From Gujarat to US in a heartbeat. Isn’t teleportation the best superpower ever?

Awaken, the first book in Ashok K. Banker’s Shakti Trilogy, brings to life three unlikely superheroes who must discover and learn to control their powers so that they can defend the Earth from an alien invasion. In this excerpt, Saumya suddenly finds herself in New York while driving on the streets of Ahmedabad.

books Updated: Aug 23, 2017 09:09 IST
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Saumya turned left in Ahmedabad and found herself in New York.

Her first thought was that her parents had done it again. They had finally gotten rid of her. Lost her once and for all. Disappeared her from their lives. Mission accomplished. After all, they had managed to ‘lose her’ a total of at least five times that she recalled – twice at the zoo, once at Chowpatty beach on a visit to Mumbai, once at the mall and once at a religious sammelan. Each time, they had both claimed that the other one was supposed to be watching her, neither admitting responsibility, and always ending up blaming her, Saumya, for having ‘wandered away’ in the first place. Even after the first time, when she was just four years old. Because, of course, children ought to be responsible for themselves; parents couldn’t be blamed if they simply got lost in large crowds in public places. Yup, those were Saumya’s parents.

Ever since she had become old enough to understand how the world worked, she had figured out that her parents resented her. Not her personally, but the fact that she was a girl. A daughter. Instead of the son they wanted. It wasn’t that they were openly resentful or treated her badly. They were pretty decent parents on the whole. Their bias came through in little things, some so tiny and non-verbal that only Saumya could actually see them. It was in the way they talked about other families with sons, or talked about gender differences in general. The way they would mention someone’s son and then go on to praise him, even if he was nothing but a rich privileged brat, versus the way they said ‘daughter’ and then fell into a moment of silence, as if to mark the tragedy.

In other ways, weirdly enough, they showed affection, even love for her. She often thought that if they had ‘been blessed’ – their words, not her’s – with a son first, maybe even two sons, before they had her, they would have adored her to bits, spoiled her and treated her like a princess. But because she was their one and only, leaving their family ‘incomplete’, they resented her. Resented their own karma.

She had been a relatively late child, born when her mother was in her mid-thirties, her father mid-forties. They had all but given up on having a kid at all. Like most others in their community, they were afflicted with fertility issues. Saumya had looked it up online recently: something to do with their community’s strict vegetarian diet, lack of sunlight and even – ugh detail coming up – how tight men wore their underwear. She had refused to even think about that last gross one, but the first two rang perfectly true. All the moms and dads in their extended family, whether here in Ahmedabad or elsewhere in India, were like clones of each other. The dads were overweight and worked all the time in air-conditioned offices or at home on their gaddas while they munched gutka or pan masala all day long; the moms were even fatter, wore tons of make-up and jewellery, seemed to always be cooking or eating or talking about food. Their idea of exercise was a stroll around the neighbourhood nana-nani park, talking on their mobiles.

Author Ashok K. Banker (Photo courtesy: Pan Macmillan India)

Even their pets were fat. Aunt Vaishali had lost three dogs in less than ten years, two to heart attacks brought on by diabetes caused by obesity, one squashed under Vaishali foyba herself when she had sat on the poor thing on the floor. You only had to see Vaishali foyba to believe it; she could probably kill entire species of dogs if she fell on them. When Saumya was small, she had thought Vaishali foyba was actually Diva Kharma, considered the heaviest female wrestler in WWE history.

Unfortunately, she had been young enough to actually say this aloud in Vaishali foyba’s presence.

She had received a lecture on ‘fat-shaming’, which she probably deserved, and she hadn’t been invited back to Vaishali foyba’s house for a while after that, which didn’t upset her much since Vaishali foyba was always trying to make her eat ‘one more puri, just one more puri’ no matter how many ghee-soaked puris she managed to force down. Just watching her cousins, Vaishali foyba’s three sons and one daughter, stuffing their wobbling faces made her want to give up eating forever. Saumya didn’t have anything against fat people. She had friends who were large and she was fine with that, as she was fine with darker complexions or religious backgrounds or whatever. Her problem was with people who ate themselves to death, or, as in the case of her community, into infertility, heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and other problems, including the inability to fit into airline seats. It was one thing to be overweight, and a totally different thing to keep growing horizontally with no end in sight, like a birthday balloon that was being filled way beyond capacity. Gluttony, like its sibling greed, was not a desirable quality in Saumya’s book, which made her the lone dissenter in her family.

Her progressive views, or as she thought of it, ‘normal, sensible and liberal outlook’ had probably grown at first as a reaction to her parents’ barely suppressed patriarchal resentment of a daughter, but had now become the only sane way to survive in an insane world. Her Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and even her recently registered Tinder profile all used the initials SJW, and to her social justice was like feminism: it was about equality, busting patriarchy, kicking bigotry’s ass, and punching hate-spewing Nazis in their racist noses. This only widened the gap between Saumya and her oh-so-very patriarchal conservative right-wing Modi-worshipping parents and family, and that was fine with her. She would have been out of here by now if her parents weren’t so opposed to her going abroad to study. As it was, she was determined to find a way to go even if she had to work and save up enough to fund her own education. And once she was over there, she would find a way, any way, to stay on and never come back. She thought she was on the verge of wearing her parents down at last. She had overheard her dad arguing with her mom just the other night, saying that if she wanted to turn her back on her sanskriti so badly, they should send her abroad and let her experience the hell of western society for herself. She had covered her mouth with her pillow in her bedroom to choke down the giggling fit that had followed this gem of parental insight. Oh yeah, she wanted to experience the hell of western society for herself and turn her back on her sanskriti. Hell, yeah, she couldn’t wait to go to that particular hell. Which, in the context of this ongoing debate, was New York. Yup, the absolute lowest level of Hindu naraka, even portrayed in garishly colourful art in the religious propagandazine her parents subscribed to, published by their community sanstha: white people in jeans and T-shirts eating burgers, pizzas, hot dogs and drinking alcohol and having wild wanton orgies in the streets in broad daylight.

She had been thinking about exactly that comment of her dad’s, while driving down Vallabhai Patel Street in Vastrapur, Ahmedabad. She had taken a left at Modi Junction to head home after meeting her BFF at the Vastrapur City Mall, and an image of New York’s Cornell University had popped into her mind just then.

She couldn’t wait to leave her family, the right-wing madness sweeping her community and country, and get away to a place where there were at least more people like her, sane people. She could just picture herself, living on campus, hanging out with other international and American students, walking down the tree-lined streets of Cornell ...

The next thing she knew, she was driving along a tree-lined avenue beside an enormous grassy lawn on which sat the main university building, exactly as in the picture from the website which was the background image on her Macbook Pro. Saumya braked to a halt. The Honda City stalled in third gear as she took her foot off the clutch and lurched hard. She banged her funny bone on the dashboard and said, ‘FML!’

She looked around, massaging her elbow slowly till the sensation normalized, trying to make sense of what had just happened. She hadn’t been drinking or toking: she rarely got a chance to indulge in those vices anyway, mostly just on school trips out of state. She hadn’t even had her Starbucks latte this evening. Whatever was going on, it was either the most vivid hallucination ever accomplished without the aid of stimulants, or she had finally lost her mind and gone bug-crazy.

Awaken: The Shakti Trilogy Book I
By Ashok K. Banker

Publisher: Pan Macmillan India

Pages:222

Price: Rs 299

First Published: Aug 23, 2017 09:08 IST