Ten years ago, I was working full time in Femina. Ten years later, someone from Femina did an interview about me. It’s a moment of a kind. Femina has shaped the earlier me. I worked three years there, three years full of travel and meeting the most fabulous people I could imagine. So, I’m a bit stumped. And wowed. Here’s a okay photo that someone sent me of the interview.
Isn’t this simply the most jiggle-worthy thing? Here’s the original interview, in case you’re the reading type.
There will be a quiz on everything paranormal and supernatural. There will be freebies like blade-shaped bookmarks and giveaways and book prizes and snacks and laughter during the event. I confidently promise it’s going to be a blast. As much as the book is. So just come over!
Oxford Bookstore and HarperCollins
WITCHES AND VAMPS
A QUIZ ON PARANORMAL CRIME
to celebrate Shweta Taneja’s
CULT OF CHAOS
an Anantya Tantrist mystery
Think you know your supernatural sleuths?
To celebrate the launch of Cult of Chaos, the first book in the Anantya Tantrist detective series, author Shweta Taneja takes you on a dark mission through detective thrillers, supernatural mysteries and investigators who dabble with devilish crime. So brush up on popular occult shows, comics and books and get ready to stun her with your psychic best. The duel is on!
For all ages.
DAY: 28th March
TIME: 3pm – 5pm
VENUE: Oxford bookstore, Connaught Place, Delhi
A quiz so scary, we had to have it in broad daylight
As part of spreading the word around about Cult of Chaos and Anantya Tantrist, I’ve been hosting giveaways of the book at various spaces, online and offline. As a result of buying copies of my own book to giveaway to a few people I know or do not know, I’ve realised how important it is to gift books. Till now, I didn’t gift many books as I always thought of books as a personal choice, much more personal than the crockery in your cupboard or even the spectacles you wear. It’s something that each person or kid should pick up on their own (except for me and my brother who always gift each other books on rakhi, the only time we exchange gifts). So I ended up giving something banal, like chocolates. However, gifting is actually a lovely way to explore new authors and adventures that you would never have started on if you hadn’t got a copy. And it also encourages the industry. So from now on, if you call me on a birthday or a party, expect a book. No more flowers/chocolates.
And now for a bit of announcements on winners of various contests.
Reviews of Cult of Chaos are pouring in on Facebook, over at Twitter, Goodreads, in blogs and media. So many places to find little cuddles of happiness for Anantya. These few in particular made me blush with happiness. Some are from friends who have no reason to be nasty or nice for that matter. And some are from strangers.
If I could only use three alphabets to describe this book, they would be OMG. Oh My God!!! is the only exclamation that comes remotely close to describing my feeling after reading this book. While I have heard of writers having fantastic imaginations and amazing story telling skills, it is very rare that one comes across a writer having both of these, and trust me when I say this Shweta Taneja has both of these in abundance, and Cult of Chaos is surely proof of that.
I could gush on and on about how good the book is, and how wonderfully well it is paced and how it promises to be the start of an exciting new series of Anantya Tantrist mysteries, if she decides to write a sequel and many more books, but I would simply not be able to do any justice to the book itself, and all you readers of this review also would not understand or appreciate the same unless you read the book itself….
…To take a character like Anantya Tantrist and go ahead and put her in a chaotic dystopian future where tantriks, magic, rituals and humans co-exist in a somewhat fragile relationship was a masterstroke by the author. The richness of the author’s imagination clearly shines through in her description of the goings-on without having to resort to time-tried and tested tropes such as providing vivid descriptions of the environment, the cities, the people etc….
There’s more. Read the complete review on the kind fellow’s blog here.
Wonders never cease. Only a few years ago, I was scrounging websites and blogs, emailing and trolling authors for a bit of wiseness, gyan on writing that could come my way. And then the wonderful Bhumika from Bangalore Writers Workshop invited me over on a Saturday to speak on the art of writing and to answer all those questions are arise in the hearts of people who are crazy enough to get started on a writing journey.
There was a small group of about fifteen people there, tired as they’d just finished their classes on writing and here was another person going to give them gyan. But they didn’t show it. Instead, they were brave and curious and asked questions. They asked me the usual ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’, ‘How did you get published?’, ‘What’s the process of your writing?’ and the direct ‘How do you earn?’ and the difficult ‘When do you know a manuscript is ready to be submitted?’
I tried this for the first time, going to meet a group with no agenda, no preparation but myself and the work I’ve done. And I tried to answer as truthfully as possible, making sure hope was always alive. For I am just one point of view. And there are many other.
And so we chatted and spent the evening. In a rare lull of questions, I asked everyone who were the Indian authors they’d read or heard of: Amartya Sen, Salman Rushdie and then finally, ‘Chetan Bhagat’ with a disclaimer, ‘Though I’ve not read him.’
OPEN for entries. Last date for submission: 24th February, 2015
Hello, all! Contest 13 is upon us, and in keeping with the theme of the number, this time we’ll write about superstitions.
Before we get to the topic, though, I have an announcement to make about our contests. We’re soon moving from a fortnightly schedule to a monthly schedule. So the contest will stay open for longer, which means we’ll hopefully get more and better entries. The prize, which has been stuck at 500 rupees for a while now, will be doubled to 1000 rupees.
I’m doing this because I want to run monthly giveaways as well, on the 15th-to-15th cycle, where people will get a chance to win various prizes in return for insignificant acts such as leaving comments. If all of this doesn’t make sense, don’t worry. As a follower of the blog, nothing much will change, except a few timelines here and there which you will get used to soon enough.
Since we’re on Contest 13, it will be almost criminal of us if we did not write about fears and superstitions. As you know, the number 13 has always had an ominous significance in the world of the supernatural. It is not so much an Indian motif, but let’s use it as an excuse to ruminate upon the other-worldly anyway.
Why? Because it’s fun! All right, so this time, the topic to write on is:
What is your pet superstition?
Head to his website, where he suggests ideas, links of superstitions and ways for you to participate in the contest. All answers should be posted as comments on HIS blog, before the end of this month. So what is your superstition?
Ten year ago, in a small bookstore (which has shut down now) in Delhi, I was introduced to Samit Basu’s first book, the first in the Gameworld trilogy, and was instantly jealous of him. I hadn’t read the book yet. I just stood in the bookstore, remembering that I had flicked through the fantasy novel’s pages, ending up at the first page, with his biography. What made this green-eyed smoky monster rise up through my ears was the fact that he was just 24-years of age when his first book had come out, my peer by age. By that time, I had already been harbouring a dream of writing a novel, but hadn’t started on it. And I wanted to write something in fantasy. (This ‘I want to write a book’ has become something of a fashionable thing now, to do for every bucket list, right there along with dance with the African tribals, click photographs of zebras and jump from high rise buildings and airplanes.)
Me and a friend who was there along with me, bought the book, read it, giggled at the breathless one liners after another, reread it, discussed it, and stayed with the trilogy, anticipating each of the next with as much impatience as Harry Potter fans. It was my first Indian fantasy series that made me as crazy, something I bet that all Game of Thrones fans now will remember. Now when I look back at the trilogy, it was of a new, impatient, foot-tapping author who broke limits and codes and played with myth and mythology and actually had fun doing it. At that time, it was just so much fun! Samit wasn’t looking at prettified language, he just wanted to play with ideas. That’s something that I loved most about the trilogy.
Since that day, all those years ago, I’ve had ‘fan’ moments with Samit: the day he added me on Facebook, the first time in a Facebook group when he commented on my post, and the first time he answered my emails to help and guide me in the Indian comic industry. He was a senior (by experience, if not age) writer, brutally honest in his suggestions to me (Quit if you want to make money), and refreshingly no-bullshit. Everytime an answer from him came into my inbox, my eyes lit up.
Then while working on Cult of Chaos, I did the impossible, and asked him outright, over email if he would like to give me a blurb for the book. He showed interest, I whoopied and sent him my manuscript, hoping, so much, that he would like it, because if you love someone’s stories, you would want them to be proud of you too. (We authors are like this, made of fragile egos and emotion.) No reply. I pinged him again. Poor thing had just taken up a new job and was juggling with far too much. I wondered if he would be able to go through a rough manuscript of 1,00,000 words complete with bad sentences and typos. Another reminder, wait, wait. And finally, he sent me a blurb. And here’s what he said:
Cult of Chaos is racy, rousing, rambunctious and rakshas-ful. Read immediately
Cult of Chaos is not an easy book for anyone to like, as in anyone from traditional media. Some say no, because it’s a tantrik book, a fiction supposedly encouraging superstition (without having read it of course). Which is weird really. It’s fiction, created stuff! Some of them have said no to the book because it’s too violent, sexual (though there’s not even a single sex act in the novel. Yup, still, Anantya’s such a character that you imagine that she would be doing all kinds of perverted thingies. Which is true actually). So it was quite nice of the kind people over at New Indian Express to give the book a chance and actually use this hair-raising prologue of the book.
Never knew that a standalone event, where people are coming just to meet you, to celebrate your book, can give one such jitters. So it was that I had had a sort of a stomach churning, a week before my first ever book launch was about to happen. I adore Anantya Tantrist, the tantrik detective of Cult of Chaos. Absolutely love the book, but how was I going to convince 50-odd people to turn up at the event and buy the book at that?
And why should they come? I’m not a known author or anything. I’m just someone. But somewhere I so wanted to somehow celebrate the book and writing and completing and getting it published. I’ve always been the curious sorts, asking questions to everyone. So I wondered, why not a quiz? The idea stuck and we decided to do not just any quiz but a special one, on Occult Detectives to entertain the crowd. I knew Anantya would like that and that way, I wouldn’t have to ramble on about the book for half an hour, or do a discussion, which can be so boring for the audience! That decided, we hired QuizCraft Global to conduct this quiz.
To start the quiz, I had asked a friend Kanishka who had read the book at its manuscript level, to say a little about it. He started from The Ghost Hunters of Kurseong, which he’d read and how he was so pleasantly surprised at Cult of Chaos, which is extensively different from my first book. (And definitely not meant for kids) I blushed and got muddled in my head, while he said really, really nice things.
Sathvik Ashok, the quiz master from QuizCraft Global took over from there and kept people entertained for almost 45 minutes, scribbling and chewing pens, hitting themselves on the head or clapping at the chap who got the answer. The quiz had five rounds ranging from supernatural questions, urban legends, to Indian ones. My favourite one was:
ONE OF MY FAVE QUESTIONS:
“A female ghost with messy hair and tattered clothing is said to knock on people’s front doors asking for alms. Opening the door to this ghost is said to invite bad luck. Sometimes, she’s even recognized as an omen for death in the house. If you open the door, she hangs around your house and becomes a nuisance. What idea did people come up with to combat this ?”
Can you guess the answer? I will put it in the end of this post.
Post that, author Sharath Komarraju, was asked to come on stage to take off the shiny wrapping off Cult of Chaos to formally launch the book. He also won one of the rounds of the quiz. He said, ‘I will keep it very short as I’ve been told to say exactly two words. I’ve read this book at the manuscript level and found it fascinating. So my two words are: Buy it.’ With this, he gave the mike to me.
I mumbled emotional stuff about how the book combines the two genres I love the most: fantasy and detective fiction. Of course with blood and violence thrown in. I’ve rambled on the same stuff in other interviews, which you can read here, here and even here.
Finally, it was Ajitha, the senior editor, who has been with Anantya and me throughout, who came on stage. She retold the story of when Shweta had met her first, a few years ago at Bangalore Literature Festival. ‘Shweta came up to me, introduced herself and said, I think Anantya wants you to be the editor of her book. At that time, I was stumped and didn’t know what to say, but it got my attention and I got back home and started to read Cult of Chaos. And I was hooked.’ On the part she loved about the book, Ajitha said. ‘The world is so fleshed out and real. And Anantya is just so like you and me, a woman who has grown up in India, is trying to live an independent life, and even though most of her gaalis are written in English, they are perfectly Indian. I think the time was right for a book like this, an occult detective fiction, to come out in the market.’ Am so happy she agreed to become the editor of the book!
The event closed with a few signings and a couple of photographs with friends. Signing off with the best comment overheard: “The age of the audience increased by 20 years for the next event, a poetry reading session.’
Answer to the above question: Naale Baa (Come tomorrow). The two words were written on every second door in the city to avoid a mysterious woman from knocking at the door at midnight.
A special mention to Ashu, who was there as always and to all of my friends for coming by and making it so much fun (And Kanchen for the owls)! Here are a few photos taken by pal Prasad N and the media coverage so far.
I don’t like death. I cringe everyday when I read about it in the newspaper. It happens to a stranger, unexpected, when you’re just eating a burger in a café. It happens after a prolonged, wearisome illness. It shockingly and violently happened to those little innocent children in Peshawar last month. I cringe every time I read about death, in newspapers, on social media. There’s no escaping it.
When I shifted to a new city, away from my family, each time the phone would ring, my first thought would be of something bad that has happened to my family back home, usually death in all its possible scenarios. Always anticipating bad news.
Near my house, I once saw a man lying askew in a corner. He smelt rotten; flies hovered over him. The cops didn’t touch the cadaver, as if the dead can cause death to the living, waiting for the hearse, the corpse pickers, the professionals to come and pick them up. For we all feel like that, that somehow death would catch us unaware, like a really bad cold.
Then I visited the Manikarnikaghat in Banaras, one of the main banks of the River Ganges, where about five to ten dead bodies are burnt every minute, and I was strangely attracted and repulsed by the place. I stood there, tightly hugging myself, looking at people in the business of cremation and how they went about their work – fetching logs, putting them efficiently on to the silk covered body, smashing the spine to break the corpse if it didn’t burn well – all with an ease of writing emails or throwing garbage. And I saw the others, the living, who stood on the sidelines as well, some involved, some bystanders like me, standing there. As if we were watching someone fight, or as if it was an accident on the road. Death both fascinates and repulses the living. It also causes fear and all kinds of superstitions.
While researching on my tantric fantasy, Cult of Chaos, I came across a dreadful tantrik ritual related to death, which was both awful and intriguing. Called Shava Sadhana, it is whispered about in conversations as if the very act of talking about it might bring in bad luck (and fatality) to the person. It’s practiced in a graveyard, on a new moon night. The sadhaka (the one meditating) is supposed to go through rigid rituals and then sit on top of a corpse all night, meditating all alone. Not any corpse, it has to be a fresh, complete, and unharmed one.
There’s a reason here for doing something that is obviously shocking. Tantrism believes that you have to set yourself free from the shackles of society, and its morality and religion. Started in medieval times in protest to the puritanical Brahminical religion which was ridden with racism, casteism and dogma, the tantrik activity accepted anyone into their folds as a student and encouraged them to unlearn everything they had learnt growing up in a society and become like an infant again. Like a baby who can eat her own shit or human meat without any judgment, drink her own pee and doesn’t think of nakedness as anything but there.
Shava Sadhana is in many ways the culmination of the tantric philosophy. It’s about touching and exploring that one thing you so fear – death – and the one thing you feel is impure – a dead body. All night, sitting on top of a corpse, realising you’re alone in your death, that dying is the supreme truth. That all of us have to go through it. Alone. And in that way, try and purge your fear of death.
I recreated the ritual in a scene in my tantrik fantasy, Cult of Chaos. Even though I took a lot of liberties in terms of rituals, there was one feeling that I got from it, which I think was true to the ritual. When Anantya Tantrist, the tantrik detective in the book, sat with a corpse touching her naked body, she (and I with her) felt alive. We touched the clammy, cold flesh of the dead and we could feel the blood pounding in our veins and hearts, could feel the way our lungs filled with oxygen, could feel life coursing its way through us. Being with a corpse also made her (and me with her) realise the ultimate truth – that she’s mortal and she’s going to pop off soon enough. As will I.
As will all of those I know. For all humans go that way. Experiencing the ritual, the scene, with my character was so powerful that it still remains with me. It is one of the most brutally truthful scenes I’ve written. My fears of death are still very much alive, especially death of my loved ones, but I can see it not as a disease that can somehow, somewhere be avoided, but as the truth, that will come to us all one day. No matter how much we fear it.