Shweta Taneja shares with us how she reclaimed the streets of Delhi by writing a kickass character. Her protagonist, a feminist tantric detective, Anantya is a 23-year-old, expletive-spewing firebrand who kicks ass of monsters and supernatural creatures and walks the streets of Delhi at night.

Much to the chagrin of my parents, I loved to be out on the roads of Delhi while I was growing up.  There’s a sense of freedom to be able to walk, take in the smells of the city and be under its relentless skies.

However, I always carried with me a sense of insecurity, a sense of alertness when I walked the streets of the city I love. This was because of the many little incidents that had happened to me in this city, growing up. When I was 13, a stranger stalked me in a fair, touching my breasts, till I was in tears. At the girls’ college I attended, I was warned not to walk along the walls of the gate in evenings as men usually masturbated outside the college. In offices, I met men who would talk to my breasts instead of me.

These experiences, a constant influx of creepy touches, bottom pinches, side leers, shoving, breast squeezes and talk-to-the-breasts syndrome, made me aggressive over the years, always on the edge, always protecting myself, a vigilante and wary of most men around me on the streets, in offices, at homes. At the same time, they had also been normalized, just something that happened every day and just something you had to protect yourself from if you were a woman.

These experiences, a constant influx of creepy touches, bottom pinches, side leers, shoving, breast squeezes and talk-to-the-breasts syndrome, made me aggressive over the years, always on the edge,

Writing Anantya Tantrist’s story changed that for me.

When I began writing novels with this urban occult detective as a heroine, I didn’t know it would happen. I started out craving for detective fiction where the female hero of the books had adventures themselves and didn’t wait up for their men, as damsels-in-distress or spouses-in-distress. For that’s most of our adventure stories, right?

I wanted to write about a female detective, out to solve supernatural crime at night in Delhi, ending her day at the bar with a casual romp or two. The kind of action heroine I wanted to read.

So I wrote it, creating Anantya in that way, a 23-year-old, expletive-spewing firebrand who kicked ass of monsters and supernatural creatures and walked the streets of Delhi at night.

In the beginning, I was having fun, and didn’t think of anything beyond it. However, I didn’t know at that time that I had been quietly changing as well. I didn’t realize that every time I went on a joyride with Anantya on her adventure in Delhi, I was also changing how I saw these streets.

I didn’t realize that every time I went on a joyride with Anantya on her adventure in Delhi, I was also changing how I saw these streets.

Along with her, I revisited the streets I grew up in, but when I looked at these spaces from her eyes, it was without fear, for she was (is) fearless.

In these adventures I created gender-inversion scenes of my own experiences. In the opening scene of Cult of Chaos, the first in the series, Anantya is on a blind date when a rakshasa attacks. The blind date, in a typical setting (something that had happened to me), tries to be protective of the girl. She tells him to lay low. He insists. She whacks him to protect him and then has to rescue him from a daeva who kidnaps him.

It took me a year after the first novel in the series had been published to see that I had gotten over the fear myself. When I visited Delhi now, it was with my head held high. I walked the streets like I owned them. I growled at the men who tried to stare, confronted the boob-talkers and slapped the butt-pinched.

When I visited Delhi now, it was with my head held high. I walked the streets like I owned them.

I had gotten over normalizing these experiences, because I’d seen how Anantya was on these streets. As the third novel in the series, The Rakta Queen, releases, I know that visiting Delhi’s streets with my character was cathartic to me. I was able to get over the fear that growing up in Delhi had brought into my personality.

Now, when I walk the streets of Delhi, I’m fearless. I confront the men who stare at my boobs, outright. I politely, sarcastically ask people not to show their pee mechanisms on public walls. I own Delhi now and Anantya’s by my side. Misbehaving men beware.

Shweta Taneja is a bestselling Indian fantasy author who breathes folklores and myths. Her latest novel is The Rakta Queen, an Anantya Tantrist Mystery, an occult thriller set in contemporary Delhi. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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