MYTHS AND FANTASIES
Genre classification and Indian literature have never gone well together. We don’t do genre here: in our bookstores you’ll usually find Indian writers who do genre-classifiable work lumped under Indian fiction.
When it comes to speculative fiction, an umbrella term that covers a range of non-realist fiction (fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal, mythology/fable retellings, horror, alternative history), an interesting range of work has emerged in India over the past decade. In terms of international comparisons, the western sci-fi/fantasy classifications are less relevant than what’s been happening in China. On the one hand, you have hugely popular mass-market sagas based on legends, myths and fantastical history, and on the other, a growing trend of alternative-reality fantasy and sci-fi, all about present-day China but with a speculative layer added to avoid offence and censorship. Authors like Cixin Liu, Hao Jingfang and Xia Jia are writing work that can be seen as social science fiction, or dystopian fiction, that examines the world they live in through fantasy’s dark mirror.
In India, correspondingly, we’ve been seeing the rise of wildly popular myth-fic in the wake of Ashok Banker’s Ramayana, from Amish’s Shiva trilogy to Anand Neelakantan’s The Rise of Sivagami (based on the blockbuster Baahubali). Neelakantan, like Devdutt Pattanaik, consults for large budget mythology-based soaps on TV, and in the coming years we’ll see many shows and films arising from this category of books, as Bollywood tries to replicate Baahubali’s success. On the social sci-fi front, Prayaag Akbar’s Leila, a riveting story about class conflict, fits perfectly into the category—I expect many more books in this space to emerge from India in the years to come. For more Indian dystopian fiction, try Manjula Padmanabhan and Madhav Mathur.
Outside these categories, though, there’s plenty of speculative fiction from Indian writers. Producers look-ing for more innovative blendings of Indian and international fantasy elements should try Krishna Udaya-sankar’s Immortal, Sukanya Venkat-raghavan’s Dark Things and Shweta Taneja’s Anantya Tantrist series. Readers looking for Indian work that has received widespread praise in the West should read Indrapramit Das’s The Devourers, a rich and complex tale about shapeshifters that spans eras and continents, and Nilanjana Roy’s The Wildings series, charming contemporary animal-protagonist novels with a very dark bite. In sci-fi, Anil Menon and Vandana Singh have been widely published in leading American anthologies, which increasingly feature South Asian names: a number of young writers from this region will be writing and publishing spec-fic novels by 2020.