Many a times, when you write, you don’t really know why you’re writing this particular story and what it is that you want to say or experience through it. It’s instinctive, this desire to write a story. Which is why I was quite surprised to get to know something about me recently.
I’ve been talking to the media and the industry about the upcoming launch of Anantya Tantrist’s first book, Cult of Chaos. So when Tehelka‘s associate editor Sabin, wrote to me to make Anantya part of their cover story on women’s safety in Delhi, I said yes.
Little did I know what I would figure out from that interview. While answering questions, I realised how much I have lived in fear of being molested/raped/kidnapped while growing up in Delhi. I’ve carried this fear on my back, like a corpse, it has slowed me down, stressed me but also given me strength and aggression to live and survive. Which is why I wrote a character like Anantya Tantrist. She’s fearless, she’s aggressive and she can take on anything that comes her way. She chooses to live alone in Delhi and own its nights. In my head, she’s everything I couldn’t be, but would like to be, like Superman is to little boys (and a few big ones).
I wrote Anantya for myself and others like me, to give other women hope and determination. That survival instinct. That you can survive and live #fearless. Thanks Sabin, for helping me realise this.
A few excerpts from the interview:
In the wake of repeated incidents of rape and violence against women, how do you look at women’s safety issues in New Delhi?
I feel two things: a mad sense of anger and a helpless feeling of frustration. Anger because I can’t do anything about the senseless violence I see being perpetrated on women everywhere in the country and not just in New Delhi. On the streets, in offices, in bedrooms, in restaurants, in cars, on public and private transport and at homes — everywhere. Forget Delhi, women don’t feel safe anywhere in this country.
My frustration comes from the fact that every time an incident happens, a molestation or rape, usually of a woman, we try and build walls to protect ourselves or if we are men, protect our women. We ask the police to be more vigilant, to patrol, to install cctvs, to put fences, to add more guards, more grills, to track with gps, to have checks and policing in place so that women can feel safe. But the sad truth is that building walls will only make the outdoors wilder, segregating gender will only alienate each gender from the other and increase violence. No government, no men, no police, no institution can make it all go away. What can perhaps make a difference is that if you, me, all of us, in spite of the violence, go outdoors, at all times, at all places, fearlessly own the night. Be there, not in groups, not with men, but alone — until it becomes the norm. We need to own the spaces, only then can we be safe.
What is your experience of growing up in the city? Any lingering memories?
Much to the chagrin of my parents, growing up, I loved to be out on the roads of Delhi rather than stay at home. A love I share with Anantya. There’s a sense of freedom to be able to walk (not ride in closed spaces like cars), take a deep breath, smell the city. But I have always felt a sense of insecurity, a sense of alertness when I walk on the streets. I have grown aggressive because of collated bad experiences for years — creepy touches, bottom pinches, side leers, breast stares and squeezes. I have experienced it all because I refused to get off the road or the public spaces. I refused to huddle within groups. But yes, Delhi has converted me into a hedgehog. When I am walking, I don’t smile at a stranger, I am wary and vigilant. That’s a bit unfortunate.
Why do you write? And why Cult of Chaos?
I write because I itch to tell stories. When I am not writing, I am making up stories and orally telling them to my friends. I want to explore the idea of otherness, of strangeness, of non-humans, paranormals and supernaturals through these stories, which is why I am writing in the fantasy genre. I want to explore ‘us’ versus ‘them’ in all their manifestations.
I wrote Cult of Chaos because I was itching to write a work of detective fiction that mixes Indian folklore and supernatural creatures into a mystery. Anantya Tantrist happened because I was so bored of all the action taken up by male superheroes and superstars while women sat on the side, as pretty eye-candy. I wanted a story in which a woman gets her hands dirty, has all the adventures, kicks the villains and goes to a bar later to celebrate. And Cult of Chaos is all that and more!
Can you take us through the experience of writing this book?
Anantya’s story has been an emotional journey for me. I was creating a female character who is fearless, independent, who just doesn’t give two hoots about what the society thinks, who isn’t dependent on a man. I had to change so many scenes constantly because they were written keeping in mind the ‘limitations’ a woman would have in our society. But Anantya doesn’t adhere to those limitations. I wanted to create a character who will step out of all the gender ideas we have as a society, which is why I rewrote and rewrote, overcoming my limitations as a writer and as a product of our society. And I am amazed at who she has turned out to be. I respect her, am in awe of her, and even have a crush on her.
I sit in my study all day and write while she is out on the streets, taking on powerful people, protecting the helpless, solving violent crimes, also having supernatural adventures of all kinds. She is exposed, while I live a protected life. She is all action while I am all thinking. But just the fact that I have been lucky enough to write her story has changed me too, given me wings. I want to be more like her. I want to own the streets too, fearlessly.