Female authors in India mostly write about other women and their realistic struggles and you rarely find science fiction novels or murder-mysteries written by women. One woman to break the mould, follow her passion (and some of ours) and put some life into science fiction writing is Shweta Taneja, who recently wrote India’s first tantric-detective novel: ‘Cult of Chaos’ with a woman protagonist- Anantya Tantrist.
In an interview with SheThePeople.TV, she talks about her fascination with the genre, her current book and future endeavours. Here is an excerpt from the interview conducted by Shubhangini Arora
Your current book, ‘Cult of Chaos’ from the Anantya Tantrist series is intriguing and your earlier work has also had supernatural and mystical elements. What makes a young journalist like you inclined towards this genre?
It’s two fold really. One, since I’m younger, like my generation, I am impatient. While writing, I am breathless, moving from scene to scene, sometimes skipping description to rush from one action scene to another. Long haul descriptions, atmosphere, lingering, bores me. I design each scene to have an up and down, a constant rollercoaster ride, so that by the end of it, you have a slight dizzy feeling in your gut. That’s the kind of thrillers I enjoy creating.
Secondly, ghosts, spirits, ghouls, monsters, aliens and other things that lurk in darkness (and in light too) fascinate me like nothing real can ever do. I think it stems from the differences between humans and non-humans. How are monsters, aliens, tantriks, ghosts, rakshasas different from us? How many limbs do they have? What kind of clothes do they wear, how do they have sex and babies, in which language do they talk? What do they talk about? I love to poke, explore all these questions, and peep into worlds that we don’t know in our rational lives. Which is why, Cult of Chaos, which is a thriller of the detective kind, with supernatural elements is just so my kind of a book to write!
As a journalist I reflect on the society from an objective point of view and try and dig out the truth or a trend about an incident, an idea. As a fiction writer, I create a mythical or alternative society to reflect on the real society, and so try and dig out the truth through my characters. It’s a different way, but the final aim is to know more about ourselves as a society and where we are headed.
Cult of Chaos is India’s first tantric-detective novel. With not much of popular and commercial fictional writing available on the genre; what made you so sure about taking this project up?
I didn’t have a choice really. Stories come to you, characters enter your head, hit you to write their stories and experiences and frankly, you’re thankful it’s happening. Anantya decided to come to me and badger me to write her adventurous stories. Maybe she entered my head for I was researching indepth into tantrism and occult and love reading thrillers, detective genres myself. Maybe she just decided, oh, here’s a bozo I would like to bother for a few years, let’s go there. So you see, no choice really.
When I completed her first adventure and took it to publishers, they told me it was new. A few of them rejected it, saying it was too much of an experiment, that the market didn’t have this kind of a book. I knew then that I’d written something that’s different, that’s not happened in the country before. But something fresh, kickass and something that hits you in the guts is good I feel, so I’m pretty happy that I took up the project. And of course I curse and thank Anantya at the same time.
Who are your favourite Indian and international authors who have inspired you over the years?
There are so many and I keep discovering new ones! Here are a few.
Comics: Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore
Thrillers: Iain M Banks, Fredrick Forsyth, Stephen King, Sherlock Holmes, Steig Larsson, Krishan Pratap Singh
Fantasy: Ursula Le Guin, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Samit Basu. Now I’m heading to new authors in the SFF genres. My past favourites include Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, etc.
Mythology/Non-fiction: William Darlymple, Anand Neelkanthan, Devdutt Pattnaik
What is the best part about writing a fantasy novel?
First of all, the sheer creativity of it. Since I’m building a fantasy world, I can have new rules in place. A society which eats human meat instead of lamb, or a society where wearing clothes are thought of as indecent. Or where gender roles are completely inverted – so a woman approaches a man, takes care of him and plays the central role in the society. The genre of speculative and fantasy fiction is especially suited to explore an alternate reality and show us a mirror of us through the eyes of others or through another alternative to our own world. For me, the monsters, ghosts, aliens that I write about are the ‘others’ who are different from us, have different rules, culture, language, clothes, behavior and faces. The way we react to these ‘others’ or any others, who’re not of our religion, caste, culture, etc, also reflects on us. And speculative fiction is especially suited for doing this. And in our world, the modern world, where censorship and intolerance is ever increasing, we needs more supernatural tales to make us question ourselves.
Now that the first book of the series is out and is being well received, have you started work on the second one? What can expect from your next book?
Yes, I’m already in the middle of writing Anantya Tantrist’s second adventure. As with Cult of Chaos, in the second book, she is trying to solve a gruesome tantric case. This one is about a supernatural race called the nishadas. The book delves a bit more into Anantya’s past, explores two alternate spaces in Delhi where supernaturals live, and has corpses and pretas attacking and doing things in public. Of course it’ll have the violence, craziness and occult elements which make up Anantya’s world. Oh, and it’s going to be another rollercoaster page-turner! That’s the only thing I’m revealing for now.
[Featured Picture Courtesy: The Hindu]