Monday, March 18, 2024

Interview with Shinie Antony

Shinie Antony - writer, editor, novelist, and columnist, is the winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize, co – founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and has the dubious distinction of inflicting Chetan Bhagat on India. Her latest novels, Can’t and Eden Abandoned: The Story of Lilith were released this year. In a freewheeling chat, this wordsmith is every bit as witty and wicked as the fierce ‘fallen woman’ from her tales.

1. Most authors hereabouts are jealous that you have managed the incredible feat of releasing two exquisitely crafted novels back-to-back, especially since AI has prompted many a writer to throw in the towel. How did you pull this off?

It was emotional crafting vs. ‘thinking up’. With Lilith I had readymade texts to refer from: Gilgamesh to Talmud, Ben Sira, Genesis 1, Hebrew Bible, George MacDonald… Lilith told her own story, I was like a stenographer taking it down. With Can't I was on my own. I thought both Nena and Tata up, what they wore, what they spoke, their quirks, eccentricities, back stories. Writing Can't was a more complex and conscious process. Lilith happened on its own.

2. Can’t features a woman in her seventies traipsing off into the unknown with a seventeen-year-old, on a quest to track down her husband’s illicit bed mates. What is it about straying spouses and incompetent lovers that unleashes the rabid beast within?

Gender equations are lopsided. We are all going by that one old sepia portrait of womanhood hanging on a peeling wall in a mouldy haveli somewhere. In The Girl Who Couldn’t Love, Rudrakshi looks on from the other side. She will dump a man before he dumps her.

3. In your subversive take on Lilith, the original witch and ‘something which rhymes with it’ from the Bible, lasciviousness is rendered luscious while depravity is downright delicious. What drew you to Lilith, reimagining her as an indomitable force of nature, who refused to surrender, not even on pain of spiritual death and worse?

Like all mythological vamps, Lilith is bold. She has this dangerous beauty that lures men to their doom, and she snacks on little babies. Middle-aged women are proverbially considered invisible. After forty, they say, poof, you’re gone, you no longer exist. Male anger is celebrated, made much of. It is macho and presumed protective. ‘Angry woman’ is supposed to be an oxymoron – even the way we laugh is prescribed in the syllabus: softly, without noise, into your fist etc. if you must be so vulgar as to laugh at all. But this is the thing, ageing is a superpower. Being single is a superpower. Not having kids is a superpower. Female anger is a thing of beauty. An articulate woman in a temper is a work of art.

4. Nena from Can’t as well as Lilith are dealing with the nuclear fallout of a failed relationship. Previously, you wrote about the Girl Who Couldn’t Love. Have you declared war on coupling since most swear by marriage and love despite the damning evidence on hand?

Both books are about female resurrection. Women resurrect all the time. Life leaves them for dead – and each time they are like I’m here, still here. Female foeticide, infanticide by midwives with salt in their fists, honour killing, dowry deaths, widows thrown wherever. As a nation we don't know where to dump our garbage, but we always knew where to dump widows... The planet is divided not into men and women – we are the animal kingdom, after all – but into the powerful and the powerless, predator and prey. If women go take a nap the sati system will be back.

5. What do you think is stopping women from channelling feminine rage and agency to live life on their own terms without having to live in mortal terror of consequences?

Women stop themselves, because they buy into the rumours about themselves. They want to conform and toe the line, do the done thing, say the said thing. But one day they get it. And then heaven help Earth!

An edited version of this interview was published in TNIE magazine.

Rendering Religion Redundant


Karl Marx famously disparaged religion as “the opium of the masses”. Though my German is even poorer than my Hindi, I take it that that Marx felt religion was a clever tool wielded by the powerful to not only oppress the overworked and underpaid majority but to make them feel better about their oppression by encouraging them to fixate on faith – based fixes since they couldn’t afford opiates and float their way out of poverty and pain on a pleasurable cloud of oblivion. Since Marx’s time, politicians and their billionaire backers have come up with many innovations to further subjugate the suppressed with liquor guaranteed to end suffering via cirrhosis of the liver, freebies and pornography to delight the heart and loins, and cheap entertainment accessible 24/7 on mobile phones. Religion, however, remains the favourite with the ridiculously and rabidly religious rapidly becoming a plague on an already diseased civilized world.

Ironically, though the core doctrine of most religions endorses love, peace and compassion, the revival of faith-based conflict and violence witnessed in recent times has seen religion commonly associated with hate, intolerance, and heightened aggression. Even as the situation worsens in Gaza and people across the world are slamming Israel and its allies as perpetrators and enablers of genocide, the slaughter of the Islamist population in that contested strip of ‘holy land’ continues unabated. Religious fanaticism has raised its ugly head elsewhere too.

In China, Uighur Muslims are routinely persecuted and herded into labour camps, as are the Rohingya in Myanmar. In the middle East, Sunni and Shia Muslims battle it out for domination as do the Muslims and Catholics in Bosnia and Kosovo. Islamic extremists wage their global jihad undeterred by concentrated efforts to shut them down. Hostilities have increased against religious minorities be they Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, and Catholics in many parts of the world. Closer home, in India the ruling party has been accused of actively promoting Hindu and Hindi interests to the detriment of all else.

To be fair, religion and the religious leaders who are not actively invoking violence in the name of faith have done some good in this divided world. The devotees who have not become radicalized or taken up terrorism have actively involved themselves with helping the poor, marginalized and victims of war. Relief and charitable efforts have been made possible through the efforts of the faithful mobilized by temples, churches, mosques, synagogues working in tandem with humanitarian agencies and welfare organizations. Interfaith dialogues have also facilitated initiatives to promote peace, human rights and non – violence.

Even so, if the security blanket of religion is taken away it is possible that people wouldn’t be so preoccupied with the futile effort to secure a ticket to paradise using the currency of blind faith, prayer, and ritual worship. Without the highs and lows of religious relief they may be forced out of their collective torpor to address the widening wealth gap and income inequalitythat impacts them directly. Combined effort might even create a better world where all are equal and there is absolutely no need for a toxic drug like religion.


This article was published in TNIE Magazine.

Sunday, March 10, 2024



Mahashivaratri 2024 was a tremendous experience. Nityanjali, our dance troupe performed in Thiruvaiyaru (10:00 pm) and Thiruvidaimarudur (4:00 am). As always, it was a lovely experience. The insane travelling with the packed schedule and rehearsals can be gruelling but the entire process is never less than amazing thanks to the good company, yummy food (which included homemade murukkus), surprisingly clement weather, live music, dance, and a taste of the divine in all its sacred and scary glory.

While people’s faith is entirely private and all are entitled to their beliefs it has to be admitted that the faithful, especially when they turn up in droves for religious celebrations can be a public nuisance. I was appalled by the surging crowds at the temples and the terrifying lack of crowd control or event security which would guarantee the safety of the heaving masses which included the elderly, babies, and disabled people. There was zero consideration for others as I witnessed folks forcing their way into narrow entry points which doubled as exits, uncaring that they were shoving and hurting others. Traffic snarls were apparent in every road at all hours of the night and the lack of civic sense was apparent in the way people discarded paper cups, plastic bags, and unfinished food across every inch of available space be it a temple or toilet. 

The risk of a stampede loomed over our heads although, it felt like I was probably the only one who was deeply concerned about getting crushed beneath the filth encrusted feet of the faithful. (On a related note, why are holy places in India such an unholy mess?) The devotees seem to think that just because temples are sacred spaces nothing bad can happen never mind that history and recent news is filled with tragic events where hundreds lost their lives in stampedes which occurred during large gatherings at temples when religious festivities were being observed. Examples include stampedes in Vaishno Devi Temple (2022), Rajahmundry (2015), Andhra during the Pushkaram festival, Gandhi Maidan (2014) in Patna after Dussehra, Ratangarh temple (2013) in MP during Navratri. Incidents have also been recorded in Puri Juganath, Kumbh mela, Sabarimala, etc.

Mercifully, our dance troupe stuck it out by taking care of each other and keeping a wary eye against the more aggressive of God’s fervent followers of all genders who are not above using their chests, elbows, and stomping feet to clear a path. There is always the risk of chain snatchers, pickpockets, and perverts as well. Surely there is a way to celebrate religious occasions without endangering life and limb? The divine can be truly experienced only in silence, solitude and space not in cramped enclosures where hapless deities are caged in sanctum sanctorums almost as a defence against the insane crowds who will literally kill for a glimpse of their God.



There is only one thing worse than being inundated with invitations to an endless array of ‘happening’ events I feel compelled to attend even though I would rather be chilling in bed with a show and cheese popcorn on the side and that is not being inundated with invitations to the aforementioned shindigs. That is when I find myself staring morosely at the Pringles, I am going to hate myself for scarfing down while watching Mike Flanagan’s latest attempt at elevated horror on Netflix, liking him a lot and hating him a little for having such a happening career, forcing me to contemplate the many boxes left unticked on the achievement front. Between episodes, I scroll aimlessly through social media feeds where everyone seems to be doing something that could pass for exciting, aggravating the ever-present FOMO. For the uninformed, that is the ‘fear of missing out.’

Some of us are preoccupied with ageing and the terrifying inevitability of it prompts us to counter this by packing every single moment with momentous activity, because nobody wants to confront death, filled to the brim with regret. As some tiresome wiseacre unwisely said, once upon a time, you only ever regret the things you didn’t do. Which is why I am forever trying to push myself out of comfort zones with the intention to broaden the horizon a bit just so I can feel that I am doing something worthwhile with life’s finite supply of time. This commitment to future me who is on the brink of kicking the bucket and needs to be comforted by a barrage of memories celebrating glowing achievements and epic milestones is exhausting and endlessly frustrating. What is the point of berating myself for not doing enough when it ends up feeling like it is all too much?

Nowadays, I am teaching myself to do little things that generate fulfilment even if it does not qualify as useful or productive enough to be featured on my resume or Insta post. I might be missing out on doing something awesome by saying no to an invitation because my gut registered a protest but that no longer feels awful. Nor does it seem like a catastrophe of earth – shattering proportions because invitations aren’t forthcoming, except when it does. But that is nothing a soul – satisfying activity like an extra hour of yoga, playing with my pups, or a long conversation with a good friend can’t fix.

As a society we have become fixated with using time efficiently to rack up economic as well as experiential gains, that will allow us to fully flourish. We are expected to maximise not just work but leisure time, because our value is calculated by the things we do or at least seem to be doing. All the damn time. This ‘let us live life to the fullest’ and ‘make every moment the best one yet’ business is a crock of crap guaranteed to kill us quicker via hypertension. There is nothing wrong with ambition and aspiration, but it is also okay to simply survive without feeling the need to thrive all the time.

This article was published in TNIE Magazine