“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.
Want to start on that first book? Aspire to get published? Here are a few tips for aspiring writers that I shared with Writersmelon.
Why do you want to write?
If you want to be a writer, the first thing that you need, which is I think a very individualistic thing, is the desire to write, the passion to create something new, to express a story, a character in a new way. I write because characters crop up in my head and bang inside, demanding to be let out. I write because it’s addictive and I have no other choice. It’s the highest I’ve ever felt, and also the lowest. It’s hard, but I’m not going to leave it anytime soon.
Once you’ve keyed on this desire, it will drive you through the long, long process of gathering the skills and actually writing the whole thing. Ideas are easy to come by, getting the skill of writing is also not too difficult, but it’s this desire that makes all the difference. This motivation that comes from inside you, will discipline you, make sure you don’t give up halfway and will not let you rest till you complete the creative work. In that sense, it’s an intrinsic value.
Finish that first draft
Don’t let your rational mind take over till you complete the first draft. Write with your instinct, write whatever you see the characters doing, just write without thinking too much. The only thing you can do is be true to your characters. Don’t let your opinion on life and your language leak through into the story, for the readers will know and they’ll not like it. After you have completed the first draft, edit, polish and edit again. Once you think it’s ready to be sent to a publisher, wait for a week. Edit again and send to the publisher. Don’t think of it as a hobby. Think of writing as your work. You have to do it everyday, even if you don’t feel like getting up from the bed. Write everyday, even if you are sad or not in the mood or don’t have time for it or can’t think of a single line to write. Write a portion everyday.
The plotlines of most action flicks, are all about the hero. The hero rocks the roads, chases goons, tots guns, fights for justice, sows wild oats with white girls, and then heads back to home, to his heroine. All this while, this heroine, the girl, pines away back at home or sits pretty in a café (usually alongside a swimming pool for some reason), waiting for her hero. The only time she’s outdoors, she’s either surrounded by other girls, or is with the hero, or is getting raped or attacked by the goons. The message is loud and clear: The streets are unsafe for an Indian woman: If you’re out there alone, you will be slaughtered, you little lamb.
As a girl who grew up in Delhi, I was fed this message by family, society, school, college and onwards. Every time I walked on the streets of the capital city, as a teenager, as a working woman in her 20s, I had to constantly fight butt slaps, boob pinches, stares and hoots and whistles from strangers. Every time a violent act happened, I was told to not walk alone on streets, to wear looser clothes, not stare back and scream, not confront, not act, but be passive. For that’s how a woman should behave. Wait for someone else, a hero, a guy, the government or the police to react to the aggression that happens to her, to save her. An Indian woman is supposed to be passive, silently take on violence if given by her husband or in-laws, or ask for help from the boyfriend or police or government when faced from an aggressive stranger. Most of all, a woman is supposed to protect herself from all of it, to keep indoors, to make friends carefully in case they turn out to be rapists.
With Anantya Tantrist, the tantrik detective of my latest novel, Cult of Chaos, I decided to take all of these years of imbibed and heard and oft-repeated Indian values of passivity, decorum, rules and ethics meant for women and flip them, turn them on their head. Just to see what happens to the society in the world if I do. For speculative fiction gives you that freedom, to extrapolate, to try and do things differently, make new rules and new societies, explore gender roles and beliefs about gender. And I took it.
Anantya as a result, became a complete opposite to the restrictive idea of an ideal Indian woman.
First of all, she is always in the middle of action, she speaks her mind, there’s no passivity when it comes to her, in fact passivity bores her. She is boisterous, angry, spews gaali, smokes beedi, drinks hard stuff like a fish, hangs out on the streets with all kinds of things and species, doesn’t come home till wee hours, has crud in her kitchen, can’t cook to save her life, but can wield a boneblade to save another’s. She has unapologetic one night stands with all kinds of supernatural species, wears chappals and goes to parties and doesn’t know what a ‘date’ is. Continue reading “How creating Anantya helped me find my freedom”
Aaand it’s done. Polka Cafe, who’ve made a mark with listicles around books (read here, here and here), have included this one in a listicle of interestingcomic geeks that live in Bangalore. Not only that. This is what they say about Cult of Chaos: Her novel ‘Cult Of Chaos’ is about a female tantrist, that has some great tones of feminism and underlying political tones, masked well by humour and imagination.
(Hops up and down with sheer glee).
And they call me non-pseudo intellectual. Oh man! This also reminds me how I fought Thejesh, a dear friend and all round tech/geek-support and coolaid, who was the first one to call me a ‘geek’.
‘Of course I’m not! They’re supposed to be like techie or something,’ I had cried all those years ago. I bow down to your infinite wisdom, T 🙂 And here’s a photo of us in a Comic Con in Bangalore, on my first book launch ever: Krishna Defender of Dharma (he’s the one in black, extreme right).
Ahh, memories. Like scattered stars they are. And yes, I am a geek. (Eek).
Author Zac O’Yeah has to be one of the sweetest creature one can find in the publishing industry. First he roams about in Bangalore and beyond writing beautiful travel tales on Malgudi. Then he doles out free advice on writing over email, meets you for a cup of coffee and offers a beautiful guest post for your blog about meeting author Nirmal Verma. Thirdly, he includes you in his popular column in Mint, with a name like Avtar Singh, the author of Necropolis and many other things. So when this came out, I was literally jumping up and down on my bed.
This is the story at the core of Necropolis, a novel by Avtar Singh, former editor of TimeOut Delhi and official nightlife expert of Delhi. I wondered if I’d spotted a trend when I opened the next book in my review pile, Cult Of Chaos, by Mint contributor Shweta Taneja, in which the protagonist, Tantrist and ghost-buster Anantya, inhabits an ancient 24-room haveli in Old Delhi where she’s set up her nest of sorcery along with a mascot cat, a snake god and an Urdu-blabbering ghost.
Compared to the moody Gothic ambience of Necropolis, which in lyrical prose bemoans the demise of the Delhi of yore while it ponders New Delhi’s alienating newness, Cult Of Chaos is a chick-lit take on the horrors of the megacity. Be warned, though. This is not soft-focus romance. In between blind-dating, there’s plenty of pulpy gore as Anantya fights rakshasas (demons) that fart foul-smelling substances in posh Connaught Place restaurants.
Taneja is more pleasantly surprised at being labelled a horror writer. “Now that you mention it, yes, isn’t it true? I wonder why more authors haven’t written horror, for there is definitely a market out there,” says Taneja, who grew up in Delhi and as a woman had to be constantly on the alert. The Tantrist hero, then, is her way of revisiting that city of dread.
Personally, she’s a fan of more psychological thriller writers like Stephen King. Regarding her novel, Taneja states: “What I wanted to do was explore the hidden side of Indian society, the things that lie beneath the veneer of the middle class, the arrogance, the thirst for power…which is perhaps why I chose an occult detective. Tantrism has always lived on the edges of the society, shunned, considered evil or disgusting or feared like monsters. Tantrism is quite fascinating for us, sort of like serial killers are for the West.”
And now that I think of it, this might well be a subgenre emerging, with writers like Singh and Taneja measuring the horror quotient of the modern metropolis.
Read Zac’s complete column over at Mint. Fabulous, isn’t it?
It’s taken me a month to post this. Reason: I promised myself that I’ll finish Anantya’s second adventure before any posts on my blog. So here I am, with a finished book (yay!) and a story for you. Tantric Tales happened on the last Sunday of April. The whole team of The Beehive, a collective of creative people, organised it, taking over over the event, setting up the venue, plannning Anantya’s favourite drink soma-on-the-rocks, deciding and creating the graphics as well as the documentary which needed to be screened. It was really kind of the Beehive girls to go so much out of their way and do all of this! That’s the Beehive team below.
It was one of the funnest events I’ve done, a chilled out Sunday evening at a beautiful venue (if you haven’t checked out Humming Tree, I suggest you go. Now. Nikhil, the introvert-ish sweetheart that he is, always has something fun up his sleeve.) where friends and strangers sat on carpets, high chairs, low chairs with a beer bottle in one hand and a pen in the other. For the quiz was on. Ashwani, the quiz master of the evening kept them all inthralled. I even saw a group of people who left their burgers, ON A SUNDAY, to solve a quiz. This city will never cease to amaze me.
Then there was the fiery soma-on-the-rocks which Anantya would’ve gobbled in a second. I avoided it in case I fell into a giggly fit right before my discussion on stage.
Post the quiz, I came up on stage, chatted with people, talked about researching on tantrism. Frankly, I could’ve done a better job, selling my book, talking about it, etc, but it was a Sunday and I’d just had a high after a successful book launch in Delhi and before that in Bangalore, so I became like the crowd at Humming, relaxed. The evening ended with a circle where a lot of people shared their stories and experiences of the paranormal and supernatural. Amazing, that part.
The event was covered extensively by the kind MetroPlus at The Hindu, Jagran CityPlus and we all came on Page 3 of the Indulge of New Indian Express. Thrilling for a day, that. Leaving you with a few photographs (taken by the kind Prasad N).
I know I’ve been putting in too many of the Update posts recently and not enough stories, those lovely little things that readers (including me) love to read. But indulge me for a moment, peeps. For: Cult of Chaos has made it to Top Ten! Like with all-caps!
Yes. Anantya’s managed it. Not just at one place but four different places across the country! This was shared by the kind sales head at HarperCollins. At the end in Top Ten list of Asian Age. Whaat??
Before I could begin rubbing my eyes, a friend send this. In top ten at WS Smith, those stores that are our lone friends at the airport. Cult shares spot with Amish‘s trilogy in the Book of the Month section.
Then in April, my book was in the top ten at Bahrisons, a well respected bookstore in Delhi.
Sainath, the enthusiastic sales head in HarperCollins in Bangalore had told me that the book was first in Top Ten at Oxford Bookstore Bangalore last month, which I’d duly posted with a yay.
So you see, complete Woot-ness has become. While I turn into an owl with sheer happiness (there are so many other reasons which I’ll let you all know in due time), you go on to read something serious here or if you crave for an interesting story, here.
The occult quiz is back by popular demand! This time, it’s the kind people at The Beehive who’ve owned up everything tantrism and will be hosting it at The Humming Tree, probably the coolest place in the city to hang out at. We will talk about Cult of Chaos, do an occult quiz (with prizes), a documentary on witch hunting in India and finally, the thing I’m most looking forward to: Everyone who comes there, the audience, the barman, the friends and family, will all sit in a circle and tell a real life story they’ve heard about paranormal, supernatural and tantrism.
So come, listen to occult stories! It’s going to be fun. Here’s the fabulous invite made by Aakanksha.
Exploring the supernatural with Shweta Taneja
author of ‘Cult of Chaos’
In this session of The Beehive, we will explore some secrets of dark magic, tantrism and cults that exist at the fringes of our society with a documentary on witch hunting, a quiz and trivia session and a discussion on tantrism with author Shweta Taneja whose new book, Cult of Chaos has been published by Harper Collins India.
4.00 pm – Documentary
5.00 pm – Trivia and Quiz
6.00 pm – Discussion on Tantrism and Cult of Chaos by Shweta Taneja
We invite all of you to be a part of this and share with us your own personal experiences or stories that you’ve heard from your mother about what happened to your aunt’s daughter’s brother-in law when he was travelling through the Western Ghats on a full moon night.. or the one about the neighbour who took a swim in the village pond and was possessed by the spirits living in the old peepal tree, where she hung her clothes. The best story will get a signed copy by the author!
VENUE : THE HUMMING TREE
———————————————The Humming Tree is a concept Live Music and Arts Venue (operating as a bar/café as well) opened in June, 2013 and located in Bangalore, India.———————————————
ORGANISERS : THE BEEHIVE
The Beehive is a participatory gathering of all the wonderful pool of talents, dreams, hopes, skills and innovations. We all share, we all learn, we all love. Every month, ‘The Beehive’, at The Humming Tree brings something new.
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.
Super duper excitement happened while I was in Delhi. First of all, I saw spring come into the city after six years. It’s fabulous, by the way, that end of winters before they crash into the searing hot summers of the city. The city was blushing and blooming with colours all over, Fall tussling with Spring. And I can vouch for it, for was driving from one end of the city to the other, meeting people, signing books, talking about the art and craft of writing books (knowledgeably at that!).
RJ Ginnie who is the superstar host of the show Suno Na Dilli over at Radio City 91.1 has this to-die-for-voice. In real life, she’s chilled out, friendly and an efficient producer who rocks her studio without any assistant. This was the first time I’d entered a studio and I was so excited. It’s been a secret dream for me, to be an RJ since AGES. So secret that I didn’t even remember it, till I entered the space. We tested and then crashed onto a single take of the whole show. And here’s what happened. (Disclaimer: Keep volume low for the rather screechy voice. No choice there!)
Post the recording, Ginnie was fascinated by my rather non-authorly behaviour (jumping around, gleefully) when I asked her to click a few pictures of me. But they’re worth it, aren’t they? And she didn’t mind too much, else she wouldn’t have agreed to come to my book launch later in Delhi, where we had an energetic discussion on everything tantrism and Anantya Tantrist. Before the launch, she’d completed the book and loved it too! (Thanks girl, you rock!)
The second radio interview happened at Radio One, 94.3FM with RJ Chris. She’s a darling, soft spoken, genuine and we spoke at length about death. There has been a recent death in the family and we wondered together why we as kids are taught how to dress up, how to cope with homework but not something at nuts as death, which lingers all around us always. But the interview itself is not so dark. It’s about Makaibari tea, my favouritest in the world (I stole a little of it from my friend Kay, after my stash got over) and about why I’m so fascinated by tantrism. Check it out below.