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Blue-Skinned Gods review: The extent of a child god’s self-confidence

UTSC professor SJ Sindu writes a remarkable deconstruction of faith and godhood
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Author SJ Sindu is a creative writing professor at UTSC. COURTESY OF SARAH BODRI
Author SJ Sindu is a creative writing professor at UTSC. COURTESY OF SARAH BODRI

Blue-Skinned Gods is the second novel written by author and UTSC creative writing professor SJ Sindu. The book follows the child god Kalki, the final human incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, and the tests he must face to reach maturity. 

Kalki’s birth was prophesied by the Hindu text Sri Kalki Purana, which states he must endure three trials to mature. Sindu’s novel starts before Kalki’s 10th birthday, which is when he is expected to complete the first trial. By completing the three trials, Kalki is supposed to prove himself worthy of his godhood and embark on a global healing tour to connect with his devotees. 

However, Kalki must also face the unofficial tests that come with growing up: learning to think for himself; falling in love; grappling with the nuances of ethnicity, gender, cultural ownership, and sexuality; and figuring out his capacity for self-determination. 

To enrich the plot of Blue-Skinned Gods, Sindu drew from her upbringing in Sri Lanka and immigration to the US. In an interview with NPR, Sindu mentioned that her Hindu background led her to explore how faith intersects with identity and “the lies we tell to ourselves.”

Sindu’s perspective about growing up is most prominently seen in the beginning of her novel, as most of its chapters are told from Kalki’s childhood perspective. This narration makes it easier for readers to become immersed in the goings-on at the ashram where Kalki is raised. Initially a closed system, the ashram occupies the majority of Kalki’s time for much of his childhood. The protagonist only encounters the outside world when people — such as terminally ill children, journalists, and those suffering from substance abuse — come to the ashram seeking favours from him. 

In a sense, readers are raised alongside Kalki. Many can relate to his struggles with faith. Interwoven in these childhood chapters are instances where an adult Kalki reflects on his upbringing and doles out hints that complicate his more naive childhood narration.

At its core, Blue-Skinned Gods is a story about a father and his son. Kalki greatly wants to please his father by fulfilling his destiny. Thus, almost all of the protagonist’s actions are either a subversion of or a reaction to his father’s expectations. This dynamic is the novel’s greatest strength; Sindu carefully peels the layers of this fraught relationship to reveal deeper insights about parenthood and control. 

Ironically, however, this strong father-son bond focus also contributes to one of the novel’s weaknesses: the character of Kalki comes off as a product of his father and the others around him, rather than as his own person. His different personae — infallible god, curious child, troubled teen — clash against one another, unable to cohere into a single identity, and leave him with only a slippery essence. As a result, the extent to which Kalki is liable for his actions and the actions committed in his name is questionable. While these complexities raise fascinating moral questions that are rightly left unresolved, I think these questions are also underexplored in the novel.

As for the structure of Blue-Skinned Gods, the novel is divided into four books, each of which are permeated by loss and exploitation. 

Book one is named after Kalki’s cousin, Lakshman. Lakshman is my favourite character; while initially presented as Kalki’s sidekick, a lesser reflection of the child god, his character is fleshed out as the story moves forward. 

Book two is named after Kalki’s father, referred to as Ayya. His commanding presence looms over the novel’s entirety, acting as a nexus for each of the story’s events. 

Book three is named after Kalki’s mother, referred to as Amma. By hints at Amma’s personal life, SJ Sindu skillfully uses omission to communicate feelings of longing, repression, and self-discovery. 

Finally, book four is named after Kalki himself, who, after being shaped by all the people mentioned in the previous books, must attempt to shape himself. Here arises one of the central tensions of the novel: what is Kalki’s true raison d’être? How can a child god — born imbued with power and wisdom and purpose — possibly grow up?

Blue-Skinned Gods considers the repercussions of faith and godhood, meditating on the purpose of mythmaking. By exploring the commodification and exotification of religion, the novel asks tough questions about the value of faith. However, Blue-Skinned Gods cannot offer definitive answers about the utility of godhood. Instead, readers are encouraged to decide that for themselves.