We desperately needed a sexy female Indian superhero, so thank you! What’s your favourite thing about Anantya Tantrist?
Let me start with a little confession. I gleefully created Anantya for myself. I’ve grown up on a healthy dose of badass characters like John Constantine or Harry Dresden in novels. I craved for a female version of them all based in Indian myths and folklore. A 20-something, who can do blood magic and solve supernatural crimes that no one else can while encountering creatures of the night, and then head to a bar at the end for a soma-on-the-rocks and some casual pick-me-up-sex. Anantya Tantrist, a tantric detective based in Delhi is exactly that. She’s a mix of Bollywoodesque brashness with the crime-solving nose of Sherlock Holmes, and I’ve enjoyed every bit of being with her.
Who was the real-life inspiration for Anantya’s character?
Anantya is a complete inversion of the middle class ideal of the Indian woman. I wanted to create a superhero character who would break all societal norms and expectations. Her world and her reactions all consciously invert the gender biases that swim in our world. Writing her has rattled my own gender prejudices. I hope it does the same to the readers all the while entertaining them through a dark joyride of the supernatural underworld.
Anantya Tantrist has a sailor’s affection for cursing. Is that a sneaky play on freedom of speech?
Polite language is such a veiled civilised creature. Expletives however, invert the idea of politeness and bring out the harsh truth of reality. They’re a slap on the whole charade of being civilised while stuffing skeletons in the cupboard. They also show that she has no regard or patience of any social mores of language, behaviour or expectations, making her an inversion of gender boxes that our society tries to fit us all in. And to entertain readers, of course.
What is the job description of a tantric detective, exactly?
As a self-carved profession, the job of a tantric detective entails solving skin-tingling supernatural crimes, meeting dangerous creatures from the supernatural underworld for clues, asking uncomfortable questions to powerful demi-gods and usually pissing them off, making enemies, dealing with zombie exes, doling out maya potions to the poor and, trying and save innocents.
Tell us why we should all be feminists.
Frankly, being a feminist is way cooler than being a prissy who fits into our society’s rigid gender, caste and class hierarchies. As a feminist, you question gender, caste and privileged biases in yourself and in those around you, constantly and relentlessly. Plus, being in the fluid space of feminism, makes you meet much more interesting personalities and enjoy life way more. Freedom is way more fun.
The scene: Anantya has been captured by the Rakshasa Queen as she was stealing from her. Will she be able to save herself?
Tearing at my clothes and grabbing my satchel the two bharundas on either side dragged me uphill and then down, through burrows and shafts to reach an entrance.
‘Have you been to Barbareeka’s Palace of Bones?’ asked Grrhat. He walked, followed by the bharundas who held me captive. ‘She built it last year to reflect the cultural integration that she’s found in her business. Keeps adding raw material as when. And did I tell you she loves soft, juicy human bones of arrogant tantriks who steal from her?’
‘They add to her personal bed.’
‘Grr, I didn’t mean to—’
‘Don’t speak, devil manavi!’
The bharundas dragged me into a dark damp room made out of a daitya’s skull and covered with skins of various animals and sups. A fire burnt in the centre, indigo through my septifocals. On either side, stood bharundas of all types, fowl faced, blue like a kingfisher with a shapely body, a tall crane-faced lady, a hummingbird who hovered at the very end of the room and a few little ones. All of them carried weapons of all kinds, long swords, short knifes, spears, lances and even old style guns. At the very end of it all, sat Queen Barbareeka, a humongous rakshasi, her legs spread apart, her pale skin cozied with three white-green fur of a yeti, her uncombed hair falling in a tumble behind. She had two heads and four hands. She fed one of her heads meat, while with one of her hands fed a drink to the other. One of the bharundas who’d captured me, walked up to her and whispered in her ear.
‘Cousin Grrhat,’ her non-eating lips spoke. ‘It’s been a while.’
‘Chomp! A stealer!’ the eating-side lips spoke. ‘Chomp! Chomp!’
‘Queen of Magical Creatures,’ Grrhat bowed low, his nose touching the ground. ‘Yes, it’s been a while. She is Anantya, a female manava from up ground. I got her in for she desired sex-flesh at the linga street, but she ... I had no idea she’ll steal from your generous coffers.’
‘I didn’t steal. The nishadas are not hers. They’re free creatures.’
Both her heads looked in my direction.
‘You’re supposed to protect your people! Not sell them to greedy tantriks for coin and blood diamonds!’
‘Fire. Chomp, chomp. Roast it.’
‘Bhina go find the bounty before our delivery date is due,’ she sniffed. ‘Manavi do you bleed?’
‘Yes. I moonshed.’
‘Good.’ Both of Queen Barbareeka’s heads grinned together, all four of her eyes rounding up above her broad noses. ‘We always like a bit of blood on our dessert. Better than corpses sprinkled with bloodwine. Nira, cover her with daitya piss and roast her while we dine. We will finish and then have this scrumptious dessert that our cousin brings.’
Nira turned out to be a bhurunda with an owl’s face and a female body which would have made an apsara insecure. She also had a strong elephantine grip. Before I could act, she grabbed me, splashed piss on my body and along with another bhurunda, this one with a sparrow’s back but a woman’s face and legs, picked me up, tying me around a tall bamboo stick, like a lamb about to be skewered. They put the bambooo stick on top of the fire which had been burning in the middle of the room and then stoked it. Fire burst upwards, burning my naked back.
‘Ugh!’ The stick was rotated, the fire licking my face and breasts and singed my pubic hair, burning my shoulders and chest. A scream emitted from somewhere. I realized it was me.
‘Come, join us for a drink, cousin,’ said Barbareeka. ‘We shall share the dessert you bring.’