QUEEN’S ROAD: Bengaluru-based writer Shweta Taneja, whose occult detective thriller fantasy was launched last weekend, says that her protagonist is so well developed that she can have Twitter discussions with her.
Anantya Tantrik (23) in The Cult of Chaos, which is the first in a series, lives in Delhi. “She is an alpha female of sorts who takes no one’s advice. I think of her as someone like Salman Khan,” Taneja says with a laugh.
Indeed much time and effort has gone into the character’s creation — she was the protagonist of two of the former journalist’s unpublished novels. Accustomed to editing in her previous job, the columnist says, “They died on me. I had to unlearn some things after the years I put into journalism. In creative writing, you have to start with a blank page and you have no notes to go by.”
As someone fascinated by Indian mythology and fantasy, she says that she has been ‘collecting stories’ for a few years now, and she noticed that the heroes in all the action stories were inevitably male. That and growing up in a culture that defines certain qualities as Indianness in a woman made her want to explore an alternative. “Anantya is an inversion of the Indian woman,” she says.
Though she has drawn from mythology for the characters in her story, she says, in her narrative, they are more contemporary versions. “I think of how they would be if they lived now. After all, I’m writing fantasy, not mythology,” she reasons. So she compares her Kubera, the god of wealth, to Bappi Lahiri. “Rakshasas are supposed to be evil and sexually promiscuous, and they retain those qualities,” she adds.
Talking of the interesting stories she has come across during her research, she says that the tribal version of myths often differ from the popular ones. “The ones passed on through oral traditions are more direct than the codified myths. For example, in a version of the Ramayana from Lakshman’s point of view — Ramayani — Sita accuses Lakshman of making sexual advances. He is then banished from the tribe and goes on to have a few adventures. These are depicted in paintings, but I’m still in search of the full story,” she relates, adding that she can spend an entire day narrating stories that have caught her fancy.
She cites Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett as inspirations. “Recently, I’ve also begun reading a lot of Ursula Le Guin. Her works are mature feminist fantasy,” she says.
Currently, her next Ananya book is being edited, which she plans to release next year. She is also on the lookout for a publisher for her ghost-hunter fantasy.