How to Make a Demon

Kuzhali Manickavel


  • Demons must only be made in the company of cousins. Do not try this with siblings, friends, classmates or acquaintances. Do not try this with Rajasekaran who is like your cousin, because that isn’t the same thing and you know it.
  • For best results, use the following cousin combination: one nine-year old girl named Vani or Nithya, who has alarming amounts of anger inside her, one effeminate boy named Anbumani, and one other cousin who isn’t scared of cockroaches.
  • Anbumani’s role will be to provide weak opposition and tears of outrage as the ritual progresses. He is deeply religious because he is scared of everything. This is why he carries holy thread in his pocket, though he is also scared that it might be wrong to carry holy thread in his pocket. He has a nurturing personality, even though he is a boy. Because of this, and the way that he walks, his uncle always refers to him as “that girl.”
  • The other cousin’s role is to be unafraid of cockroaches. Otherwise they don’t matter, not just for this ritual, but for anything. They are frequently forgotten by the rest of the family, and it always comes as an unpleasant surprise when someone notices them. Years later, this cousin will disappear somewhere inside the walls of the house.
  • Ensure all three participants are worried that life will always be like this particular afternoonhot, unending and filled with disappointment. Add one uncle who is putting powder on his face in an attempt to bewitch the young girls in his tuition class. Vani or Nithya will ask why he keeps dressing up for tuition, and the uncle will grab Anbumani by the collar and fling him against the wall. The three cousins will be banished to the yard. The uncle will sit right in front of the pedestal fan, so he doesn’t look too sweaty when the girls come.
  • The yard must contain sleeping dogs, cats, chickens and indifferent cows. It must not contain mangoes, bananas, guavas or papayas. Add one Gold Spot bottle filled with lukewarm water, tinged with the faintest hint of artificial oranges. This will be used to play the Gold Spot Game, where they pretend the water is actually Gold Spot. Vani or Nithya hates this game. It reminds her of how they don’t have any real Gold Spot. She will think of this particular bottle, and how the Gold Spot had been warm and flat by the time she got her hands on it. Vani or Nithya will wish she could take a blunt knife and slowly peel the skin off of everyone’s legs.
  • The Gold Spot game, coupled with feelings about life in general, will make Vani or Nithya so angry that she will start gnawing at her knuckles. Small mounds of torn skin will lie like crumpled blankets on the back of her hand. Anbumani and the other cousin will be terrified by this, because their biggest fear is that one day, Vani or Nithya’s anger will be so terrible it will make her explode. So when she suggests they summon a demon, they will readily agree. Vani or Nithya will stop gnawing her knuckles and the other two will breathe a sigh of relief.
  • The ritual must begin with a lie. Vani or Nithya will claim she has done this before, and that the resulting demon cursed all her enemies with piles. She will take fistfuls of vibhuti and put it in a broken terracotta pot like she knows what she is doing. Four types of incense and camphor will be crushed, then mixed with lamp oil. Old flowers, a torn-up picture of Khushboo eating an apple, ghee, and black ink straight from a fountain pen will follow. She will then add her most dangerous possession; a love letter from a boy named Fazil, which she accepted even though he was a Muslim.
  • Anbumani and the other cousin will procure spit, five large spoons of sugar, and a 10 rupee note which Vani or Nithya will burn, much to the horror of the others. She will whisper bad words in English and Tamil while Anbumani shuts his eyes and ears, because he won’t be able to believe this is actually happening, right in front of him. This will be followed by the addition of a cigarette, a live silverfish, blood from the hand of the other cousin, and an unopened letter from their uncle’s table.
  • At this point in the ritual, large rainbow-coloured lice will stream out of the pot. Vani or Nithya will be visibly frightened, but will also say this is supposed to happen. The lice will shyly crawl onto their hands and feet, studding their skin like tiny gems. When they bite, it will feel soft and sad. Vani or Nithya will place some along her lower lip and say “fashion, style, fashion, style” over and over again. The lice will completely disappear in a few seconds, even the ones that Vani or Nithya tries to trap inside her mouth.
  • For the most dangerous part of the ritual, Vani or Nithya will ask for their uncle’s “glamour” underwear, the blue one that can always be seen through his white veshti. An old bra will be procured by the other cousin, who will disappear for over an hour to find it. When the other cousin finally returns, they will claim to have been in a part of the house that wasn’t there before. Vani or Nithya will ignore this and the ritual will continue.
  • The final ingredients will include the last of the Gokul Santol powder, a bank certificate for a Fixed Deposit, a Stayfree sanitary pad, and a black and white photograph of their grandparents. An old wedding invitation dotted with pictures of various gods will almost be thrown in, but Anbumani will grab it and run from the room in tears, vowing never to come back. He will keep the invitation in his uncle’s drawer, in the same place where the glamour underwear had been. Then he will return to the ritual.
  • Vani or Nithya will stir the pot until she gets bored. Then she will leave and never return, thus concluding her role in the ritual. The trajectory of her life will immediately change. Years later, to everyone’s surprise, she will go to college on a scholarship. She will become a software engineer, move to America, and marry a man called Brad. Later, when she is wealthy and long removed from the rest of the family, she will remember the time of the ritual as a lazy, wonderful summer, one she spent studying Competition Success magazines to improve her spoken English.
  • After Vani or Nithya has left, the pot must be placed in the shed, where it will attract cockroaches. They will mill all over the pot, like they are waiting for something. The other cousin will check on the pot every morning, then come out to the waiting Anbumani and say, “there are cockroaches all over the pot.” Like the lice, the cockroaches will disappear quickly, but the other cousin will not tell Anbumani this for a long time. Instead, they will say things like the cockroaches are sleeping under a tiny, toxic mushroom cloud that is hovering over the pot. Dark pink bougainvillea have sprouted all over the shed. The cockroaches want to marry each other, but they don’t know how. The other cousin will mistake this interaction for affection. They will see Anbumani waiting for them, and cinema songs about family and brotherly love will play in their head. Anbumani will eventually see the pot for himself, devoid of cockroaches or tiny mushroom clouds. He will immediately forget about the other cousin, whose heart will break. Thus, the other cousin’s role in the ritual will end.
  • At this stage, the pot must be nourished on a regular basis. Anbumani will feed it spoonfuls of kerosene and salt. Small dead rodents will appear on the surface of the mixture. At first, he will think they are mice, but these rodents will have long, curved canines, webbed feet and a large dorsal fin running along their backs. Sometimes the pot will be filled with fish that have small human feet inside them. One morning, Anbumani will discover a pile of tapeworms, covered in feathers. As a result of handling these, he will also get tapeworms. Vani or Nithya will tell visitors that he got the worms from eating dog poo, and for the first time in his life, Anbumani will hit Vani or Nithya.
  • At one point, the pot will disappear. Anbumani will wave his hand through the air where it used to be, and feel abandoned. He won’t be able to sleep. He will lie on his cot and feel something simultaneously emptying and filling up inside him. He will decide that his life is just nothing. The empty days, propped up by boredom and the anxiety of having an enraged cousin, will get to him. He will come to the conclusion that having this life means nothing, and not having this life also means nothing. He will then resolve to commit suicide by drinking phenyl. Suicide letters will be sent to each member of his family, without any stamps, in the hope that the post office will be kind and deliver them anyway. In the shed, he will sit with his back against the wall, take a small sip of phenyl and start retching. The pot will reappear. Anbumani will keep the phenyl bottle in the shed, in case he needs it later.
  • For approximately 1.5 months, Anbumani will feed the pot kerosene and salt. He will harvest the rodents and fish, and wonder what to do with them. When he tries to bury them, they appear the next morning, stuffed inside his mouth. He will end up spreading them out in patches of sunlight. He will see rainbows shimmering on the dorsal fins of the rodents and along the scales of the fish. When he places his finger under the claw of one of the rodents, it will look like it is holding his finger, like they know each other.
  • Then Anbumani will have the biggest lucky streak of his life. One morning, after failing to answer a number of maths sums correctly, Anbumani’s uncle will string him up by the ankles and leave him hanging there for almost 10 minutes. That very afternoon, a girl will finally work up the courage to tell her father that the tuition sir has been molesting her and a number of other girls during class. Angry men will drag the uncle into the middle of the road, strip him, and beat him. Anbumani will stand at the gate, to make sure his uncle can see him watching. On another day, Anbumani will find Rs.500 notes in seven different places in the yard. People will visit just to give him chocolates and biscuits, and talk about what a great boy he is.

    “You’ve done something,” his uncle will say. “Tell me what you’ve done.”

    The family will grow increasingly uncomfortable, as songs are dedicated to him on the radio and tickets to cricket matches arrive anonymously by mail. Some of the adults will try to convince Anbumani not to eat any of the chocolates, and to walk around the temple shrine 108 times. But he won’t listen.

  • The demon, when fully manifested, will look exactly like a broken terracotta pot filled with an unidentifiable mixture. Only Anbumani will know that it is now a malevolent and clingy demon. It leaves rancid blisters inside his mouth and tears at his muscles. A heaviness will develop in his upper thighs and spread to his teeth. His heart will feel like a husk, lightly battering against the inside of his chest. 
  • At the end of the ritual, the demon will turn into something sweet and rotten, then settle around Anbumani’s lungs. He will hear it purr, and feel its spiny legs wrap around his stomach. For the last time in his life, Anbumani will remember certain things: Riding a cycle on an empty road, draped in a fierce ray of sunlight, after a terrible storm; Cool water poured slowly onto his hot and dusty feet; Endless rain, dotted with the croaking of frogs; A clean, white shirt; Dancing in the hot sun; Light caught in a small, translucent stone. 
  • These things will be torn into a million pieces. The demon will eat each one, and all Anbumani will do is watch.


Visual Art: Roscoe B Thicke III, Missing Matriarch, Archival Fine Art Print, Hahnemühle Baryta Satin 300gsm, 37 x 55, 2021.