘Press one if you’re a tantrik. Press two if you’re owned or a consort. Press three for any others.’

There were three buttons on top of the door. I chose Number One.

‘Please give your fluid sample.’

A small tray popped out of the peephole. Not knowing what to do, I slashed the tip of my index finger and let a drop of blood fall into the tray. It rolled back into the door.

‘Error, data not found. Press one if you’re a tantrik. Press two if you’re owned or a consort. Press three for any others.’

I sighed, pressing three. Even bloody magic-programmed doors were prejudiced against women. I gave my sample again.

‘Miss Anantya Tantrist, you may enter.’

Wondering how the fuck the door knew me from my blood, I stepped into the foyer that opened up into a long, low ceilinged gallery. It was dark and smoky and heady. Heavy fragrances of rose and lemon and charcoal hung to the equally heady, bass- filled Arabian music. Frankly, nothing to do with the name at all. As I said, a bit soppy.

As my eyes adjusted to the dimly lit interiors I noticed the alcoves on either side, hidden by jaaliwork meshes. Giggles and laughter and whispers emerged from rows of alcoves, hidden under the strain of heavy music and heady smoke. At the far side, a few naked women, highlighted by soft red light, swayed to a seducing rhythm.

‘You’re Miss Anantya?’ said a woman with a polished, husky voice. ‘I’m Zhari Ardha, the manager of this pub.’

‘Well, your door is one fucking prejudiced son of a conniving rakshasa!’ I said, giving the door behind a sour look.

Excerpted with permission from The Rakta Queen by Shweta Taneja published by HarperCollinsIndia. Pages – 339 Price – Rs 299

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