In My Hands by Sathya Achia Genre: YA Fantasy Adventure
Sixteen-year-old Chandra S. Chengappa, a competitive classical dancer, passes for an average American teenager. But she has a monster of a secret: She can see evil in the form of the rakshasi-a demon supposed to exist only in South Asian folklores.
After discovering a glowing disc hidden among a collection of ancient Indian artifacts in her mother's yoga studio, Chandra starts having strange visions of a past she cannot remember, and the kind of future she does not want. The ruthless rakshasi wants what Chandra does not realize she has-a map to the Golden Trishula, a powerful, celestial weapon once wielded by the Hindu Goddess Durga-that controls the past, present, and future.
When tragedy strikes, Chandra and her sister are forced to leave their hometown in Virginia and travel to India to live in a remote jungle village devastated by the rakshasi. With the help of a cunning fortune teller, a fashion-forward Lambadi historian, a handsome daredevil, and a kind-hearted cow herder, Chandra must forge ahead into the unknown and prepare for the fight of her life before the people and the jungle she has fallen in love with are plunged into a supernatural darkness forever.
The fortune teller starts to trace the meandering lines from the center of my right palm, repeatedly. It’s soothing at first and combined with the sweet and woody scent of sandalwood incense and burning candles, a calmness sweeps over me. Then she stops following my actual lines and starts to trace the thick, wide scars on my palms.I stare into the jagged, raised scars. They’re ugly and I hate them. The more Surya messes with my palms, the
more they throb.
She continues to trace the lines but keeps getting distracted by the scars. “Head, heart, and life,” she whispers. “These lines tell me the story of your destiny.”
I imagine each line to be a separate winding road, no doubt taking her to a different place. Then she lets out a gasp and violently jerks my hand closer to her face,
her eyes wide and bewildered.
My eyelids start to feel heavy as if they carry the weight of the world. I wasn’t tired before, but now I just want nothing more than to drift off to sleep. I try to fight it, but it doesn’t feel right. I can’t fight it any longer.
My hands start to burn and the room around me spins as I become overwhelmed with the sweet fragrance of blossoming jasmine. I feel as if I’m sinking deep into the floor beneath the bamboo mat.
The world goes black and then a vision forms.
In the yoga studio, the lights are dimmed just the way Amma likes it, with only the flicker of candlelight to guide my way. The tiny hairs on my arms stand up and I shudder. It’s eerily quiet.
“Amma?” I call out.
“Chandraka, I can’t keep you safe anymore,” she says, her voice hoarse as if she’s been crying, or worse yet, screaming. I can barely make out her figure near the meditation altar. She looks as though she is kneeling. “It’s coming for you. The darkness. And it will give you the fight of your life.”
I feel a wave of anger rising and falling as a pool of tears gather in my eyes. “But I need you!”
“The disc is your weapon. You must learn to wield it. Hold it in your palm, and it will give you answers to the past, lead you in the right direction in the present, and allow you to see the future.”
A sharp low whistle fills the room. The ground beneath my feet rumbles and it’s followed by a strange noise that sounds like the clicking of fingertips on a desktop. I pick up a candle for light and lower it to the floor when I see something haphazardly skitter across it. I lurch back in disgust.
There are hundreds of scorpions of all sizes scurrying across the hardwood floors of the studio and upon the meditation altar. They crawl over the sandalwood elephant, the bronze statue of goddess Durga, the lotus, and the tabla, digging their stingers into each piece. The stingers must be filled with some form of acid because with each point of contact, they are able to damage the relics. I hear a low whistle again and they respond to the call as they creep away in the direction of the double doors leading to the courtyard, having completely ravaged Amma’s sacred space.
“You must go home to the jungle. Find the others. Destroy the rakshasi,” she says, breathlessly. She doubles over, screaming out in pain, and falls forward onto the altar.
The bright studio spotlights flicker on and shine down from above, blinding me for a matter of seconds. I rush for Amma as I scan the floor. The scorpions have disappeared.
“It got me,” she says in a hushed voice as I reach her side and scoop her into my arms, holding her close. “Chandraka, my journey ends here,” she whispers. “Know that I always saw you. I never said it enough…” Her eyes roll back into her head.
“Amma, wake up, wake up!” I weep as my body shakes with unrelenting sorrow. But she doesn’t wake and my heart sinks.
When my eyes open, I’m still in the fortune teller’s tent, my breathing is ragged, and my heart is exploding through my chest as the vision crosses from somewhere inside my head into my reality.
Panic sets in.
I know Amma is in danger. I can feel it deep inside me and know it’s true. I need to warn her, but I’m suddenly overcome with pain.
My hands are burning as if they’re on fire. I clap them closed, trying to stifle the throbbing pain. My jaw drops open, but nothing comes out. I fall forward clenching the disc against my heart and making a fist with the other pounding on the bamboo mat on the tent floor. I feel the disc fall from my waistband pocket onto the floor next to me.
Surya does not bat an eye at my distress, her intense, kohl-lined eyes focus on the disc. She glides to the side of the tent, grabs a bottle of tiny green leaves from her well-stocked shelves, shakes it, then pinches several of them between her pointer finger and thumb and dusts them off into a black mortar and pestle.
I watch through bleary eyes as she takes the handle of the blunt, clubbed-shaped pestle in her hand and moves it around crushing and grinding the leaves into a fine paste. She returns to the bamboo mat and kneels beside me. Anchored to the tassel enclosure of Surya’s lehenga is a small, glass vial containing a thick, deep red liquid. With just the tips of her fingers, she unties and releases it with ease from the tassel and pours it over the paste, mixing it some more. She works swiftly, finally combining everything into a coconut husk bowl. She crouches over where I lay, reaches her arms around me, and forces me back to a sitting position. “Drink it all,” she commands, the look in her eyes somewhere between
concern and a threat, as she holds the rudimentary bowl to my lips. It’s vile but she tilts my head back to force every drop down my throat. The terrible pain slowly fades away. My shaken nerves begin to grip reality and my fingers tingle, but my mind is focused on one thing—the visions.
Sathya Achia was born and raised in Ontario, Canada, where she grew up devouring books and playing along the pebbly shores of Lake Huron, before moving to the United States.
Sathya’s creative work is influenced by her South Indian Kodava culture. She grew up spending summers in the remote hills and enchanting jungles of the Western Ghats in India, where she learned the art of storytelling from her grandparents.
As a young reader, she missed seeing heroes like herself—of two worlds and cultures—so she enjoys writing stories inspired by her East meets West roots, mythology and folklore, and the natural world. She believes in the importance of diversity and representation in children's literature and creates stories of adventure and discovery for picture book, middle grade, and young adult readers.
When not spinning stories, Sathya can be found trying a new yoga pose, exploring the great outdoors, traveling the world, or wrapped up in her greatest adventure of all: Motherhood.
Finding Me: Writing my authentic self By Sathya Achia
I vaguely remember twirling around the family room in a green and orange lehenga when I was around seven years old, my colorful bangles jangling together with my movement, as I excitedly narrated the story I had just mapped out in my head. What I should’ve been doing was rehearsing the steps of the dance for my Diwali performance, but you know what it’s like when a story just calls to you! You just can’t let it go!
My obsession with storytelling only grew and one day my parents handed me a stack of gently used printer paper (Papa took saving the earth seriously even back then) and told me to have at it. I scribbled down all sorts of stories—often featuring a brown girl like myself who could solve mysteries while wearing a lehenga and scuffed tennis shoes. Obviously, she didn’t do it alone—she had a host of animal sidekicks to help her along.
Just like that, the dream of becoming an author was born.
But that sweet dream of mine soon met with a reality I hadn’t expected. As I pulled book after book from the library shelves and flipped through their pages, I began to realize that the authors, and the characters they wrote about, showed little resemblance to me and the world that I knew… The characters didn’t look like me, didn’t celebrate the festivals my family did, and didn’t eat the foods we enjoyed.
Where were the kids like me who lived in the “in between” … the ones born in the West, but with rich traditions and cultures from the East (I was born in Canada and our parents had come from India). They weren’t just missing from the books—they were hardly visible in the magazines I read or the movies I watched, either. On the chance I did see some sort of representation—they were these laughable caricatures based on stereotypes. Awful and frustrating stereotypes. Is that what people saw when they looked at me? I was embarrassed.
Doubt set in. Maybe this author thing wasn’t for me. What a fool I’d been. Why’d anybody want to read about a kid like me running around in a lehenga and scuffed shoes solving mysteries, anyway? Nobody would understand it.
While I didn’t stop writing, I changed course. My protagonists became mostly animals, had easy to pronounce names, and there were no lehengas, bangles, or bindis involved.
The stories were there, but they were a little devoid of one thing… ME.
As time went on, my point of view began to shift. I began to feel comfortable in my own skin, embracing and merging all my different influences—all the beautiful, bold colors of my East meets West roots. I was finally able to shed the thought of what made me different as being an obstacle to my authorly dreams and began seeing my differences as my strength.
From that moment, my desire to write the stories of my heart only grew. I was determined to write stories where brown girls and boys could set off on a magical quest, slay the beasts, and be their ownheroes! Then it came to me—I imagined a teenage girl from the West who visits her parents’ homeland in the East and shows the world how fierce, yet vulnerable, she is in her mission to save the day (while wearing a lehenga, bangles, and armor, of course). I tenderly wove these ideas together and eventually it became my debut YA novel, In My Hands—my love letter to my grandparents, my culture, and my heritage—all the things that are truly and wholly ME.
And I learned that I’m not just this or that. I don’t fit in just one box. I’m somewhere in between— I’m a little bit East, a little bit West—that’s where my authentic self thrives.
The universal thread between us are the things that make us different. When we write what’s in our hearts, we soar. We find the impossible, possible. We find our authentic selves.
There’s magic in each of us that’s truly and uniquely our own.
Find yours and you’ll find your story.
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