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 a lucky day for me! Just a few weeks ago, well-known author Zac O’Yeah, who has been kind to me without any reason really, agreed to send me a guest blog for my Creative chat series.
As a young Swedish writer in the mid-1990s, Zac visited India and met one of the stalwarts of Hindi literature Nirmal Verma at a Sahitya Akademi function. Upon introducing himself as a fan, he got invited by the author to his home, where they conversed for an hour or so. Here he recounts how that meeting left a lasting impression on him.
‘Write what you see but what you see may not be right,’ it says on the first page of the boy’s diary, words written by his mother who died years ago. Now he is thirteen and ill with a persistent fever, and is sent from Allahabad to Delhi to recover.
He stays with his cousin, Bitty. Some twenty years old, she lives in a barsati in Nizamuddin, on a rooftop behind the dargah, and is busy with daily rehearsals of a Strindberg play. As the boy’s fever recedes, he studies Bitty and her upper middle-class friends: a couple of them foreign-returned, from Oxford, and from London, to an India of the 1970s; another is an idealistic university drop-out who, during a stint in Bihar, has seen genuine poverty and violence but didn’t last it out, and so came back to his parental home, a Lutyens bungalow in central New Delhi, where he directs plays on the sprawling lawns. While out there is a world of real tragedies and deaths, here they are cocooned in their interpretations of foreign playwrights, each with his or her own sadness hidden underneath the everyday mask.
Despite their pursuit of freedom and creative lifestyles, ostensibly go-getting attitudes and artistic endeavours, they radiate insecurity, self-doubt, angst and despair – perhaps, the reader speculates, over being caught between cultures. The boy, however, can’t always make sense of his observations: he sees everything so acutely that it is often painful to read the descriptions of the theatrewallahs who, while partying on Bitty’s rooftop, exert influences on each other via invisible social and mental laws akin to how gravity determines the mechanical movements of planets. ‘At late night parties there always comes a moment when nobody seems aware of what is happening within or about him: the world at large sinks out of sight in the glittering stream of words. Voices swell through the air but what remains behind is the ubiquitous grey silt.’ Continue reading “Guest blog: The Study of Nirmal Verma”