Aru Shah and the City of Gold - Roshani Chokshi
I have a confession. What you are holding in your hands (or your ears/talons, etc., etc.) is none other than a feral, hungry…story.
“What nonsense!” you say. “Obviously it’s just a story!”
Tomorrow, I’d make sure your book is in the same place where you left it yesterday—stories are living things, after all. They’re quite sensitive. There’s no such thing as “just” a story, which brings me to my next point.
Like so many of the stories I have written in the past, I consider this one a living thing and believe it is important for you to know that this story’s roots come from a living, active religion: Hinduism. One of the most beautiful aspects about Hindu mythology is that it is deeply intertwined with the sacred. As a practicing Hindu, I wanted to let my imagination take flight but also do my best to make sure that it doesn’t stamp its feet on hallowed grounds. For that reason, the majority of the deities you will meet in these pages are those who had more prominence in the Vedic Age, starting in roughly 1500 BCE. Many scholars consider Vedism a precursor to what we might now call classical Hinduism. Deities such as Durga-Maa, Vishnu, Brahma, and Shiva will not be characters in this series.
This story is not intended to serve as an introduction to Hinduism or Hindu mythology, which is beautifully nuanced and varies from region to region. Instead, I hope you see this story for what it is: a narrow, vivid window peering out into an even brighter ocean of tales and traditions. As storytellers, we respond to what we love, and one of the things I loved most growing up was listening to my Ba tell me stories about gods, heroes, and demons. To me, this series is one long love letter.
I hope it sparks your curiosity, tickles your imagination, and, if I am so fortunate, sneaks into a corner of your heart and stays there.
Aru Shah felt like she’d been struck by lightning.
And she knew all about that feeling, thanks to a terrible experiment. Once, when she was extremely bored, Aru had decided to find out what being struck by lightning would feel like by using Vajra, her lightning bolt and sometime Ping-Pong ball.
“Dude, are you serious?” Brynne had said.
“I can’t watch this,” Mini said. “You could—”
“I’m not going to die!” said Aru, rolling her eyes. “I’m a demigod!”
“That doesn’t mean Indra is going to protect you,” said Mini, crossing her arms.
Aru tossed up the Ping-Pong ball (“Trust me, nothing’s going to happen.”), then knocked it higher with her forehead.
Six hours later, Aru had woken up with a splitting headache, a twitch in her left eye, and a serious case of frizzy hair.
For a week straight, it had felt like someone had played soccer with her brain. Although this could also have been because Mini kept quizzing her about geography trivia to check her “neurological state.”
Aru had never wanted to feel that way again.
And yet here she was, chained to a rock in the Sleeper’s cave lair, feeling like she’d been electrocuted. She stared at a girl named Kara, who was crouched on the ground across from her.
I’m his daughter, Kara had just said.
Aru blinked, her head buzzing. “You…You’re the daughter of the Sleeper?”
Kara nodded. Earlier, she’d said it with pride, tilting her chin and looking down her nose at Aru. Now, something sad and unsure crept across the girl’s face. “But you’re his daughter, too…. Does that…Does that make us sisters?”
Sisters, thought Aru. She considered Brynne and Mini her sisters, even though they weren’t related to her by blood. But her and Kara? This was different. For a moment, Aru wondered whether the girl was another reincarnated Pandava brother, but that was impossible. There were only five, and they’d hit that number when they met the twins, Sheela and Nikita.
Could we be related? Aru wondered. Kara looked about Aru’s age…. Did that make them nonidentical twins? Aru searched the other girl’s features, hunting for something shared in their faces, but she couldn’t find it. Kara had a wide mouth, large honey-brown eyes, straight chocolatey-brown hair that fell to her shoulders, high cheekbones, and dark, glowing skin. Aru could brush her own hair for a century and it would never look that sleek. And the closest she ever got to glowing skin was standing under a lamp and spinning really fast.
Usually she tried not to let these things bother her, but Aru knew she looked nothing like her