Kanika Dhillon, the author of Shiva and the Rise of the Shadows, releasing in late September, in conversation with Vaani Arora, film-maker and writer.
VA: You are known to be totally into Bollywood, how did this post-apocalyptic story idea start?
KD: I have always been fascinated with fantasy fiction. I love the thought of creating a world drawn from myth, mythology and imagination, The post-apocalyptic idea started as soon as I was done with my first book, a satire, Bombay Duck Is a Fish. I wanted to go in a completely different direction as a creator and explore a genre that was unexpected, that posed both a challenge and a risk. I was apprehensive to attempt a story like this, but at the same time was excited to create a world that was fantastical and believable at the same time.
VA: What kind of books did you read as a kid/young adult?
KD: I loved reading Enid Blyton, Famous Five, Agatha Christie, Nancy Drew …. these were my fodder as a kid. But I particularly remember how I would go into a fantasy world created by Blyton, be it climbing the wishing tree, a flying chair, characters like Moon Face, fairies and elves. It was a world that sucked you in and took you on an adventure. It was the ultimate form of escapism–and I loved reading these stories as a kid.
VA: You write for films as well, is your writing process different when you write a book? Does the visual that the story evokes, empower you while writing or do you have to shut the visual in your head and focus on the written word instead?
KD: The writing processes of a film and a book are very different. A film script has its own language, rules and structures whereas the structure and rules in a novel are primarily dictated by the author and the story being written. A screenplay focuses on action and the visual language whereas in a book one can create an ambience, dwell on a thought, debate a moment, turn it around. I feel novel gives more freedom of expression and one can creatively indulge, whereas, in a film script–brevity and the visual language are factors to be constantly kept in mind. Secondly, I never shut out the visual a story evokes because it adds that richness and colour, so that the readers can touch, feel and smell what is written on the paper. In a genre like this, visual is even more important for me because I am creating an alien world between the covers. I need to see it, visualize it and experience it as I am creating it on paper.
VA: At any point in time while writing this book, did you feel tempted to turn this into a graphic novel instead?
KD: Actually, it seems like a good suggestion! But while writing it I didn’t have that in mind. I was happy to create the world of the Keepers and the Shadows and explore them in a novel form.
VA: Futuristic novels usually go way forward into the future. Shiva and the Rise of the Shadows only goes six years hence. Why a short time leap?
KD: We live in such uncertain times, where nuclear war is no longer a far fetched theory. We are constantly debating ‘the world is ending’ theories. Be it the 2012 prophecy or be it the threat of natural calamity. The fact that ‘the word is ending theories’ have seeped into the popular psyche already – It made sense to not go too far into the future for this particular story.
Also the story talks about the rise of the shadows, which is a parallel drawn from the whole philosophy of ‘kalyug’. According to Hindu mythology, we are living in that era of Kalyug, where the negative manifestation of Vishnu and his extended evil family shall prevail, the demonic forces will be at work–hence the Rise of the Shadows which Shiva, who is a teenager–battles. It made sense to keep the timelines futuristic, yet near enough to give a sense of imminent danger.
VA: Because the story is set in a school with kids with special powers, did you feel any ‘Anxiety of Influence’ because of the popularity of Hogwarts?
KD: Yes, I was mindful of the fact that my story is set in a school; with kids who have special powers. In my story, the recruits are descendants of powerful ancestors, who have been tracked down by a secret society of the Keepers. But because the essential powers, history and context of the story differs a lot from the Hogwarts.
VA: Why do you think teenagers the world over are lapping up post-apocalyptic tales? Do you think it is because this is their way of saying that they are not kids anymore?
KD: I think teenagers are at a stage where they are discovering their own selves, and usually they find resonance in these post-apocalyptic tales where the hero saves the world and discovers his internal strength and being. These tales encompass that emotion and also help them escape in a new world that can be discovered and new characters that can inspire. The escape from realism and the mundane is a huge attraction in these post-apocalyptic tales.