Via Time Out Mumbai
After nine years in software research and development in the US, Anil Menon turned from editing papers on genetic algorithms to writing science fiction. Menon, who has been writing short stories for publications such as InterZone, New Genre and Strange Horizons since 2005, is now directing his attention towards the reinterpretation of one of the most popular Indian epics. He, along with co-editor Vandana Singh, is calling for submissions to The Speculative Ramayana Anthology, and is looking for stories that use the epic “in an essential and innovative way”. Menon, who lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Singh, who teaches physics in Boston, are clear that by “essential” they mean the entries should be “about the Ramayana and not, say, the war in Iraq, although the war in Iraq is a perfectly acceptable setting for the Ramayana”.
Doesn’t this boil down to little more than an exercise in writing?
We don’t see it as a mere exercise, naturally. Let me give you an example. Arthur C Clarke’s 2001 was based on [Homer’s] The Odyssey. That’s why the movie was subtitled A Space Odyssey. Now, there’s very little on the surface that reminds you of The Odyssey. And yet, every emotion you find in the Greek epic is reflected in a marvellously renewed way in Clarke’s retelling. Every time Odysseus gazes outwards at the unreachable horizon, the reader can feel that existential rasa: “karuna” sadness. We are Odysseus in that moment, his horizon is the human race’s horizon. It took Clarke’s retelling to recapture that rasa. That’s because our horizons are now pinned to outer space.
Was 2001 just a writing exercise? Or did it feel like an epic for a new age? I guess we’re hoping for stories that’ll work a similar magic. We’ve forgotten why we have told and re-told this epic of ours. I’m hoping some of the stories in the anthology will serve to remind us.
Would you like to speculate on the future of the genre?
Speculative fiction’s strength is that it’s a bit like Hinduism. It’s enormously popular, pluralistic, has a big tent, keeps diversifying all the time, and means very different things to different people. Its weakness is that its variety makes it hard to institutionalise. At the moment, English departments have no idea what to do with something so protean. But I believe that the idea of speculation will eventually get the same dedicated attention that the idea of fiction has today. The formal study of speculation – the study of narrative contexts – has its Don Quixotes, but it still awaits its Columbus.
The Speculative Ramayana Anthology is supported by the publishing house Zubaan Books. For guidelines and to submit entries, visit www.zubaanbooks.com. Entry Rs 1,000; deadline Tue, June 1.