Thursday, December 17, 2015

Behind the Book: Rise of fantasy as a genre in India - Guest Post by Sachin Dev



Fantasy is a genre that we’re supposed to outgrow when you become an adult. It’s for kids, right? Harry Potter. The magical world of Narnia. Those hideous things with names that rhyme with ‘pork’ that fought with pale skinned long eared funny looking men called shelves? Magic? Scoff!

It isn’t literature. It is not the stuff that serious readers will read. And yet there are takers. It’s a smaller population surely but the buoyant success of a grim and gory series called Game of Thrones on TV – awakened us to the fact that there are people who are NOT called J K Rowling, who write such stuff – aimed at adults. It’s serious fiction. It’s grim and dark. And it is fantastical.

I have been a fantasy reader – steady for the past fifteen years – having read nothing but fantasy. Maybe it sounds hard to believe but out there in the west, it’s an accepted genre and it’s mature, having grown from the days of JRR Tolkien’s epic fantasy to the grim dark modern day sub genres crowned by stars like Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence etc. So there is material that gets churned out by the hundreds year after year. Nebula and Hugo are big mainstream awards given out to authors who come up with mind boggling stupendous fantasy fiction every year.

Back home – here in India – it’s an orphaned child, still looking for acceptance. A new-spangled form of this sub-genre, called Mythological fantasy is now riding the waves. Ever since literary popstars reimagined Indian myths – and made rockstars of Indian gods for having mind-altering substances and getting jiggy with ladies – and of course for having fought back the dark clouds of evil threatening the lands. We have a rich reservoir of stories we can dig into – what with, three hundred and thirty three million Gods in the Hindu pantheon, we are in for a long haul with such stories being published day after day (Ahem. Bursting at the seams, In India, we got enthralling stories that goes just beyond the Gods but delves into everybody around them. So we got wise sages ( Viswamitra by Dr. Vineet Agarwal) who dared challenge the gods, demi-gods ( Like Kamadeva: the God of desires by Anuja Chandramouli, a side trip to understand this little known trickster demigod!) or grandson/sons of human avatars of the Gods ( Pradyumna: Son of Krishna by Usha Narayanan) and more such.


It is exhilarating to see the Indians wake up to this and embrace these stories wholeheartedly as the Indian folklore is something that is rich and deep, going beyond the vein of just feel-good moral-guidelines. Take for example, Mahabaratha. This single epic is probably the most talked-about and the most-interpreted work of literature from the ages – the very definition of E-P-I-C spanning across generations, time and kingdoms, it’s a tale mired in moral conflicts and grey characterization. Without choosing absolutes of black and white, this is not a tale about the triumph of good over evil. It’s a war between brothers – cousins, blood relations over misunderstandings, lies and deceit. But personally, I have felt the interpretations that are countless and are still coming out – a lot of them were sub-standard retellings of events recorded way back in history or mythology by the fantastic elephant-headed God we revere as the Lord of auspicious beginnings.

Now I remember way back in 2004 I had picked up a book called Simoquin Prophecies. By this little known chap called Samit Basu. I loved it. I loved it to bits. Chuffed. Blown away. It was a bold new direction for Indian writing and I for some reason was incredibly proud. Samit Basu has gone on to international acclaim writing some blockbusters after that. But the Gameworld trilogy in India is a shining example of originality and a crow left of the murder that struck a mud pie of worms early in the morning. I still don’t know whether these books were a commercial success but in India where the English speaking population is only on the rise, three to four thousand copies sold is a big deal. If you haven’t yet read his early works, definitely give it a spin.

That was a remarkable piece of bold fiction – as it created a world of its own. Unlike the mythological fiction that relies on the imagination of our rishis. One of my favorite authors, Krishna Udayasankar uses the phrase, standing tall on the shoulders of giants. While I love the whole new wave rising up, I really do hope to see more secondary world fantasy fiction shaping up. Like the inventive urban fantasy set in the underbelly of Delhi in Cult of Chaos by Shweta Taneja that introduces us to Anantya Tantrik, a female Tantrik detective. Mashing up genres and myths. We need to see more of such.

I am still on the lookout for well written secondary world fantasy stories set in invented worlds that borrows from the incredibly rich Indian mythology or history. My own story, my tribute to this genre and the Indian mythology, sets out to do something of that sort. It’s an honest attempt. And my paean or love letter to this genre that I love. An attempt to immerse people in a new world that seems at once familiar to an Indian audience brought up on a melting pot of grandma-stories, subjected to the “hairat-angez and thilismedaar” stories of Chandrakanta on Doordarshan and are now slowly getting introduced to the wonderful new world of Westeros packed with the grit and dark drama.

Welcome to the Wheels of Janani. Where Rakshasas arise out of left-over traces of Maaya and twilight forms the portal to countless worlds around us for beautiful and dangerous Yakshis to dance through. Where a God is only as powerful as the people who believe. A world teetering on the brink of an apocalypse. A world that is the scarred playground of vindictive Gods.

About the author: Sachin Dev is an engineer from BITS Pilani and holds an MBA from Indian School of Business. Faith of the Nine is his first book from the Wheels of Janani, his epic fantasy trilogy. He can usually be found ranting on Twitter under the handle @xenosach, or you can always stalk him online at www.sachindevt.com.


About the book:  The Third Yuga is slowly drawing to a close. Nam – the greatest Empire on Janani – is going to face some fierce winds of change. Seers foresee omens of death and destruction in the return of the Banished One – A God who will claim the ashes of this world as revenge. While out in the streets, rumours abound - of older forgotten powers stirring.

Caught in this maelstrom of a power struggle between Gods are three ordinary lives: General Fateh, the most celebrated soldier in Nam who starts to question his faith, Ishan – a gifted orphan who struggles to comprehend his destiny and Abhaya – a young monk in search of truths about this world. Their choices and actions will shape the destiny of this scarred world that becomes the playground for vindictive Gods.

In a world where Rakshasas arise out of left-over traces of Maaya and twilight forms the portal to countless worlds around us for Daityas and Yakshis to dance through, a God is only as powerful as those who believe.And when Gods rise, faith of men will be tested…And broken.

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