MYTHS AND FAN­TASIES

India Today - - HITLIST - by SAMIT BASU who is the au­thor of the Game­world fan­tasy tril­ogy and the in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed Tur­bu­lence su­per­hero se­ries

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.

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