Indian mythology meets the supernatural world in this fantasy thriller
Author Shweta Taneja’s new novel, The Matsya Curse, features a female detective who fights all sorts of evil forces.
Imagine the monkey god Hanuman as an eccentric old man who has given up on the world; the warrior Ashwatthama (from Mahabharata) as a grumpy immortal who is tired of living; and Lord Indra as a god who will do anything to keep living on earth.
These are just a few characters from a recently launched thriller, The Matsya Curse, by Bengaluru-based author Shweta Taneja. It is the second book in the Anantya Tantrist series. The protagonist, 23-year-old Anantya, is a tantric detective who protects Delhi from dark supernatural forces. And now, in The Matsya Curse, she faces her most formidable enemy yet — an evil force trying to grab control of life through mass murder.
“I wanted to create a kickass detective based in India, who drinks at a local bar, spews gaalis, fights like a hurricane, and has casual sex,” she says, adding, “Most popular fantasies, be it the Harry Potter or Game of Thrones series, are based in the European supernatural worlds. [Instead] I inhabited Anantya’s world with supernatural creatures and paranormal spirits like rakshasas, daityas, danavas, kiratas, etc.”
The seed of The Matsya Curse was sown when Taneja was travelling in Uttar Pradesh, and came across a poster. It said that Hanuman is still alive, meditating in a Himalayan cave. Absurd as the claim might sound, it got her thinking about Indian mythology with its rich stories and intriguing characters.
“I read about 50 books on tantrism, tracked oral stories and news reports, watched B-grade movies with hollering tantrics and built the [fantasy] world from there. It took me a year,” says Taneja. It helped that she had grown up listening to her grandmother narrate folklore from Punjab, and her parents retelling of the Ramayana and Mahabharata.
Apart from being an urban fantasy novel, The Matsya Curse is also a feminist thriller. Anantya leaves behind the sheltered life her patriarchal tantric father offers, to chart out her own course. She chooses to be a tantric, even though in her world, it’s illegal to be a female tantric. “Her character is based on a desire to create a woman who is exactly the opposite of what an ideal Indian woman is supposed to be. She is a negation of society’s expectation from women when it comes to how to dress, behave, live, and talk,” says Taneja.
Moreover, the novel also questions societal notions of gender constructs, class, and class. Taneja has used humour as a tool to incorporate these themes. “It’s like giving people a medicine disguised in sugar pills. So while you enjoy reading the book, it might just trick you into rethinking your perception and prejudices of different genders,” she says.
The Matsya Curse by Shweta Taneja is on stands.
Publisher: HarperCollins; Price: Rs 399
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