Why do I write Fantasy?
One of my all-time favorite authors, George RR Martin answers this best in his unequivocal style “The best fantasy is written in the language of dreams. It is alive as dreams are alive, more real than real … for a moment at least … that long magic moment before we wake.” [ Read the rest of the beautiful quote here
They can keep their heaven. When I die, I would rather go to Middle Earth.
Do I share that emotion? Hell yes. So the question comes back as to why do I write Fantasy?
As always there are two sides to this coin. (And putting to use that Massive Brain Adulteration I went through) I will attempt here to present the network effect analysis of the ‘Rise of Fantasy in India’.
A lot of you are probably thinking this boy (me) just wants to ride the wave. That is crashing sky-high right now – with the popularity of small screen adaptation of every possible sci-fi / fantasy story being churned out week after week. (We can never get our glut for blood & magic satisfied huh? It’s Marla from Fight Club all over again. We are ‘Appalled’ and ‘Attracted’ in equal measure.) The mainstream acceptance of Game of Thrones by the young and old alike speaks volumes about how it’s no longer the closet nerd’s internet discussion forum wet-dream. People genuinely love the world of Westeros. And the whole bloody gritty feel to a story so beautifully and intricately woven amidst all that head-chopping and gory backstabbing.
But before GRRM became a household name in India and Asia in general, (Among the larger mainstream population that is. He has always been a GOD among us nerd folks!) I personally was hooked on to countless other stories set in either the Malazan Empire (Book) of the Fallen or the Halls of Camelot or the Magical world of Narnia….and many many other worlds. First among all that of course was Middle Earth. But after the rousing popularity of Peter Jackson’s New Zealand inspired Middle Earth on the big screen, I was always on the lookout for new talents. And devour I did – book after book, new authors one after the other in my search for the demi-gods in this genre. This was late 90’s and early 2000’s. Fantasy was shaking off the tag of “a story of a farm boy growing in to his destiny” that saw clones of Tolkien rise up in hordes.
Now Fantasy is a wide genre – and fits in different forms where the setting was one of the following:
a) An alternate form of Earth where mortals lived alongside hunky bloodthirsty vampires/fallen angels/fey/demons (Take your pick. Urban Fantasy. Yawn!! But the good news is there are fantastic new titles by folks like Myke Cole’s Shadow Ops series breathing new life back into this staid old genre.)
b) A desolate barren dustbowl of an earth where the sun is not shining anymore and the desert winds howl through empty barnyard doors stretching their dark maws wide open ( Dystopian/post-apocalyptic earth. Yawn. Again.)
c) Medieval Europe. Knights. Queens. Pages. Swords & Lances. Sorcerers. (Epic high fantasy. Featuring magic and a lot of swashbuckling heroes to save the damsel in distress)
d) The exotic eastern fantasy world. Sometimes known as silk road fantasy. A relative minority that is nevertheless picking up interest among global audiences after the thumping success of authors like Guy Gavriel Kay (Under Heaven) and Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky.
There are countless other forms. And we are only limited by our imagination. Now that knows no bounds. Right ?
I wonder if we can add an India flavor to the above list of worlds.
And the other important part of the network effect is the audience. The English reading population in India was on the rise (early 2000) – buoyed on by the fantastic success of a certain Mr. Bhagat and later – this hipster version of Siva who while not getting addled out of his brain by mind-altering substances was busy getting jiggy with Parvati – and countless copycats who pretty much rewrote every possible Hindu mythology, added their own interpretations and imagination to set things on fire – and called it Fantasy. Do you hear the notes of complaining? You do, you perceptive reader, you do.
So yes and no – While I loved this whole new direction of storytelling as there are 333 million gods and goddesses in India and this means we are in for the long haul with such stories being published day after day. Plus the two epics that we Indians swear by, Ramayana and Mahabharata allowed as many interpretations as there are heads in this world. Sure, some gems came out – but still I felt 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. Because hey, this is after all an extremely crowded market that is overflowing with semi-autobiographical stories of “three-point-someone” rip-offs, syrupy love stories with absolutely ridiculous titles having an F* words on the front page or the little known adventures of a character POV from Mahabharata who sadly was neglected by Vyasa.
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. That does not fit into the mold I explained above. My story 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 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.
Welcome to Wheels of Janani.