Between the Old City of Delhi and the New wanders Pariah, a weaver of dreams. When Pariah decides that it too wants to dream like the mortals it creates dreams for, it must cross over to the New City to seek answers in its strange and unfamiliar streets. Indrapramit Das, Juggernaut consulting editor and author of The Devourers, spoke to Amal Singh, Pariah’s author, about the dream world, and being a speculative fiction writer in India:
Amal Singh, author of Pariah
Your short story Pariah follows a magical entity that creates the dreams of humans in Delhi, and is stuck in a limbo between the older, mythic memory of the city’s past versions and its modern incarnation. What led you to this idea and character?
I wrote the first draft while traveling to work. I had been toying around with the idea of two coexisting Delhis for quite a while, and the first paragraph just came out in one, continuous stream. Since Delhi already has such a rich history, I realized I had the bare bones of something which could work, so I built upon it. Also, I have always been fascinated by dreams and their nature. I thought it would be cool to introduce an entity who can literally shape dreams, but can’t dream itself.
Do you find Delhi to be a creatively rewarding city to write in, and about?
Definitely. Places such as Purana Quila, Agrasen ki Baoli and Humayun’s Tomb have so many stories to tell, and are aesthetically significant. It’s like their walls shout out to be heard, and if you listen closely, you just might get a tale worth telling. Since I have grown up in and around the place itself, there is an attachment to it, which also reflects in my work.
The story reminded me a little of some of the short, single-issue stories in Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, simply because it too follows a creator of dreams and binds present and past with magic. What are some of your influences as a writer?
Neil Gaiman is certainly an influence, yes. But if there is one writer whose work made me serious about writing short fiction, it has to be Ray Bradbury, and it happened after reading his masterpiece of a story, There Will Come Soft Rains. My other influences are Margaret Atwood, Robin Hobb, Roger Zelazny, Ursula LeGuin and Stephen King.
When it comes to global pop culture, speculative fiction is increasingly becoming mainstream (because of Game of Thrones and the Marvel superhero films). In India, however, creators of contemporary speculative fiction across all mediums still work within a fairly small genre niche. As an Indian writer of non-realist fiction, what are your thoughts on this?
That’s an interesting question. Indian speculative fiction has largely been dealing with plain old retellings of mythological tales. Even folktales tend to restrict themselves despite such diversity. A reason behind this could be that India still doesn’t have as well-developed an SFF community and con culture as the West. South India (and to some extent, East) has a good reading culture, and there is a lot of regional speculative fiction to be found there which hasn’t yet found the limelight it deserves. Speculative fiction itself is brushed off as “childish” and “escapist”. Then there is a general lack of exposure to good books, which I feel is the main reason behind this. There is exposure to classics such as the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov, even Heinlein to some extent. But most people wouldn’t even have heard of paradigm-shifting works such as Dhalgren and The Left Hand of Darkness. This is why we often see basic SFF tropes (robots, spaceships, lasers) being rehashed, loosely and lazily adapted to “Indian” sensibilities.
Relatedly, which Indian writers of speculative fiction would you recommend?
I read Vandana Singh’s story Infinities a year ago and I still wonder how she pulled that off with such dexterity. So yes, I would recommend her other works. Then there is Samit Basu who destroyed every existing fantasy trope to smithereens in his Gameworld trilogy and still told a smashing good story. I would further recommend Anil Menon, Priya Sharma and Shweta Thakrar.
What are you working on next?
I am currently working on a novel. On the short fiction front, I recently finished two stories, one of them a novelette length, humorous, meta-fantasy work, which I am especially proud of. I will soon start submitting it around. May not be everyone’s cup of tea. Let’s hope it sees the light of the publishing day.
Pariah is now available on the Juggernaut app here