How a Pandava Girl Saved More than Just Her World
Reading Time: 3 minutes
Roshani Chokshi’s novel series “Aru Shah” expertly abandons Indian-American stereotypes, illuminating Indian stories and the world of Hinduism alike. Indian stories are often told either in a way that is purely educational, based solely on facts, or in a way that revolves around an Indian character without addressing their culture in any way, stemming from the notion, “I don’t see color.” In “Aru Shah,” a tumultuous journey of cultural and ancestral discovery, readers are swept into a captivating story of a young Indian girl caught between the world of her seventh grade class in Atlanta and the universe of Indian mythology.
As Aru discovers more about herself throughout her journey exploring the realm of Hinduism, readers learn about the religion and its intricate stories and deities in a compelling, yet meaningful manner. Early on in the novel, Aru learns that she is a Pandava sister, a reincarnation of the Pandava brothers, the most famous and celebrated heroes in Hindu mythology. Furthermore, she learns that she is responsible for preventing her world’s impending doom. Initially, this daunting task seems too treacherous for Aru, but she soon learns to greet it with courage, just as her Pandava predecessors had.
Traveling through sites such as the Palace of Illusions and the Night Bazaar and introducing Hindu deities such as Hanuman and Urvashi, the “Aru Shah”' series brings Indian stories to light, greeting readers with an educational plotline about a religion that currently has more than 900 million followers. Providing comedic relief akin to that of Rick Riordan’s mythologically-inspired fiction, Chokshi is able to teach readers of all races, genders, and ages about the vast world of the polytheistic Hindu religion. Aru’s journey introduces readers to different Hindu deities as well as symbolic topics and places of Hinduism. However, what is particularly unique about Chokshi’s story is the way in which these topics are not simply explained, but rather intricately integrated into the protagonist’s journey.
The true impact of “Aru Shah” can be seen through the story’s effect on Indian readers. Aru Shah is an incredibly relatable character, as she lives through the awkwardness of seventh grade while also navigating a complex relationship with her mother. Chokshi consciously chooses to abandon the stereotypical portrayal of an Indian girl, with her protagonist being a struggling student, an expert liar, and quite mischievous (yet shrewd). This choice plays out wondrously in her novel, as readers are instantly sold upon meeting Aru. Indian readers can immediately recognize similarities to their own experiences, relating to Aru more than they relate to a stereotypical Indian character whose future is predetermined to be the medical field.
For young Indian-Americans, this novel represents a doorway for their future. As an Indian-American, the few times I’m able to see my community represented tend to be with the overly smart kid who is great at math but has few friends. The “Aru Shah” series tears down that stereotype in favor of an Indian heroine (a rarely seen archetype) while also displaying a sense of pride and belonging in the exploration of culture and heritage. Instead of poking fun at the oddity that is often associated with Indian culture in the media, Chokshi presents a character that is an inspiration to Indian-Americans like me, casting her in the spotlight as a hero. For non-Indians, this story is a vivid and thrilling way to learn about the world’s third most popular religion. And for young Indian-Americans, it is a call to action. This culture-illuminating series is Chokshi’s way of communicating to us that we are the generation to make change for Indian-Americans. At its core, “Aru Shah” is a story of empowerment that shows young Indians that the world is there for us to live in, not to be confined by.