Must read graphic novels by Indian authors

When my eyes are screen-lagged, I love to cuddle up on my couch and unfurl a good old graphic novel, especially a narrative non-fiction one. A few years ago, I would have always recommended fantasy (I hounded artist Appupen, till he agreed to draw the covers of my fantasy series Anantya Tantrist Mysteries and have two graphics novels to my name: the bestselling Krishna Defender of Dharma and The Skull Rosary.). However, I’ve recently found myself at the non-fiction shelf – both online and offline – my eyes scanning through graphic novels on personal history and biographies.

Perhaps, the reason is the new book I’m about to release – a non-fiction, my first, on contemporary Indian scientists – who I interviewed all of last year. Narrative non-fiction, or the creative retelling of people’s stories, is something that I have become quite interested in recently. 

Even bookstores find them a constant read for readers. Abhinav Bamhi at Faqir Chand and Sons at Delhi, feels that the graphic novels have been ever popular. “Thanks to the new ideas, and unconventional illustrators and writers, this genre continues strong.”

A list of Must-Read Graphic novels

In the year 2021, as life remains uncertain and most of us screen-lagged peeps are shutting down their Netflix and heading to books, here are my recommendations of the Indian non-fiction graphic novels you must pick up to curl up with.

Bhimayana, a graphic novel

An intriguing story, the one which remains relevant in all days; Bhimyana is a fantastic retelling of Ambedkar’s history, his caste struggles (which remain relevant today too) and his travel to become the man who developed India’s constitution. It’s a beautiful visual book, illustrated by well known Gond artists Durgabai Vyam and Subhash Vyam and written by S.Anand and Srividya Natarajan. A must-add to any graphic novel collection. 

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Happy New Year: I had a great 2020! Here’s to 2021

happy new year!

Yes, I had a great 2020 and I wish you a happy new year.

This post is about all the little thankful things that come into our brains, bodies and soul, while the world is churning viruses. It was while developing a talk for my alumni network at Lady Sriram College, that I realized I had a great year.

Since the past few years, I had been in a kind of a slump. Possibly self created. Everything was going well in my life. I was physically fit, I had just moved to a new country (my idea) and in 2018-2019 travelled like flights would freeze in 2020 (ahem).

However, all through these two years, through mostly ups and some downs, the slump, this feeling of being low niggled at my heart, dousing everything marvellous I did was a rancid aftertaste. I sold a movie option to Anantya Tantrist Mysteries to a big producer. Nada. I founded a Swiss startup with amazing colleagues, earned well, and travelled to Dublin to speak at the WorldCon. Nada. I even waved at JRR Martin. Nada. I wrote short stories – a few of which were translated and published in French and Romanian and Dutch. Nada.

When even meeting JRR Martin does not stay with you for long, you know something’s wrong.

I was in some sort of a constant rut – constantly feeling like something was amiss when everything was perfect. Maybe it was a midlife crisis. Maybe I had finally changed too much, too frequently.  I don’t know. And it’s not someone I am! I used to be the person who celebrated every little milestone – a piddly salary increase, finishing of draft 1 (followed by finishing of draft 2, 3…), on an invite to talk at a literary festival. I love being joyous! And here I was, with a perfect life, but chugging through it.

This new year, take risks

And then the virus-created pandemic and the government-created lockdown hit us. As the world went into a crazy spur, I for some reason jumped out of mine. Early in 2020, we had settled in our beautiful home, I had a study. I became happy (though not always. My country’s people who had to walk back homes because of government-induced mismanagement was horribly tragic). All through April, I was in a flurry, writing my new book – a non-fiction which comes out in January – something I had never attempted. I was so busy, I had no time to see the Covid tickers that were everyone’s favourites or read those endless Whatsapp analysis.

Since the past few years, I had been in a kind of a slump. In 2020, as the world went into a crazy spur, I jumped out of mine. Here's how
A new wonderful project can bring a constant smile on your face. I was lucky that way!

In May, I took up a new opportunity with Nature Conservation Foundation – doing what I slowly didn’t realize that I loved – working on partnerships between organisations. I found a work-knack that I had never explored before. I also became a finalist in a prestigious French literary award – for The Daughter That Bleeds – which I had written in 2018, distracted, just for fun.

Do things you’ve never tried before

As lockdown opened up, I took on new hobbies and new way of life. I tried my hand at planting. In June, I started playing squash and lawn tennis – both games were new to me. In August, I bought a cycle, started cycling  25-30 kilometers, make a girls group for cycling in my community. All through the year, I was also working on a new science fiction novel (finished draft 1, which I celebrated just before Diwali!).

Can’t get enough to riding my bike, everyday!

I don’t know what happened to flip it, to get me out of that mood I had been in for a few years. Maybe it’s the fact that when tragedy comes knocking, really knocking – for the world – you stop feeling sorry for yourself and live your life as you were meant to do.

As we tumble into 2021, I wish this happiness and realisation and newness to all you wonderful folks. Keep travelling, keep taking risks and don’t forget that whatever you do, it’s the small joys that stay with you. Happy new year, folks!

SF in India: Challenges, Debutants and More

SF in India

Who is writing SF in India, you ask? Umm, let me tell you a story. A few years ago, as a naïve young writer, I enthusiastically knocked on an ancient door in a busy street of London. I was there to meet a reputed literary agent – a meeting which had been set up by a Booker long-listed author and friend. During the meeting, I introduced my (then) upcoming urban fantasy series, Anantya Tantrist Mysteries – an occult detective who solves supernatural crime in Delhi with a world built on myths and folklores of the subconti­nent.

Much to my delight, the reputed gentleman seemed enthusiastic. It changed the moment I mentioned that the series had been published in India. He shook his head. It was impossible, he explained sympathetically, to find a pub­lisher for the series as I did not own “British Commonwealth Rights,” something that all UK-based publishers would demand.

Quick Explainer of ‘British Commonwealth Rights’

To me, as a citizen of an erstwhile colonized land still reeling under the aftereffects of 200 years of slavery, the term “Commonwealth” bordered on the offensive. This was the first time I had heard it used by liter­ary agents and publishers. “British Commonwealth Rights,” in a contract, implies literary rights in 54 English-speaking countries which were erstwhile colonies of the British Empire. Ironically, the forward-thinking, language-conscious publishers who tweet using #OwnVoice and #BlackLivesMat­ter have not considered removing this clause from their legal contracts that divided the world along colonial lines of the 19th century.

The clause encapsulates the expectation that decision makers in the publishing industry have for genre works that emerge from the East, including India. “Big international publishers reinforce the existence of colonial and orientalist expectations when it comes to Indian writing, particularly when the writer is residing within the subcontinent,” says Lavanya Lakshminarayan, whose debut work Analog/Virtual (2020) got rave reviews in the subcontinent but is still not published in the West.

When Lavanya was shopping her novel, she was asked to write a “sellable” novel which could be the next “Slumdog Millionaire meets American Gods.” She developed the idea into a story, but couldn’t write it. “Why must we prove our ‘Indian-ness’ in colonially acceptable terms first?” she laments. Perhaps that’s why colonial­ism remains one of the major themes in Indian SF other than exploring an increasingly fractured democracy, gender violence, religious divisiveness and climate emergency through futuristic dystopias.

SF in India has themes of colonialism and climate emergency

“The legacy of colonial­ism, social and religious cleavages and climate change are the three core themes we find occurring and recur­ring in contemporary South Asian SFF,” agrees Gautam Bhatia, an editor with Strange Horizons who also debuted a SF novel this year. There is a reason. Most editors and their sales teams in New York and London continue to look for an exotic version of India meant to entertain a colonial, mostly white gaze.

Tashan Mehta, Kumar L, Sukanya Venkatraghavan
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I Spy a Salute: A tribute to John le Carré

johnlecarre

(This tribute to John le Carré was first published in The New Indian Express.)

In my pre-teens, I wanted to be James Bond. A daring hero who could save damsels (I saved sexy boys, swooning in my arms) while sipping on martinis in exotic bars of five-star hotels, in handcrafted expensive suits (designer gowns in my case). I imagined myself racing through the alluring world of espionage, delightful deceits and gun-totting, gasping action. I wanted to grab all the glamour with my grubby hands.

Smiley is anti-Bond

Then I grew up and met George Smiley, an espionage spy like Bond, in John le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1974). Smiley was anti-Bond. Instead of the swashbuckling suaveness, Smiley paraded reality. He was middle aged, balding, badly dressed, excessively polite, could be bullied, and constantly dealt with a runaway wife. In Call for the Dead (1961), le Carré’s first novel, he was compared to a toad; in A Murder of Quality (1962), he was called a mole.

Throughout his career of 25 novels, le Carré — whose real name was David Cornwell and who, unlike armchair writers like this one, worked in the British intelligence before becoming a full-time writer writing espionage — alluded to how the Bondian universe was a fantastical joyride. A modern day fairy tale, with a spy as a hero, cardboard archenemies and damsels in distress.

Smiley was anti-Bond. Instead of the swashbuckling suaveness, Smiley paraded reality.

Le Carré consciously made the characters that inhabited his fictional universe, like Smiley — spies, politicians, damsels, charming liars, villains — a little too real. They were bespeckled bureaucrats who wiped their glasses with their ties, dealt with budget cuts, deceptive spouses and girlfriends and confounding treacheries of their governments, leaving them gutted at morality’s knife edge. The almost satirical Looking Glass War (1965), for example, is plotted around an espionage mission that becomes pointless at the end. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1963), which put le Carré in international stardom, portrays methods that its spies employ which are inconsistent with perceived Western values.

A honeycomb of distrust, fragilities and broken people

The writer in me guzzled le Carré’s honeycomb of distrust, human fragilities and broken systems, shaking off the simplistic, glamour-verse of Bond. While developing my tantrik detective series, that two spy worlds inspired my world-building. My protagonist, Anantya Tantrist, was very much a Bondian heroine, trolling Delhi’s streets at night, kicking supernatural threats while swigging somas-on-the-rock; the world she inhabited however was filled with grubby treachery, inspired by the greys le Carré brought into his universes, where friends betrayed and there was no right path, but murky choices, rendering all heroic efforts insufficient.  

David Cornwell unlike armchair writers like me worked in the British intelligence before becoming a writer

It’s this constant tension — between the values protagonists stand for, and the murky methods they employ to protect them including deception, violence and betrayal — that manage to shred the same values to scraps of null, and elevate yet another fiction to a deeper reflection on our realityIn our world of disinformation campaigns, ego-boosting echo chambers and fake news, le Carré’s fictional world, like powerful fiction today, slithers underneath our fabricated reality, forcing us to dive into the murky, filthy truth about ourselves and the murky morals in all their grubby glamour.

(This tribute to John le Carré was first published in The New Indian Express.)

Tribute to John le Carré: le Carré's fictional world, like powerful fiction today, slithers underneath our fabricated reality

BLF 2020: Book launch at a hybrid festival

Milind Soman and I almost met at the Bangalore Literature Festival this year, a hybrid festival.

It was a cool Sunday evening. I was to speak in the last session at the festival – a panel to launch a fantastic anthology on Bengaluru’s history, Eleven Stops to the Present: Stories of Bengaluru with Meera Iyer, Menaka Raman with Kartik Venkatesh. Formidable, sweet company. My story in the anthology is a rollercoaster tale of Salma, a fiesty 11-year-old who lives in the Shivajinagar area in the 1930s (See the walk that inspired this story).

Milind‘s panel was in audi 1, mine in audi 2. I decided to pop into his, swoon a bit, before sitting in mine. On the second flood of the Bangalore International Centre, I waved a hello to Milind’s larger-than-life screen version.

Talk on writing historical fiction

The hybrid festival version was as good as it gets considering this year. Still grinning, I headed to my panel, facing a camera and 30 odd people in the audience (sitting in real life) and more than a 100 people attending virtually (livestreamed through the camera).

Me, Menaka Raman and Meera Iyer talking about research that makes historical fiction hard to write. With Kartik Venkatesh (Don’t miss the livestream in the right corner. #Hybrid

There were three questions at the panel, all of them from the audience that attended virtually. Frankly, I’m a bit old fashioned and looked beyond the camera towards the attendees who sat masked, having navigated virus exposure and Bangalore traffic – I was all about giving them precedence –however they were okay letting the virtualees ask questions.

The unseen, listening audience

We waved a cheery goodnight to the audience and the camera and stepped off stage to go into the bar downstairs. Before that, to say a last bye to my time-sharer at the festival, I headed to the third floor, where the BIC office is and met Lekha, Raghu and Ravi, the wonderful team who was the hands behind the camera, making sure all us could entertain the attendees without any faux pas like glitches, frozen screens, or author-mutism. I hugged them all from a distance and clicked this photograph.

The devices around you. This person is responsible for me almost meeting Milind.

Because, as in the hybrid event, this part, that happens in the background is important. Our lives are populated by the machines, the phones, the cameras, the audio-listening devices and soon the drones and bots. We’re living the science fiction dream, yo. Hybrid events are here to stay as both the virtual and real attendees become important.

Hybrid’s here to stay, but meeting pals is fun

It was marvellous. The crowds were limited as most people could attend online. The fact that I was attending a festival in Bangalore after such a long time, the fact that I met all my wonderful friends (all duly masked, except for the brief moment we took the photograph below) and the fact that 2020 so comfortably has made us slide into hybridity.

Happy meeting coffee friends: With Andaleeb Wajid, Milan Vohra and Nirmala Govindarajan

Beginning of 2021, I’m launching a new book and I’m already planning both physical events and hybrid ones. Will keep you posted on that one folks. Till then, happy virtual lives.  

Book Launch: How biryani chokes a history book

What do biryani, wrestling, Russel Market and children have in common? A fantastic ride through 1920s in Bangalore! My new short story ‘The Biryani Choke’ is a rollicking tumble set around the opening of the Russell Market in Shivajinagar of the 1920s.

The story is being published in an anthology by INTACH Bangalore appropriately called Eleven Stops to the Present: Stories of Bengaluru. If you don’t know, INTACH Bangalore are folks who are known to conduct terribly entertaining heritage walks in the city. The anthology is the brainchild of Meera Iyer (who wrote Discovering Bengaluru: History. Neighbourhoods. Walks, a must-have book if you like discovering history by foot) who has also written a story in it. Other amazing writers in it include: Aditi De, Anirudh Kanisetti, Anitha Murthy, Edgar Demello, Meera Iyer, Menaka Raman, Nagaraj Vastarey, Sandhya Rao, Shruthi Rao, and of course Zac O’Yeah.

Upcoming anthology by INTACH

Eleven short stories for children, by eleven awesome writers who take you on a journey through Bengaluru and Bangalore, from about 2000 years ago to the 1980s

Releases soon!

The book is an ambitious idea to introduce the city’s history to children through fiction stories set in different periods of Bangalore (or Bengaluru, that’s also history now). When Meera asked me to write a story, I knew the place in Bangalore I wanted to write about. I had already been there….

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Short story shortlisted in prestigious French awards

This is surreal at a serious level. A short story I wrote a couple of years back, The Daughter That Bleeds was translated in French as ‘La Fille qui saigne’ by Mikael Cabon and published in Galaxies magazine, an SFF fanzine in France. This happened last year and I was gleed at that point and then forgot about it.

I just found out that the translated short story has been selected for the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire Awards of 2020 in France. It has a hilarious tale attached to it.

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Me: Top 50 Startup Women in Switzerland

Woah. I am in a list of Top 50 Startup Women in Switzerland. What most of you don’t know if that I founded a startup in Zurich in the #FinTech space in 2018. The idea was to do new projects and to meet people and to earn money so I could feed my mainstream career – fiction writing.

So this accolade, is completely daze-inducing and glee. I’m surprised on how the little paths we choose to walk on, send us somewhere we hadn’t planned upon at all. Life is so beautiful.

The startup, Cooby, is a global cooperative and I’m one of the co-founders. We are developing blockchain-based SaaS products, which are open source. We also create technical and white papers for clients. It’s quite fun for the geek part of me as I get to meet people and listen to stories in the crypto, blockchain and fintech spaces.

Never thought it would get me in a Top anything list. This was something I started for fun. Isn’t that the most important? I tell this to myself as I see another rejection for my fiction in my inbox. Such is life. A constant rollercoaster.

Giving a talk at WorldCon 2019 + Evil Plan

It’s this week! I have some exciting news from my end. I’ve been invited to Dublin for WorldCon 2019, the biggest convention for the speculative fiction industry in the world, to give a talk on my work and on the work of emerging speculative fiction authors from South Asia. 

My talk will explore science and fantasy fiction voices from the South Asian community that are reworking the genre, playing with its tropes and redefining it by inverting colonial motifs.

I’m hoping to give this talk again in India sometime later this year or early next. Let’s see.

Follow this thread for updates

This is where I’ve listed my evil plan during my talk to introduce them to the wonderful work being published in South Asia. Mhahaha.

WorldCon Schedule

TALK: Current trends in South Asian SFF

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How to use Facebook groups to get a job

  • Find the right groups with keywords that are most relevant to your industry
  • Prefer local groups so that you can develop city-based professional networks
  • Introduce yourself by posting a message about you and what you’re looking for.
  • Don’t lurk in a Facebook group.
  • Don’t spam. Post links that show you to be someone who is genuinely interested in the profession.

Facebook groups are perfect for niche hiring

When Bengaluru-based Vishwadeep Gautam joined industry-specific Facebook groups, he was not specifically looking for a job. “My primary goal was to find people from my industry to exchange ideas with,” says the 25-year-old data analyst.

What attracted him to Facebook groups was that it gave him freedom to choose groups specific to his area of interest—data analysis. “The groups were a gold mine of current trends so I could update myself, learn more and understand what kind of development I can expect in the future in my field of work,” he says.

An additional opportunity that the groups offered was job postings. On one of the groups Gautam was part of, Indegene, a healthcare tech company based in Bengaluru, posted a job requirement for a data analyst. He already knew about the company since it had been active on the groups he was in. “I saw it, found it interesting, and applied,” says Gautam.

There are jobs on the largest network

With 2.27 billion monthly active users, Facebook is the largest social network on the planet. LinkedIn, the straightforward professional networking site, has 260 million active users in comparison.

“Attracting talent from social media is an integral part of our recruitment strategy,” says Bina Patil, vice president (human resources) at Indegene, the company that hired Gautam. Patil and her team are present and constantly on the lookout on all company social media platforms—LinkedIn, Facebook, GitHub, even WhatsApp.

Find the right groups

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