Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Book Review: The Demon Hunter of Chottanikkara

(Yes, I chose to read this book despite that cover.*)

The whole yakshi trope is very common in mallu horror. What is a yakshi, you ask? 

Well, a yakshi is a sort of mallu ghost. 

No, seriously.

In mallu horror movies, a yakshi is usually shown as a beautiful woman clad in a white sari who has had an unnatural death. She comes back to take revenge on the man (it's always a man) who killed her. After she avenges herself, she figures she might as well have some more fun, and stays on to kill random other men who cross her path.

She usually lurks near roads and lures lonely travellers with her beauty. The travellers enter what they think is her house, only to realize that it's the top of a pala tree. Once they are in the yakshi's pala tree, they are hers to devour.

Seriously, it's quite a stereotype in mallu horror movies.

I was reminded of yakshis and mallu horror movies because a yakshi is the main demon in The Demon Hunter of Chottanikkara.

Chottanikkara is a village that is, for some reason, terrorized by demons. The demons live in a patch of land near the village, and whenever they get bored of the food in their own land, they come to the village to drink the blood of the villagers' animals or children. Fortunately, Chottanikkara has a powerful demon hunter, Devi, who has sworn to protect the villagers from the demons.

Questions I had with this setting - why is it that only this village is infested with demons? If other villages also face the same trouble, what do they do when a demon descends upon them?

But if you can accept this basic premise, then the book is a rollicking read with a crisp plot and a writing style that's quite visual. A couple of scenes in particular were absolutely heart-in-the-mouth for me. Unfortunately, I could foresee the "twist" at the end at about the half-way point, but still.

The author uses the yakshi trope (white sari, pala maram, etc) but brings in a twist by getting us to empathize with the yakshi a bit. Since I'm so familiar with yakshis, I was surprised to see that Devi hadn't even heard of a yakshi before one actually attacked her village.

Reading the book, I was trying to remember other "horror" fiction in Indian writing recently, and couldn't think of a single one. Has this genre been unexplored so far in the recent book explosion in India?

*I do have to wonder though - what on earth were the publishers thinking? Was it a ploy to get people's attention? A "so bad it's good" kind of thing? Because you can't exactly forget the terrible cover once you've laid eyes on it.
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