Author Zac O’Yeah talks about Cult in Mint

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?

On the front page of The Hindu

Oh my.  This is the fourth time the kind girls over at MetroPlus, the magazine of The Hindu, have done a story on me (see herehere and here) . And I remain amazed at how everyone I seem to know reads this newspaper in Bangalore. I am flooded with messages, tweets, emails and phone calls everytime a story comes out.

Mini’s interviewed me twice now and every time, we giggle together as friends and as people who enjoy poems about old age.  She messaged me a month ago to tell me how because she was so involved in Anantya’s adventure, she could  reading ignore her fear of flight (she was flying internationally). It was the best compliment ever!

Cult of Chaos, The Hindu, Hyderabad, Feb2415

Here’s the interview.

Shweta Taneja talks about the anger of Anantya, the tantric detective heroine of her latest book

There is a new gumshoe in town. She is Anantya Tantrist, a tantric detective solving horrific crimes in the supernatural underbelly of Delhi where magic seamlessly mixes with the mundane. The Bengaluru-based Shweta Taneja talks about the genesis of Cult of Chaos, where the feisty, foul mouthed Anantya makes her debut.

Can you tell something about the genesis of Anantya?

Anantya came to me from a now-failed novel. It was a revenge saga in an epic fantasy world. I spent months building up the world and then realized that I wasn’t excited enough about the story. So I left it and started to work on Ghost Hunters of Kurseong instead. Meanwhile, Anantya stayed in my head, an angry protagonist, a powerful magician. Then one day, while reading a detective story, I suddenly knew that she was an occult detective. Anantya’s anger is a reaction to a frustration in me on everyday violence on women. On the other hand, I did want to create a heroine who does all those things that are usually reserved for alpha male detectives – spews gaalis, has no-regrets sex on the go, is stubborn, talented and emotional.

Why did you set the story in Delhi?

After the book was created in my head, I knew it would be based in Delhi. The capital city is a fascinating mix of layers of history, combined with arrogance in power and violence. It has not belonged to anyone historically, but everyone feels a claim to it. Also, having grown up in Delhi as a woman who had to be aware of where she was walking and keep a layer on, I wanted to revisit Delhi with Anantya.

Is the weird quotient as much as you wanted or did you tone it down?

The weird quotient was one of the reasons that many publishers rejected it initially. Even HarperCollins had doubts, so I requested them to come on the table to discuss this. Thankfully they agreed and we signed a contract. In the final editing process, though the language was softened and toned down, all the scenes, the story and the plot are exactly how I wrote it.

Drugs, sex and cinema — what about rock and roll?

The second adventure of Anantya Tantrist, which I am currently polishing and editing, has a pretty weird scene in the middle of a rock show. With Anantya Tantrist and her world, I want to explore all things that are considered vices or a taboo by the mainstream society.

Cult of Chaos is very different from Ghost hunters… Does genre hopping make you schizophrenic or does it come naturally to you?

With Anantya Tantrist, since she has a very unique voice you would feel it is dramatically different from my other books, but I see a connect. Both belong to the mystery or thriller genre, though the treatment in each is quite different. I do tend to challenge myself with each thriller that I write.

The book makes a strong case for the feminine principle. Would you describe Cult of Chaos as a feminist text?

I would rather not describe the book as a feminist adventure, because of the problematic ‘male-bashing’ tag to the word nowadays. It’s definitely about a woman, a strong willed woman who has gone beyond social relevance and taboos. In the book, I’ve taken immense pleasure in consciously turning everyday gender scenes on their head. To call it a feminist text would be unfair since you won’t use the word ‘masculine text’ for books or movies that have a male point of view.

The characters including Nawab sahab, Kaani and Prem Chokra are super colourful…

Aren’t they? I loved creating each and every one of them. Nawab is just so dramatic and still insecure after so many centuries of living a life of a ghost. Kaani, though talented takes his own time to describe things. I think their uniqueness comes from the fact that each of them is eccentric in their own ways.

There are stories that Anantya doesn’t tell… is that saved for future novels?

Yes. I’ve signed a three-book contract with HarperCollins on Anantya Tantrist mysteries, which means you will definitely read three books of her adventures.

I am already in the middle of the second book, where you will find out a little bit more about Anantya. The third book will be mostly based in Banaras, where she comes face to face with her past. Books four and five will head to explore her matriarchal past.

How come a novel set in Delhi is so filmy — it seems a Bedardi Bar can only be in Mumbai!

Oh, that’s a little unfair to say. Delhiwallas love both movies and drinking. Actually the love of both these things, with cricket is the only thing that binds us all as Indians. We all love movies, and all love to drink. I can even imagine Bedardi Bar in Bangalore, an illicit little dingy place which is run by supernaturals in the Pete area.

Anantya’s reaction to technology (as mysterious to me as tantrism was to others) is refreshing. Was that by design?

Yes. All of us who’re technology connected tend to forget that we’re only a very small percent of the population of this country. There are people whose life doesn’t revolve around technology. Who are not online or use gadgets. And they don’t need to in their everyday life. Since I am a technology writer myself, this weaving of technology, science and tantrism as an alternate science has been quite fun to build up.

Could you tell us something about the cover design?

Isn’t it just fabulous? I am so, glad that George Mathen agreed to make it.

I so wanted to ask him to do the cover. Even then I did and he agreed, even though the pay was pittance. He’s so sweet that way. I sent him a five-page cover brief, he read it, discarded it and created something completely different and fabulous.


Interviews in Asian Age and Deccan Chronicle

Having been part of media for a long time, I know how easily and how fast people working there tend to forget you, moving on to the next thing they haven’t covered. But oh my, isn’t it fabulous to have that 15 seconds of attention? I feel like that now, when I post two really, really good interviews in different papers that came out a week or so back, both talking about chaos and supernatural tales and all things I love about Cult of Chaos. Check them out.

This came out in Deccan Chronicle and I haven’t been able to find a e-link for it. They used photographs from the last year’s coverage when I was doing detective workshops for The Ghost Hunters of Kurseong.

Deccan Chronicle February 2015
Meanwhile at Asian Age, the really polite Rohini who took my interview, told everyone about the book and mentioned my love of folklores. Read the complete article here or below.


Shweta Taneja’s new book features India’s first woman tantrik crime buster, and marries the author’s twin passions: Detective fiction and fantasy

An adventure based in the “supernatural underworld of Delhi”, featuring India’s first “tantrik woman detective” — Shweta Taneja’s new book Cult of Chaos promises to be a crime-busting story unlike any other. Featuring Anantya Tantrist, a “spunky 23-year-old, gaali-spewing, beedi-smoking fearless tantrik who solves crimes”, Cult of Chaos combines its creator’s twin passions — detective fiction and fantasy.

It was when Shweta was working on a graphic novel called The Skull Rosary (which collated the occult tales of Shiva) that she got deeply interested in tantrism and the occult. “I started to explore tribal folklore, oral stories, goddess cults and non-authoritative tales in our villages. These tales, with their violent, sensually rich content surprised and fascinated me,” recounts Shweta. “Then one day, while reading a detective novel, the idea of creating a tantrik detective suddenly struck me. And I had a name for her: Anantya Tantrist, a leftover from a previous unfinished novel. Before I knew it, I had the beginnings of Cult of Chaos.”

Shweta spent the next year researching practising tantriks, shamans and superstitions. Articles, scholarly books, sensational texts even whispered stories, all of these provided material for her story. Then there was the daily newspaper, which also provided enough fodder for the dark details of her novel. “There’s nothing better than a newspaper to give you ideas. It has enough horror, disgust, hatred, violence, evil in its pages to keep your creativity flowing,” says Shweta. “There were so many scenes in the book that have been inspired by real incidents, things I read in the news. Not only about superstition or witch hunting, but also something that a crass politician would’ve said when yet another woman got raped. Everyday domestic violence, which is reported in a single paragraph, taken verbatim from police notes or crimes of caste and religion which are all about power — there’s no dearth of inspiration in our country, especially when one is writing a thriller.”

With so much material to draw on, Shweta knew Anantya’s adventures wouldn’t be ending with one book. She’s already busy at work on a second story, set among “Delhi’s rich socialites who’re abusing a supernatural species for immortality” and a third, which will see the action shift to Varanasi as Anantya works on a case that will force her to confront her past.

“The more I write about Anantya, the more I continue to be spellbound with her and the world she inhabits,” says Shweta of her protagonist. “She’s completely opposite to all ideas of ‘decent’ women we have as a society… I think she has come from the desires of women of this country, the ones who have had it with restrictions and men keeping them safe. I think she is born from the frustration of being an independent woman and having to protect your choices, defy authorities, families, every step of way. I have tried to break gender boundaries with her character… I am freer, more confident today, because I wrote her. And I am hoping reading about her, has the same effect on other women and girls too. Sort of what Superman or Spiderman or Salman Khan has on boys. We need that for women.”


As I was saying, isn’t attention so fabulous? Sad that it goes away in those mere 15 seconds. Still, I am rather enjoying the tick-tock in my favour. 🙂

Reviews that made me blush

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.

REVIEW 1: From a kind stranger

Read the complete review here.

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.

REVIEW 2: From a friend who’s honest

Kalika read the book in a day, came over for tea and even gifted me a beautiful, beautiful bag. Just like that. And here’s what she said at GoodreadsContinue reading “Reviews that made me blush”

Interviews: Mail Today, New Indian Express, NewsNation

Phew, Anantya seems to be getting a lot of attention. In a good, good way. Last week, three interviews came out about her.

New Indian Express called me after the book launch and did a huge interview on the book without misquoting me, except in one place (atleast the spellings were all correct). Thank you for kindness, people. Read it here.

Interview in New Indian Express in February
Interview in New Indian Express in February


Mail Today did an interview with me on Cult of Chaos. It was great because the interview came on the same page as Shashi Tharoor’s new book’s interview. How cool? And the photograph is taken by my brother who got super excited to see his work in papers too.

The first question the journalist asked me on Anantya was:

Are you an advocate of women empowerment? Comes out strongly in the book.  

And my answer was:

Is the aggressive, car-slamming, bullet-dodging alpha characters that Salman Khan or Rajnikanth play in their movies an advocacy of men empowerment? If yes, then I agree, that Anantya Tantrist is a female alternative to it. Continue reading “Interviews: Mail Today, New Indian Express, NewsNation”

My most cherished review

It’s great to see your book’s reviews and your interviews in the media. It’s good for the ego. But what brought tears to my eyes was not a mention in the papers, but an email. It is a special email for me. It’s from almost 11-year-old Medha, a student of Sardar Patel Vidyalaya. She attended the first detective workshop I did in Delhi in her school. After going back home, she ordered my book and then read it whole. And she emailed me.

For me, this was the first confirmation that the detective workshops are bringing the characters of my book alive for kids. This was also my first fan email from such a young fan. And let me tell you, if you haven’t had a 11-year-old appreciate the work you do, you haven’t seen nothing yet.

Posting her email with a huge smile here.

Hi, I am Medha. I attended the Bookaroo workshop which was held in Sardar Patel Vidyalaya. I read The Ghost Hunters Of Kurseong. 

It was a really nice mystery and I kept guessing the culprit until I read the conversation between Mr. Saki and Inspectorji. It was fun to read.
Please write back i am a big fan of yours!!
warm regards



I have written two emails to her already. I hope she replies back again. For it touches my heart so.

UPDATE: She replied back and we are conversing back and forth. Here’s something else she told me which made my day:

“Most of my friends have your books.They all loved it very much! Many of my classmates are reading it right now. Please keep writing more books like this one it was awesome!

Thanks Medha, you make my weeks!


Book reviews – Oct 8

It’s always nice to read good things about the book you have written. And no, you can just not get enough of it. At least I can’t. If you have had enough of it, please skip this blog 🙂 I am putting this in for my reference!

“The story is extremely spell binding and the suspense is upheld till the very last page…” –, 7 Oct 2013

“Even though, the story moves at a clipping pace, the author, still manages to gently squeeze in some important messages – namely, not to be carried away by superstition, and more important the dangers of gambling and how addicting it could become.” – 

‘A page turning novel that will keep you on your toes and awake till you finish its last page’ – The Sentinel, Guwahati, 22 September 2013


Review: The War Ministry by Krishan Pratap Singh

I and the husband had been waiting desperately to read the third in the explosive political trilogy called the Raisina Series by Krishan Pratap Singh. So much so, that I used my research skills and managed to dig up the online-shy KP Singh’s email ID to spam him a demand email on it. He was polite enough to reply with a yes, it’s on its way. So you can understand how with much fanfare, we bought a copy of The War Ministry from a bookshelf. For those who haven’t read the first two of the trilogy (Delhi Durbar and Young Turks) Hachette India is now offering them at a much lower price. (Grr.)


The trilogy revolves around two friends, Azim Khan and Karan Nehru and their friendship in the power corridors of Raisina hills. It maps their journey as they arrive with freshly minted ideals on the grimy scenes of politics and what happens to them in the process of becoming the most powerful leaders in this country. It’s a powerful and current premise to build a story in and Singh touches on all issues our democracy faces right now–be it corruption, media playing its tune, casteism, foreign policy, bouts with our neighbours or the babu behind the ministers.

The third is written really tight, but doesn’t have the fluidity of the first two books. It seems to jump or lag and go into some descriptive non-fiction style paragraphs, which I struggled with. Maybe it was edited with too tight a hand, or maybe Singh tried to put in too much of his vision of what India can become in a single book. But that doesn’t say that it’s not a rivetting book. Singh strength lies in building up a story around politicians who are real life-like characters. Who deal with India that is now. It’s the negotiations, relationships and respect that these worldly-wise politicians and babus deciding the fate of India go through every day, is what makes for riveting reading. When he’s using his strength—of characters and their relationships with each other, the writing completely shines and etches itself, much like June’s sun in Uttar Pradesh.

It’s his flawed, reality-etched characters that make the book and the series. Even the minor characters are beautifully fleshed out with their caste-oriented experiences and the past baggage they carry into their jobs. And as the first two books proved to me, Singh is a deft player with character and language in his world, something that I have rarely seen in an Indian author’s writing. Like the first two of the series, the third is equally delicious in its delicate, polite style of writing. He has the ability to take anyone from a murderer to a villainous character and write about him or her in a merciful, sympathetic tone. He’s forgiving to everything from malicious intensions to greed. For in the grimy world of politics, you cannot survive (or write about it) if you are not forgiving.

The trilogy made me do something I never thought will happen. It made me become more sympathetic to what out politicians have to go through with either because of their ideals, their belief systems or greed and ambitions. That’s Singh’s power as an author and a visionary and I bow to that. And it’s the vision Singh paints that remains with you. A vision of what India can become, only if it had leaders half the caliber as Khan or Nehru.  The books made me sigh with hope for this beautiful country of mine. It made me shrug the cynicism of years of listening to ‘is country ka kutch nahi hoga’ and led me to hope and dream and wait for such a leader to rise. The imagined world of Singh, so close to our real one, is like our National Anthem. It makes the hair on the back of my neck rise in pride. I would like to end the review with a quote from one of my email exchanges with Singh on his vision:

“I’m still positive about this country because India has been around for thousands of years and will be around for thousands more, and all kinds of incompetent rulers have come and gone, but the country keeps chugging along. We cling to hope and dream to be inspired one day by the call of a leader who will be worthy. Until then, we wait…and write fiction!”

Read the book for its story, read it for its vision and characters.

KP Singh is currently writing short stories and a non-fiction. You can chase him on Twitter @RaisinaSeries