Isn’t this quite cool? I didn’t know that business dailies would show interest in picking up this story for their magazine sections. So the same interview, conducted by this really sweet lady from PTI, was carried over at two of the major financial dailies: Economic Times and Business Standard.
Here’s the interview in its full glory. Won’t say I am not itching to tweak a byte or two, but I guess editing can always change the meaning a bit. As a journalist, I understand that more than anyone else.
Shweta Taneja’s new book ‘Cult of Chaos’ delves into Delhi’s underbelly
NEW DELHI: The terrible, scary and horrific side of society is explored in a new book, billed as the country’s first tantrik detective novel, which also talks about the key issue of women’s safety.
Author-graphic novelist Shweta Taneja’s ” Cult of Chaos” is based in the supernatural underworld of Delhi.
Even though this is a fantasy fiction, and I could’ve made everything up, I wanted to stay a layer away from the real. That’s the reason that I set up the world of ‘Cult of Chaos’ in contemporary Delhi, a real city, weaving supernatural elements and creatures within its bowels,” she says.
“The species in the book’s world, as well as the tantrik magic that Anantya (the protagonist) wields, has been created after extensive research on tantrism, the occult and Shakta traditions in the country. I’ve delved deep into the folklores, folktales and the rituals of sorcery in villages,” Taneja told PTI.
Anantya Tantrist, a 23-year-old, is a completely inverted model of an ideal woman.
“She smokes beedis, walks in Delhi at night, alone, has sex with all kinds of creatures, is fearless, has chosen a profession which is violent and bloody, and she doesn’t care about what anyone thinks of her. So the book is also about her reaction to the regressive tantrik society she belongs to and the abuse she has faced in her past,” the Bangalore-based author says.
“Even though the species and the creatures I’ve mentioned in the book are make-believe, the violence, the power-play, the abuse, the unfairness they suffer, is not. The feelings, the emotions, the reactions the book reflects are all real,” she says.
Anantya emerged from Taneja’s first attempt of a novel, a revenge fantasy saga where a young girl is abused and seeks vengeance from those who’ve wronged her. That book never materialised but Anantya stayed as the author explored the possibility of combining two of her favourite genres – fantasy and detective.
According to Taneja, some of the scenes in the book, published by HarperCollins India, were inspired by incidents in real life.
“There were so many scenes in the book I wrote, where I wove incidents I’d just read in the newspaper, something a crass politician had said when yet another woman got raped; someone who had been demonised because of the way they looked or their surname.”
Taneja also touches the issue of women’s safety in her book saying women have to struggle for their safety in every corner of this country.
“But no walls, no government, no men, no police, no institution or clothes can protect us from violence. What can make a difference is if all of us, women and girls, go outdoors, claim public spaces, again and again, fearlessly, in spite of the violence,” she says.
“We need to own the spaces, only then can we be safe. Be fearless and walk alone at night as a woman. Something that I’ve tried in fiction with Anantya, who chooses a profession that takes her out at night, alone,” she claims.
Taneja has earlier written a novel “The Ghost Hunters of Kurseong” and graphic novels “Krishna: Defender of Dharma” and “The Skull Rosary”.
“I deliberately experiment with different stories and storytelling devices. Not only age groups, or styles, I also love experimenting with mediums. I’ve worked with various mediums in my short history as a fiction writer: be it graphic novels, comics, short stories, novels, collaborative stories, or even games,” she says.
Last week, two interviews came out one after the other in the web for Cult of Chaos. One was over at a new website, onwriting.in, where Saurabh, a novelist himself, is collating gyan for newbie writers. The other came over at the b00kr3vi3ws blog, where Deb, other than the usual stuff, asked me one question that was new and surprising.
Tell us three fun facts about yourself.
Fun? Writers? Are you serious? So I did what I do best: made stuff up. Here are the three I told him.
- I am slightly schizophrenic and can have a conversation with Anantya on Twitter, using two separate devices.
- I am a movie junkie and can watch five to six movies in a row
- I love making up stories about facts and confusing children. Nephews and nieces have many times been left with a frown on their forehead.
The first thing I confessed to, is true. I have tried it. When I am writing from Anantya’s handle (@anantyatantrist), she speaks. When I use mine (@shwetawrites), I talk. It’s weird but true. Vidya, an avid blogger who invited me to guest blog on procrastination in writing, is currently reading Cult of Chaos right about now and confessed over email that she keeps confusing me and tries to call me ‘Anantya’. Well, I always wished Anantya became stronger in people’s head than me. I am boring. I sit all day long clanking on keys. Whereas Anantya is just so cool! See:
Writers are natural born procrastinators. We all know that feeling, the one which comes just before you actually start to write: Let me have another cup of tea, another day, another book, another little salty chip and then I will start. When I began my journalist career more than a decade ago, I was sure I couldn’t write an article. It took me five years of wanting to write fiction, a Master’s degree, two failed novels and millions of procrastinating moments to finally do something that all blogs, all writers keep suggesting: write.
After a year of stalling, I started to write fiction and once I did, I couldn’t stop. In the last five years, I’ve written six books, four of which are published and two lie at various edit levels. The longest of this, my latest Cult of Chaos, touched 1,20,000 words at manuscript stage. Here I list down a few of these lovely time-sinks and how to get rid of them.
I tried yesterday, I couldn’t write a word. I have writer’s block.
No, you don’t. A writer’s block is a myth, created by star-struck media or lazy writers. There’s nothing like it out there. Yes, there would be some days when you stare at the screen, your hands spread over the keyboard and nothing sensible will come. When you know you have to delete every single word you’ve written. But it’s these ‘blocked’ days that will lead to a glorious day when your fingers are flying over the keys. The day you can’t write always leads to the day you do. Keep writing nonsense if you can’t make it sensible, but write. Start by putting one word after the other.
I can’t write in this noise
Have you seen a baby pop off into dreamland in the middle of a party? Become that. Let nothing physical—noises, voices, areas, homes, cafes or offices—take you away from your writing. Don’t think you can write only in certain conditions. You can write all the time, everywhere. All you need is discipline and focus. Try and write everywhere you go for a month. That’s all it takes to develop the habit.
I need a better grasp at language
I was convinced about this for the longest time (the time spend in thinking about writing and not writing itself). Then one day, when I voiced this to a friend of mine, she told me to consult a thesaurus or a dictionary. You are not writing grammar, you are writing stories. Concentrate on expression the story you’ve decided to tell, through the limited language you have in your grasp. Writing in a language, improves your skill in that language, your spelling, your grammar. You will see the difference yourself. Another way to improve in the language is to read other authors, see how they express things, how they use mere words to touch a core in you. Read and learn.
I want to, but just don’t have time to write
Do you take a shower everyday? Eat everyday? If writing the story in your head is not as essential to you as sleep and food is, you will never write. It’s like the retirement dream of living on a beach that all of us have. If you want to live on the beach, why not start now? Why wait till you get old and tired? So write. Now. Take out time. Even 20 minutes everyday should do. People complete novels in that time.
I need a special software to plot my book
Nope, you need nothing but yourself, a pen and little bits of papers. Or a laptop and a clean document screen. Everything else, the iPad, the app which costs $25 and helps you figure your plot and characters, internet, everything else is a waste of time and keeps you away from writing. Don’t manage the tools of writing, but write.
First posted as a guest blog on my friend Vidya’s website. You should check it out for funny, useful blogs.
Missed any of those niggles? Add them to the comment below and I’ll figure out how to slash them for you.
Forget pubs, cafés, golf courses and cinema theatres. Dating, therapy, networking—it’s all happening as you sprint to fitness
Two years ago, Genieve Bodiwala saw Sandesh Shukla, 31, at a runner’s bash in Mumbai and fell in love. “I knew I wanted to marry him at that moment. From then on, I plotted to make him fall for me,” says the 32-year-old, who has participated in one marathon and 13 half marathons. Since they were both passionate about running, all she had to do was join the same running group, Mumbai Road Runners (Mumbairoadrunners.com), and then create a subgroup on WhatsApp to coordinate drills, go on treks, and spend time with him and a few other friends. “One day, while we were running, I asked him out,” says Bodiwala. Shukla and Bodiwala, who got married in December, did a 4-hour trek and a short run on Yala beach, Sri Lanka, the day after their wedding to celebrate.
BONDING ON THE TRACK
Running, the new hangout activity, not only helps bring couples together but also keeps them together. A few years after their marriage, Bengaluru-based Jyothsna Reddy Bathula, 31, and Rahul Tripuraneni, 34, got busy with children, work deadlines and Tripuraneni’s parents, who live with them. “We just didn’t have enough time for each other,” says Tripuraneni. “At one point, we were worried about our relationship.” The couple decided to do something and zeroed in on running, since “Bangalore as a city is so pro-running”. For more than six months now, they’ve been getting up early and running 5km together while their three- and six-year-olds play in the park. “We are fitter, more energetic and spend time talking to each other,” says Bathula.
For many youngsters who are moving cities, running is a way to meet new people. Jay Ashar, 29, who works in the field of knowledge management, moved from Hyderabad to Mumbai. “Shikhsha Shah, a colleague from Hyderabad who had moved at the same time, asked me to join running and I did,” he says. It was during the long training periods prepping for a marathon, and volunteering activities, that Ashar got to know Shah better. “I used to take a train from Dombivali to Powai on Sundays just to train with her. If it hadn’t been for running, Shikhsha would’ve remained a colleague. Now we’re best friends,” he says.
THE CULTURE OF A GROUP
Giridhar Ramachandran, who has been studying social groups like running clubs at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, since 2013 as part of his doctoral research at the department of management studies, compares these groups to gali nukkads. These spaces, which have all but disappeared from the big cities, allowed people to meet, away from home and work. “Running clubs, a recent phenomenon, are the new nukkads,” says the 40-year-old. “In these spaces we don’t play a specific role, of an employee or a spouse, but are just there.” Ramachandran, who has interviewed people from various groups in Chennai, Bengaluru and Pune, says these clubs work as support groups too. Continue reading Relationships on the run
The sun is high and hot, slashing the skin, but the breeze and the swaying coconut trees soften it, scattering shadows and cooling the meandering unpaved path I follow. The long, deceiving coconut leaves suddenly move to reveal the monolith I search for. Six and a half meters tall, the monolith of Narasimha, an avatar of Vishnu, overpowers me, making me feel helpless and tiny, an ant standing infront of an incensed elephant.
He sits there cross-legged, immense and majestic, back straight, cobra-hood throwing shadows on his sunkissed face. His tennis-ball-size eyes blaze, no matter where I stand. I am dwarfed.
Narasimha is an angry god. He broke demon Hiranyakashipu’s neck like a twig and clawed his stomach and wore his intestines as a garland, screaming in extreme delight. All because the demon king had forbidden his son Prahlad from worshipping Vishnu in the Asuric kingdom and was trying to murder the devout boy.
But not many know of what happened to him after he had done his duty for the gods. In one of the most spectacular tales I’ve come across during my readings of the puranas, the same Narasimha, after killing the demon, couldn’t control his own wrath and like an unstoppable nuclear bomb, kept exploding, burning and destroying the universe till Shiva, the god of destruction, had to intervene at the request of the devas and stop Narasimha.
The tale saw two superheroes of mythology face each other in an ultimate fight. One version says, Shiva in the form of Sharabha, an eight-legged beast, with two heads, and a strange mix of all kinds of carnivorous animals defeated Vishnu’s avatar.
The other version is vociferous that Narasimha took the form of Gandaberunda, a more ferocious bird-animal mash-up and blew Sharabha to smithereens. Whatever version you believe in, the story explores the uncontrollability of anger and how it is capable of destruction. I wrote another version, in comic format as part of my book The Skull Rosary. For that’s how tales are. They belong to no one, yet everyone feels entitled to take credit on knowing the ‘right version’.
The tipped ASI board standing like a drunk sentry near Narasimha’s monolith informs me this one is not the ugra or the angry form that tried to destroy the universe. This one is the benevolent Lakshmi Narasimha, his anger abated, his desire to destruct lessened by the tiny Lakshmi who sits on his right thigh, marred invisible by ravages of time which have broken everything but her hand, still carved around his waist. But the way his fangs pop out of his oblong cavity of a stretched mouth, his smile looks more like a snarl and it is difficult to believe that Lakshmi has any tempering effect on the guy.
In Andhra Pradesh, the tribals have their own tale. They recall how Hiranyakashipu ordered his guards to throw Prahalada in the sea, placed a boulder on him as punishment for worshipping Vishnu and that the child was rescued by Samudra, the ocean god himself. There is no mention of Holika, Hiranyakashipu’s sister, who is part of all grandma tales in northern states of the country.
The same Samudra, due to a curse was born in a tribe named Chenchu. After Narasimha had killed Hiranyakashipu, the gods invites him back to the divine abode, but he refused. Instead, he travelled through the jungles of Andhra Pradhesh where he fell for a local girl, Chenchita, the daughter of Samudra reborn, a tribal huntress who wielded a bow.
The love tale delicately describes how Narasimha plucked a thorn out of Chenchita’s foot and so wanted to marry her. Chenchita didn’t say yes immediately. She wanted to be sure he’s the right husband for her and so tested him on his food gathering and hunting skills, important for survival in the jungle. From then on, Narasimha stayed on, as a son-in-law of the tribe, coming in their dreams, to cure them of ailments.
In Simhachalam, ten miles from Vishakhapatnam, he is a composite form of Varaha and Narasimha. Scholars claim the deity is local, assimilated into the Vaishnav mainstream centuries later. Centuries ago, so the locals claim, this was a Shiva temple. When Ramanuja visited this temple, he defeated the local priests in a debate and so converted the temple into a Vaishnava one.
I am quite fascinated with upmanship between the Vaishnava and Shiva cults, something which comes out very strongly in the story of Narasimha and Sharabha. Being a storyteller who thrives in versions rather than limit myself to one of them, I converted the whole Sharabha retelling into a dream in my graphic rendition, The Skull Rosary. For in dreams, even the impossible becomes possible. It’s Prahlad, the biggest devotee who has the dream about this cosmic fight.
The one where Narasimha, the god he worships goes out of control, trying to destroy the universe. It’s a dream, or maybe not. Prahlad is not sure but he sees the one he idolizes destroying the universe with his ferocious anger. How can his god be so destructive? And how can his god in turn be destroyed by another of the pantheon?
And if you’ve seen the blasphemous dream, how do you erase it? At the end of the story, Prahlada, who if you remember in the story is merely 12 years old when he sees his god come in Narasimha form and brutally kill his father, is terrified and confused.
In modern times, someone would’ve suggested a psychiatrist to analysis his dreams, but at that time, all he has is Narada Muni. So he goes to the Muni and asks: ‘Who is stronger, Shiva or Vishnu’s avatar?’ Narada smiles and says: ‘Vishnu and Shiva are like seasons. One comes after another. One dies, one is born. Like life and death. Don’t fall into the trap of comparison, the one that feed arrogant blood.‘ For he’s Narada, the journalist of Indian mythology, and will never take a side. Or will he?
If you know any other versions of Narasimha folklore, please do add them below in the comments section. For stories that other readers have posted, head to SwarajyaMag.com and enjoy!
A different version of this came out in Discover India (January 2015) as my first column with them along with stars like Ruskin Bond (awesome author) and Rocky Singh (Highway on My Plate).
Oh this is fabulous! DNA carried this excerpt from Cult of Chaos on their online worlds this weekend. This is from the first chapter on the book in which Anantya has gone on a blind date. Of course, it ends bloody.
This is why I rarely accepted cases from my own species and preferred to work with what humans call ‘supernatural’ creatures. Sups of any kind, be it mayansor pashus, don’t judge tantriks by their appearance. They determine your worth by the shakti you wield. Most of my cases over the last few years had involved sups. Ever since word had spread in the city that a pro-sup tantrik was ready to take on their cases, which was a rarity since most tantriks wanted to either kill them or enslave them, I had got all kinds of assignments. I had arbitrated between best friend asuras who become arch nemeses and, in their attempt to finish each other off, almost destroyed a chunk of Lodhi Garden between them; saved a yakshi from a spirit; a chandaali from a greedy tantrik and a tantrik from a vengeful bhuta. I rarely refused a case. The only exceptions were the ones that involved daevas, elite heavenly spirits, who were as my teacher Dhuma put it concisely, treacherous trolls. A couple of days ago, I had turned down just such an offer. However, I was now beginning to regret it. Even dealing with a shifty daeva was better than sitting around a candle eating ducks and explaining myself to Mr SUV Headlights here. I took out my kapala, a skullcup that I used for my rituals, and placed it on the table.
‘Perhaps this will convince you?’ I said, smiling sweetly. The skull gleamed in the candlelight, throwing long dark shadows into the mirrors behind Nikhil.
‘Wow, a skullcup! Is it a real human skull?’ Nikhil inserted his hand inside its jaw and picked it up for a closer look. ‘Where did you find this one? I saw one on eBay the other day. Nothing less than one lakh rupees. Only the imitations are cheaper. How much did you pay for it?’
Was nothing sacred anymore? I stared at him, shocked, and wondered how many seconds it would take for Lala to attack him. Lala was the old man whose skull Nikhil was molesting at the moment. Lala had begged me to ensure he didn’t descend into naraka after his death. He wanted to stay on in this world even if it meant that I used his skull as a sacrificial cup. So, after his funeral, I stole his head from his grave on a full-moon night. Ever since, Lala’s skull had been my kapala. And he hated anyone else touching it. How would you like it if someone poked inside your head? I dug out my boneblade, ready with a freezing mantra in case Lala fired up and became too hot for Nikhil to handle. (Although, frankly, a part of me was hoping Lala fired up.)
‘Are you Anantya Tantrist?’ asked a reedy voice behind me. I turned to see the headwaiter who had discussed wines with Nikhil a little while ago.
‘Yeah,’ I answered curtly. Nikhil plonked Lala back on the table.
‘You have an urgent call, madam,’ the waiter said. My old Nokia phone lay on the table. I switched on its screen. It seemed to be working. ‘Who is it?’ I asked, wondering if it was Dakini. No one else knew I had come to this restaurant. The waiter paused and looked to his right, as if he was listening to someone.
‘Mister Qubera, madam. He wants to talk to you urgently, madam.’ For someone who stood in an air-conditioned space, the waiter’s face was very, very sweaty. Drops of perspiration rolled down his forehead and a droplet glistened at the tip of his chin.
‘I don’t know anyone …’ I stopped, suddenly realizing how quiet it had gone. So quiet that I could not hear the singer anymore or the tinkle of laughter. The singer was on the stage, but she had become mysteriously mute. The feeling that someone was watching us returned, and intensified painfully. I could kick myself for allowing Nikhil’s stupidities to distract me. I ought to have sorted this out before now. The waiter stared at me, his eyes vacant and glassy. He pinched and pulled the skin on his neck, like a shirt collar. Stupid, stupid rakshasa. Someday he will get into big trouble and get himself killed. Probably by me.
‘You have to come,’ he urged, bending down and grabbing my right arm with his clammy palm, his hand cold and hard as stone. ‘It’s urgent!’
‘What is the meaning of this?’ Nikhil hollered, his face pink with anger. ‘How dare you touch her? Where’s your manager? I want to speak to him!’
‘Sit down, Nikhil,’ I said quietly, my hand reaching for the boneblade in my satchel. I was glad I had brought it along, although I had left my belted scabbard at home. Fashion can be lethal for a tantrik.
Nikhil pushed the table away with a loud screech and rose to his intimidating six feet. Not that that would save him from a disgruntled rakshasa. He lunged, grabbed the waiter roughly by the shoulder and bellowed, ‘Let go of her!’
‘Urgent,’ the waiter whispered, sinking to his knees, his face still blank, his eyes empty, his left hand still frozen on my right arm. Poor guy. He didn’t have a choice really. I turned in one swift movement and slashed the waiter’s torso from his throat at the right collarbone to the solar plexus with the boneblade. Blood erupted and splattered my face and hair. A loud screech echoed somewhere behind me.
Excerpted with permission from Harper Collins India.
Book: Cult of Chaos
Author: Shweta Taneja
Price: Rs 350
It was just a few years ago that I was emailing, reading and scrounging for advice on how to get published and what to do once you’re there. I still call and think of myself as a newbie in this dark world of creative writing. So couldn’t believe when Writersmelon asked me for my two bytes on publishing. I tried to sound knowledgeable there, but who knows what I sound like? Anyway, here’s the post on what all publishers in India might not do for you. Only an excerpt. Read the whole thing here.)
Got a contract signed with a publisher? Great, congratulations. But don’t think that your work for the book is over. It’s not. In fact, it’s just started. Most publishers take anywhere between 85-90 percent of the MRP of your book to sell it. They are the middlemen (and women). If they’re taking a commission out of each of your future sale, they should ideally be marketing your book, talking about it or obsessing on how to sell it, right? Oh dear. You’re in for a few surprises….
1. They won’t market your book
Most publishers do have marketing departments, but they’re loaded with work. Each marketing person has about 10-20 titles going on in a month, which means that your book, if you’re a debutant or a relatively unknown author, will go on the sidelines….
2. They might not always give you the right suggestions
Read the complete post on the Writersmelon site. They have a lot of other useful writing gyan out there. Know of somethings I’ve got wrong? Comment below.