Stephanie Jacob: “The Widow and the Xir” is both lyrically beautiful and emotionally compelling. It is a striking fantasy but also an engaging love story. Sanih, after losing her husband, is unable to place her grief aside. “She is not Rehla, stalwart and wizened, letting the loss of her loved ones slip from her like water off a waxed cloak.” Do you feel Sanih and Namir have a deeper connection than most or that her sorrow alone is keeping him from moving on?
Indrapramit Das: They’re a very close couple, but I don’t necessarily think they have a deeper connection than anyone else; it’s just that Sanih is young, and not quite adjusted to this requirement of her culture, which is to spend very little time in mourning, a necessity because of the frequency of deaths. Namir is drawn to her because of her sorrow, as you mention. Which is not to say that he doesn’t love her as well. He does, very much; and I wanted to imply that all xirs go through this stage of grief, which is tied to how quickly their human loved ones move on past their mourning. Sanih doesn’t want to let go yet, and that is entirely understandable.
Stephanie Jacob: Sanih has no choice but to confront the xir in order to save her village. Hunting a xir or giving yourself as prey is considered a sin. Could Sanih’s actions, provoking the creature, be seen as a sin that would bar her form entering Heshan-Bahal?
Indrapramit Das: It’s entirely possible, but I think the elders know there’re loopholes. She exploited one, to save her village from a rogue xir, which is what Namir’s ghost would have become. I don’t think she would be persecuted for doing what she did. Technically, she did wait until the xir attacked her. She wasn’t hunting it. It was a defensive stance that she took; like earlier in the story, when she raises her bow when giant scorpions approach her at night, but never shoots.
Stephanie Jacob: Is the xir your creation or does it have a base in mythology?
Indrapramit Das: The xir and the religion/culture of the nomads are my creations. Everything a science-fiction and fantasy writer creates has some basis in real-world culture and mythology, of course. I was influenced by the concept of reincarnation in several religions, and probably also by the idea of “hungry ghosts” in Buddhism and Thai folklore. The nomadic culture depicted is also based on Earth-based desert nomads like the Bedouin. But often all this comes later, or subconsciously.
This story began with a drawing, and I didn’t know what it was when I put pencil to paper. It ended up being a cat-like humanoid, and I looked at it and saw a desert ghost, for whatever reason formed by all the cultural influences working in my head. I was immediately interested in the idea of a flesh-and-blood ghost, and a spiritual lifecycle spread out over different animals. So I started writing the story.
Additionally, the gas giant system that the story’s set in is obviously inspired by Saturn and its moons. Heshan-Bahal is a gas giant with prominent rings, like Saturn. It occurred to me while writing the story that a gas giant would be such an awe-inspiring thing to see in the sky that it would surely inform the religion of a people living on one of its moons. So I placed one in their sky, and it made their religion come together.
Stephanie Jacob: Not only are you an author but an artist. You provided a link to a drawing of your impression of a xir. “The whiskers that cover his face and shoulders like tattoos of string-thin spines quiver in the breeze, picking up the emanations of their life-heat.” Have you ever considered writing and illustrating a graphic novel?
Indrapramit Das: I have, often, and attempted one a while ago, in 2003. The artwork is up on my Flickr page. I wasn’t satisfied with the story and execution, so I stopped it, but I’m proud of the art that came out of it. I love the medium, and have been reading it for a long while now. Comics are a major influence on my writing and visual art, and many of my favourite writers and artists work in comics. I’d love to write/draw a graphic novel or comic series sometime in the future, with or without collaborators. It’ll happen.
Stephanie Jacob: On your website you mention you are currently a writing mentor. Will you tell us about the program and your responsibilities?
Indrapramit Das: I’m an auxiliary mentor at Booming Ground (https://boomingground.com/), which is the non-credit Creative Writing program at the University of British Columbia. Applications are open to anyone. I evaluate clients’ full manuscripts, giving them extensive feedback and suggested edits. The other option is the mentorship, where I act as an ongoing advisor for a set period (usually four months), helping the writer work on a current project like a novel, reading it in portions and giving advice and feedback. I’m just one of several mentors at the program, all of whom work very hard and are lovely people. Well, I can vouch for the ones I know personally. The rest could be insane, for all I know. But it’s unlikely.
Stephanie Jacob: Do you have any new works in progress that readers can look forward to?
Indrapramit Das: I’m writing several short stories/novelettes at the moment. I’m also revising and working on the second draft of a contemporary and historical fantasy novel set in India, and I hope to find a publisher for it as soon as possible. We’ll see how that goes. And ideas for stories and novels are always bubbling up, waiting to be realized in text. I have a full head of them. I also have a short story called “Sita’s Descent” coming out in an upcoming anthology being published by Zubaan Books; The Speculative Ramayana Anthology.
Stephanie Jacob: For first time readers of your work, sum up what to expect in one sentence.
Indrapramit Das: I don’t know what to expect from my own work, and I hope readers don’t either; I try and explore different things (perhaps unsuccesfully). If this were a test, I would fail this question. Readers can expect something that is good to read? I hope. I dunno. Being succinct is not my strongest talent.
Stephanie Jacob: Thanks for being such a great guest! Where can we go to learn more about you and your works?
Indrapramit Das: Thanks for having me! Anyone interested can visit my site, https://flavors.me/indra_das or, for my artwork, go straight to my Flickr page, https://www.flickr.com/photos/indradas/ If you’re a writer and want to pay money to have me tell you things about writing and say nice things about/pick holes in your manuscript, go to https://boomingground.com/apply/ and ask for Indra.