Milan and Turin: A tale of two cities

A chill February wind from the Alps shuffles me from the open piazza in front of the Duomo di Milano into the relative warmth of the corridors that make up the famous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. The oldest active shopping mall in the world, this galleria in Milan was completed in 1877. It is an architectural marvel, with two giant glass-vaulted arcades over the streets connecting Piazza del Duomo and Piazza della Scala that intersect in an octagonal central dome. The glass-and-iron roof is a distinctive 19th century design.

I join the flow of locals and tourists wandering aimlessly amongst the artistically modern window displays of luxury brands like Gucci, Prada and Louis Vuitton that vie for attention alongside 150-year old stuccos, friezes, columns and a sigh-worthy mosaic floor.

I see a river of people pooled around a curious sight on the mosaic floor. I peer into the crowds, looking through slits and gaps between arms, waists and handbags to see the figure of a rampaging bull in beige-on-blue mosaic. Odder still, I see visitors join a queue for the chance to go up to the mosaic and “crush” its testicles by standing on them, and rotating thrice at the spot.

A tourist “crushing” the privates of the galleria’s mosaic bull. Photo: iStock
A tourist “crushing” the privates of the galleria’s mosaic bull. Photo: iStock
Continue reading “Milan and Turin: A tale of two cities”

How to protect your eyes

Your eyes are getting no rest from screens. Here’s how to protect them

An average Indian office-goer spends 6-8 hours daily looking at computer, mobile or television screens, says P. Suresh, consultant ophthalmologist at Fortis Hospital, Mumbai. “The figure is worse for IT professionals or people who use computers for work, as they spend 12-16 hours in front of screens .” That’s more than half a day spent gazing at a screen, glued to a laptop or a smartphone.

“It is like running on a treadmill all the time. You’re not giving any rest to the muscles of your eyes”

Dr P. Suresh

Continuously gazing at a screen causes stress, “leading to eye fatigue and strain, with symptoms like headaches, itching, blurred vision, red eyes, burning sensation, heavy eyes and, sometimes, difficulty in focusing”, says Parul Sharma, senior eye surgeon at Max Eye Care, Delhi.

If you think taking a break from your computer and WhatsApping will make a difference, it won’t. The closer you are to the screen, the more you strain your eyes.

So what should you do?

Continue reading “How to protect your eyes”

Indian fantasy has come of age. Here’s why

Almost surreptitiously, Indian fantasy has made a niche for itself in the English language in India. Three years ago, when HarperCollins published my urban fantasy novel Cult Of Chaos, An Anantya Tantrist Mystery (2015), I was at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur. My editor contacted me and requested a video for the upcoming HarperCollins sales conference to explain the genre of the novel.

I dressed up, cycled through the campus and found myself in a professor’s office in the computer science department trying to angle my MacBook to make sure the background was filled with academic books, and not beams. “It’s like Sherlock Holmes solving supernatural crime,” I exclaimed, trying to make eye contact with booksellers through the little black dot on my laptop.

The nightmare for an Indian fantasy author

My aim was to make them avoid the one thing that gives nightmares to every fantasy author: A deep-seated fear that your novel will end up in either the Indian writing or mythology shelves in book stores. This fear has roots in reality: Because for decades, the Fantasy section has been petrificus totalus, with reprints of The Chronicles Of Narnia (1950-56), The Lord Of The Rings (1954-55), the Harry Potter series (1997-2007), A Song Of Ice And Fire (1996-) and, recently, the likes of the Percy Jackson series (2005-) and The Hunger Games (2008-10), with no space for Indian fantasy titles.

The Liar’s Weave by Tashan Mehta

Internationally, the urban fantasy subgenre wasn’t an uncharted section. Even the sub-subgenre that Anantya Tantrist mysteries belonged to, that of an occult detective dealing with the supernatural underworld of her city, was thriving enough for some literary agents to actively look for them and for others to discard them because too many of these “occult detective types” had been submitted to them.

Urban human-ish occult detectives with a problematic personal life had invaded subgenres ranging from urban fantasy to paranormal romance. Notable examples included the vampire hunter series Anita Blake by Laurell K. Hamilton (1993-) and The Dresden Files (2000-) by Jim Butcher, told from the point of view of a private investigator and wizard based in Chicago. Indian author Mainak Dhar’s anti-hero zombie hunter in the Alice In Deadland series (2011-12) had also been on shelves for a while.

Continue reading “Indian fantasy has come of age. Here’s why”

What makes online games like Blue Whale so addictive?

What makes some online games so addictive that players are willing to harm themselves, even attempt suicide?

The Aerosol Challenge, a 2014 game, involved teenagers spraying themselves with deodorant at a distance of just a few inches from their skin, to see who could endure the pain the longest. It left some children with horrific burns.

In the Pass-out Challenge, young adults would choke themselves to the point of passing out in an attempt to reach an euphoric high—recording it all to post on social media.

The Fire Challenge saw people spraying themselves with flammable liquid and then setting it aflame, all for an online laugh. Neknominate had them drinking increasingly potent combinations of alcohol—this too led to some deaths. The Blue Whale game, the latest, sets tasks over a 50-day period, the last of which is jumping off a high-rise.

During Roman times, gladiatorial shows were a show of strength and violence. The Middle Ages turned execution into spectacle. Now, it’s online games like Blue Whale, says Shubha Madhusudhan, clinical psychologist, Fortis Hospital, Bengaluru. “We have always had narcissistic personalities, sadists and psychopathic deviants in our society,” she says. The internet has just made it easier for all of them to connect with the vulnerable.

But what makes online gaming so addictive?

Continue reading “What makes online games like Blue Whale so addictive?”

How a skateboard brings social change in Madhya Pradesh village

Love of skateboard made Asha Gond, a 17-year-old tribal girl from Janwaar village in Panna district of Madhya Pradesh, the first person in her village to get a passport and travel to a foreign country. In November 2016 she stayed with a teacher in the UK for two months to learn to speak in English, something she was passionate about. All thanks to Janwaar Castle which crowdsourced the trip for her.

Image result for janwaar castle
Janwaar Castle: Girls First!

Janwaar Castle, is a project with India’s largest rural skatepark at its core.

Spearheaded by Ulrich Renate Reinhard, a 59-year-old German community activist, the skatepark happened by chance—over an impromptu conversation between Reinhard and Shyamendra Singh, the owner of Ken River Lodge resort in Panna National Park, in the summer of 2015. Singh asked Reinhard if she wanted to work in his home area. Reinhard suggested a skatepark and showed him a video of Skateistan, an NGO headquartered in Germany which empowers children and youth through skateboarding and education in various countries like Afghanistan.

“He loved the idea and agreed to donate land for it while I crowdsourced the funding to build the park,” says Reinhard who developes community projects with the internet at its core. She posted on her social media accounts and blogs, asking for artboards, or skateboards with artwork done by renowned artists from across the world, and received 19 of them. The artboards were then auctioned in October 2015 on eBay with the help of a German NGO skate-aid and Reinhard was able to raise $17,000 for the Janwaar Castle project. In April 2015, the skatepark had its grand opening and the project Janwaar Castle Community Organisation was formally turned into an NGO in January 2016. 

Continue reading “How a skateboard brings social change in Madhya Pradesh village”

New Release: The Rakta Queen

It gives me a thrill to announce the launch of Anantya Tantrist‘s third adventure, The Rakta Queen, yet another rollercoaster dive into the supernatural underworld of Delhi.

Anantya Tantrist is all that stands between Delhi and the forces of darkness.

A Kaula tantrik is brutally murdered by his chandaali slave. The same night, a group of university students lose their minds and perform an orchestrated orgy in front of the Vidhan Sabha metro station. 
To get to the truth, Anantya Tantrist, unofficial consultant with the Central Bureau of Investigation, must navigate her way past muderous sorcerers, deadly chandaalis, an underground betting scam run by jinns, and a renegade aghori teacher.

Bestselling Indian fantasy series

BUY NOW

This book’s my favourite of Anantya’s adventures so far as it’s where she faces not only a formidable enemy in a fantastic supernatural world, but also her mother’s legacy, an ancient one, that falls heavy upon her shoulders. 

The novel touches upon themes I’ve been thinking upon recently, which include what it means to be a feminist today, what freedom and democracy truly mean to us, and about authoritarian structures and the kind of society we want to become. All this through a rollicking adventure that explores the rich folklore and mythological past of India. I loved writing it every part of this book and hope you enjoy reading it as much.

Media Reviews

Cult of Chaos is a crime-busting story unlike any other’ – Asian Age ‘The terrible, scary and horrific side of society is explored …’ – Economic Times

‘Supernatural thrills, horror tropes and enigmatic women in old havelis’ – Mint

‘Taneja sure knows how to get the readers hooked and hang in anticipation’ – Mail Today

‘Anantya Tantrist combines an illegal tantric, lost figures from Indian mythology and scary villains all battling it out in the Capital’ – The Hindu

‘Her protagonist is so well developed that she can have Twitter discussions with her’ – The New Indian Express

‘…the country’s first tantrik detective novel, which also talks about the key issue of women’s safety’ – Business Standard

‘Anantya is as sassy and independent as they come’ – Factor Daily ‘…engages and piques your interest at every level …’ – Deccan Chronicle

‘Edgy thriller’ – Mid-Day
‘Anantya transports you to another world’ – The Week

‘The series brings alive the subversive and subaltern possibilities of traditional tantrism’ – Deccan Chronicle 

BUY NOW

Guest Post: How to multitask as a writer

Kiran Manral is a good friend and a prolific author who multitasks in a normal life. She has published eight books, written countless articles, blogs and short stories and is actively involved in mentoring startups, speaking on stage, involved in curating literary events and handling an awesome family. So of course when she launched yet another book, I had to ask her how she does so many amazing things in one life. This is what she had to say. 


How do you multitask so much, someone asked me the other day.

I had no honest reply to give her, except the very prosaic, “With great difficulty.” If there was a camera fitted in my home, it would make for rather sedate viewing. Get up. 5.45 am. Get to the kitchen. Make the tiffin boxes, morning tea. Wake the offspring, pack him off to school, put the clothes into the washing machine. Now here’s where it gets a little more exciting. Get to the computer, switch it on. At this point this is the most hedonistic you could get. My fingers start flying over the keyboard. That, with occasional interruptions to answer doorbells, put clothes out to dry, deal with the domestic help, organise breakfast, lunch, dinner. Rinse, repeat.

I work from home. I also live life on rotorblades.

You might not see it when you look at me, sitting at my desk, morning to night, my fingers working themselves out to the bone. But at my desk, I have multiple windows open. I have the attention span of a gnat. And perhaps that’s what works to my advantage.

Multitasking, isn’t that what we all do, every single day, without really thinking too much of it. It is par for the course for most women. There’s a day job. There are time bound projects that come up. There’s the offspring and his demands. There are events to be put together. And there is the writing. I chortle when folks say they’re going away for a few months to write. I long for the luxury of doing the same, but I know that in the peace and calm of only myself and my thoughts, writing won’t really happen. What might happen is boredom.

My writing feeds itself on my daily frenetic schedule.

There’s been books that have been written in this chaos, like the dancing stars of the cosmos that emerge out of the chaos of creation.  My latest book, Missing, Presumed Dead, began its life as a novella five years ago. I kept going back to it, the word doc stayed open, tinkering, and tinkering, until it emerged a manuscript that became a 268 page book. Or as my protagonist in this book, Aisha, reflects, it is the everyday routine that keeps us stable. It is routine that is the font of creativity. Or as Gustave Flaubert said, “’Be steady and well-ordered in your life so that you can be fierce and original in your work.” It is the discipline of writing with everything spinning around you, that allows your creativity to be the eye of the storm.

Because the books get written while life and work happens, the window to the Word file stays open, it gets looked at in the breaks between work, writing becomes my break from work. Writing becomes my play. And that’s why I wouldn’t have it any other way, but to swamp myself with things to do, and then run away to find myself in my writing.

Event: Talk at Eurocon – Trends in Indian Fantasy/SF

Pinch me. I’m giving a talk at Eurocon.

I’m writing this in a train, looking out at a blur of a rainy French day. On my way to Amiens from Paris. Amiens is a small town in France, where Jules Verne was born. A town where this year’s Eurocon 2018 will be held this weekend, Europe’s biggest convention for science fiction and fantasy. I’m heading there to speak about Indian fantasy and science fiction and my work. The amazing titles that are coming out of my country, the debut authors who are experimenting with a desire to read more Indian speculative fiction.

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog. There is a reason. (And this should’ve been another blog, but frankly I’ve become just too busy to write blogs. Hoping that would change soon).

Earlier this year, I said bye to my home for 10 years, Bangalore and moved house and husband to Zurich. It was in the middle of February and for a month, the only things I saw outside my window were cats and snow. I also met a lot of Swiss officials for the various paperworks it takes for two people to move in their 30s. (Yet. Another. Blog)

It gave me a lot of time to reflect and work. And travel. Quietly, without social media. It’s freeing, by the way, to have a hiatus from the online world. You should try it.

I managed to set up new home, finish my third novel in Anantya Tantrist series (another blog on that too. Soon. I promise), wrote a 20 page comic about Anantya, with a fantastic artist and three short stories which are going to come up in various anthologies around the world. I also travelled two continents, to a lot of cities and attended lectures in ETH in Zurich and MIT in Boston.

As I said, there’s a lot happening so I won’t write many blogs. Or maybe I will, because there’s so much I have to share! Well, I’m talking to a bunch of Europeans at the Eurocon. Telling them stories I bring with me to their country. Our stories. Wish me luck, peeps! I’ll tell you later how it all went.

Meanwhile, leaving you with a fantastic illustration done for Eurocon. See you soon.

 

 

Event: Factor Daily’s Sci-Fi Meetup in Bangalore

Each time you finish a new novel, you think you’re more experienced and will be able to write the next one faster and in a more efficient manner. Doesn’t happen. My novels are messy, individualistic creatures to whine and throw their own unique tantrums. And I love them (and at the same bipolar time, throttle them) for it.

All of last two months I have been hiding under a rock, rewriting and editing the third instalment of Anantya Tantrist mysteries to make it for my deadline. The good news is it’s coming out later in 2018. The better news is, I will be talking about it and my love of speculative fiction as a whole with Factor Daily, this fantastic online geek-out that you should check out if you haven’t already.

Do come over, say hello, ask us questions and give your thoughts on what you’d like to read in life. You’ll have to register for this event. Details below.


** We have limited seats, so do register. The event is free! Fill up this form to register –> https://goo.gl/forms/4b59fZSNxFv7j6b42

The much-awaited New Worlds Weekly on FactorDaily – #NWWonFD – Sci-Fi meet up is here again!
Whether you’re a sci-fi fan, an avid reader or interested in SF, then mark your calendars for an evening of catch-ups and conversations about all things SF/F with fellow fans and Shweta Taneja – SF fan, geek, journalist and bestselling author of the Anantya Tantrist mysteries.

Shweta Taneja will be in conversation with New Worlds Weekly columnist Gautham Shenoy, followed by a Q&A. You can read all the best of the NWW posts here –> https://factordaily.com/top-science-fiction-from-2017/

There’s also a cool – and short & interesting – NWW-based SF/F Quiz with some awesome prizes to be won. Not to mention all the goodies and giveaways that await you. Be there!

Saturday, January 13 l 5:30 pm onwards l The Bookworm, Church Street, Bangalore


 

How research into tantrism helped me find my mojo

“How much of the tantrism mentioned in this book is true?” a woman asked me at an event. She referred to my fantasy thriller series, Anantya Tantrist Mysteries, which has a tantric detective who fights supernatural crimes and is based in a world where tantric organisations run the supernatural world and liaison with the Indian government.

I opted for that cryptic babu reply: “It’s fiction but it reflects what’s real.”

Frankly, I was rather flattered. Here was a lady who had been in the spiritual business of things, attended congregations in ashrams across the country, was exposed to tantrics of all manners and she wondered aloud if the story, a book that calls itself fantasy fiction mind you, was based on true events or not. A whole year of in-depth research into the world of tantrism had paid off. Kaboom.

When Anantya Tantrist first came into my mind, as an urban fantasy series, I knew the 23-year-old was a tantric detective. After all, if you want to base a story in the Indian occult, the first image that comes to you is of a black choga-wearing villain who have an evil laugh, wears skulls while doing badly choreographed jigs and rituals that involve blood. Tantrics, in other words.

“Be careful,” advised my mother, upon hearing my new topic, “Tantrics can do jaadutona.” Continue reading “How research into tantrism helped me find my mojo”