The more rational the world gets, the more we demand the irrational in our fiction famously remarked English writer Mark Chadbourn. His words resonate more now with what current readers are reading and crop of writers are experimenting with in contemporary novels that explore a fantasy make-believe world that exists only in the imagination. Fantasy and its subgenre urban fantasy have hugely broken into books, TV shows and movies.
We have authors like Amish Tripathi, Samit Basu, Indra Das and others entertaining readers with their fantasy worlds that explore mythology and folklore with much gusto. Amish has transformed Hindu gods and goddesses into cool characters that today’s generation can relate to, while Samit Basu has created his own niche in the fantasy genre with bestsellers like The GameWorld Trilogy, a mix of eastern and western fantasy and Indra Das broke into the genre with his award winning novel The Devourers, a reworking of the classic werewolf tale.
And in comes Shweta Taneja, whose new book The Matsya Curse has just come out. She has written several other titles, like The Ghost Hunters of Kurseong, Cult of Chaos: An Anantya Tantrist Mystery, Krishna: Defender of Dharma and The Skull Rosary. But Shweta’s novels do not belong purely to the fantasy genre. They are what she likes to call, the urban fantasy genre. She fuses mythology, folklore and the occult, and sets the story in the present world like the popular American television series True Blood. Unlike pure fantasy, this modern-day treatment helps the characters seem more real and helps connect with readers better.
Shweta Taneja who is from Delhi, was in the city recently to launch the second part of the series An Anantya Tantrist Mystery, The Matsya Curse. She said, When I was pitching the story to the publisher, they were worried about the genre, also it is pretty violent and they have their own hesitation. So, I had to give an example of an international urban fantasy book for them to understand.
Fantasy writer Samit Basu helped her launch the book and it was followed by a conversation between the two. Samit remarked that Shweta’s books are altogether a new genre that other Indian writers are yet to explore.
On how Shweta interprets and build the story of mythology and folklore from different sources into a modern day urban setting, the journalist-turn-author said that she took inspiration from India’s B-Grade horror movies and the aspect of tantrism. She said, When you think of Indian occult, the first thing that strikes you is tantrism because we grew up with B-Grade movies where Amrish Puri is dancing around in black clothes. She also read academic books on philosophy of tantrism where she found out that the highest point of power is to become Shakti, to become the mother of the goddess, to become a female.
But none of the books mentioned any female tantrics, which piqued her interest. So, she dug deeper into it and picked up that aspect and then went to pop culture and B grade movies, especially by the Ramsay Brothers, she said.
The Matsya Curse tells the story of Anantya, a tantric detective who has supernatural power, lives in Delhi and solves crimes. The tale is an extension of her imagination about her own desire to want to be brash, strong and not give a damn. Shweta said that Anantya is her own version of Wonder Woman. This is a brash independent woman completely opposite to the ideal of the Indian woman. She has a blast in life, like James bond, she goes to bars and has sex with all kinds of species, with no strings attached.
However, as imaginative as she is, Shweta reveals that creating a plot was quite messy. She had to constantly change the plot and it was her instinct that helped her decide. For her story, she draws inspirations from newspapers, everyday stories of tantrism and from nature, where so many miracles and magic happens daily.