This is an interview with Dr. Arvind Mishra, Secretary, Indian Science Fiction Writers’ Association, about the Indian Science Fiction.
Please present yourself to our readers (information about yourself and your activity in SF)
In my childhood I liked reading comics by Lee Falk, creator of characters like Phantom and Mandrake the magician. From the western world my all time most favorite SF writer has been Issac Asimov who has many admirers in India. His stories have social implications and therefore are liked much in India.
India has 22 constitutionally recognised languages, lingua franca being Hindi which is my mother tongue . I have written around fifty sf stories as yet in Hindi and have published three story collections so far. If loosely translated the titles of these story collections would be „Killing of a Crane” – a climate impact sf story, ” Martians Visit the Kumbh Mela (India’s biggest human congregation in world every 12 years in Prayag, spiritual city of India is called Kumbh ), and Rahul (a boy) goes to Mars (This one is for children). I also write a blog ‘Science Fiction in India ( http://indiascifiarvind.blogspot.com) albeit not regularly these days. I usually write for my self satisfaction but yes dissemination of scientific knowledge to masses through literary works is also on my agenda.
I completed my PhD in fish genetics in 1983 from University of Allahabad. For my livelihood I joined job in government as an extension expert in fisheries science. I began writing sf stories since 1985.
Please try to make a brief introduction on the SF history in India.
History of modern Hindi sf literature dates back to the end of nineteenth century when first Hindi science fiction work “AASHCARYA VRITTANT ( A Strange Tale) by Pandit Ambika Datta Vyas was published in 1884, in “PIYUSH PRAVAH”, a popular contemporary Hindi magazine from Madhya Pradesh, a state in India.
Traces of science fiction in India could even be found as far back as in 1500 BC in the ancient Vedic literature. There are numerous descriptions of unidentified flying objects referred to as “Vimanas “ which are depicted to be of two types- man made crafts that resemble airplanes and fly with the aid of birdlike wings or un-streamlined structures that fly in a clandestine manner and were generally not made by human beings. A well talked about example being the Puspak Viman (a smart flying device). In Indian epics ie Mahabharata and Ramayana there are ample descriptions of strange war weapons resembling today’s guided missiles and atomic bombs. A ‘war of illusion ‘ is vividly described in Ramayana to have been fought between hero Lord Rama and enemy protagonist Meghnath with intentions not to kill soldiers but to cause massive material destructions only.
Despite the upsurge in sf writing of the 90’s of last century the genre is largely neglected in India. The main rejection of the genre comes from the traditional literati who do not consider it to posses the literary merits. Unfortunately the efforts of Indian Sf writers so far seem to be divided and scattered in the form of contributions from writers in Hindi , Marathi, Kannada, Bengala and in many other languages as recognised by Indian constitution. Thankfully there is now a trend emanating among creative talents to join hands and consolidate their efforts under just one banner ie ‘Indian Science Fiction ‘ and efforts are to mutually translate their stories in each other’s languages along with focus on English translation to reach to global audience.
Which are the most popular SF magazines and fanzins (printed and online) in India?
Only two magazines deserve a mention, one is a Hindi quarterly print magazine named, ” Vigyan Katha” published by Indian Science Fiction Writers’ Association which is an autonomous body registered under society registration act of India. Another one is a webzine published in Bengali language called ‘Kalpabiswa’ edited by Dip Ghosh .It is the main Bengali sci-fi web magazine. Many other mainstream magazines in various languages publish science fiction from time to time.
Popular magazines like Sudha, Taranga, Mayura, and Tushara in Kannada usually publish science fiction. My stories written in Hindi have appeared in Sudha and Taranga.
Likewise Marathi language magazines like Sakal, Lokprabha, Chitralekha etc bring out special festival numbers which include science fiction. They are also available in digital form.
Apart from that Govt publications are also there ie Vigyan Pragati (Hindi), Science Reporter ( English) and Nayi Dunia ( Urdu) which incorporate sf stories in order to motivate budding Sci fi writers. We earnestly need more magazines in Hindi and English solely devoted to genre sf in India.
Which are the SF&F Clubs that have regular meetings?
Unfortunately sf fandom is non existent in India. And this is a great void detrimental to the growth of the genre in India. We discussed the issue at length in recently concluded science fiction conference in Aurangabad and proposed some strategies to initiate science fiction clubs, fandom involving schools and colleges. We need dedicated efforts in this direction.
Which are the most important local and national SF&F associations?
There are two main associations, one in North and another in South India, which have been instrumental in promoting the genre since long. Indian Science Fiction Writers’ Association (ISFWA) is in north India with its headquarters in Ayodhya and Indian Association for Science Fiction Studies (IASFS) has its headquarter in Bengluru, a metropolitan city of South India. ISFWA was established in 1995 and IASFS in 1998. Both have organised many national and international conferences and workshops for budding writers in many parts of India. ISFWA publishes a quarterly magazine, Vigyan Katha which published stories preferably of young writers, criticism and reviews, excerpts from new novels, story collections and anthologies.
Besides, some other literary organisations meant for promotion of regional languages like Marathi and Hindi based in Mumbai and Allahabad cities publishes science fiction and translation works from time to time.
Which are the printing houses that publish mainly SF and Fantasy?
No publishing house in particular in India which solely publishes science fiction. A credible online publication though is Mithila Review edited by Salik Shah. ‘Mithila Review’ is an international science fiction and fantasy magazine which was founded in late 2015. It publishes literary speculative fiction and poetry (science fiction/fantasy), film and book reviews, essays and interviews from across the world.
Which are the most popular SF&F conventions in India? What are their main attractions?
Sf conventions are not in India’s tradition yet. Although IASFS in assistance with other educational institutes organises yearly conferences. The recent one was organised in Aurangabad City of Maharashtra state between 10 – 11 January 2020. Both IASFS and ISFWA jointly organised a conference recently in Benaras ( 2019) which was very much appreciated. Some Korean sf writers also participated in the conference as special invitees.
Who are the main author names in today’s India’s SF&F?
The main languages in which science fiction is being written are Hindi, Bangla, Marathi, Assamese, Kannada etc. and hence there is a large number of science fiction writers. In Hindi Devendra Mewadi, Harish Goyal, Kalpana Kulshreshtha, Rajiv Ranjan Upadhyaya, Shukdev Prasad, Arvind Dubey, Zeashan Haider Zaidi, Swapnil Bhartiya are popular SF writers along with me. Likewise in Marathi Dr. Jayant Narlikar, Dr. Bal Phondke, Subodh Javdekar, Niranjan Ghate, Meghashri Dalvi, Suneel Sule, Prasanna Karandikar, Sharad Puranik, Smita Potnis, Rekha Baijal are prominent authors.
Presently active SF writers in Bengla are Abhijnana Roychowdhury, Debajyoti Bhattacharya, Sumit Bardhan, Saikat Mukhopadhyaya , Soham Guha, Riju Ganguly, Trishna Basak and Sandipan Chattopadhyay.
Among English sf writers popular names are Anil Menon, Vandana Singh, Sami Ahmad Khan, Manjula Padnanabhan, Priya Sarukkai Chabria , Indrapramit Das, Clark Prasad, etc.
Some Bengla writers like Sukanya Datt, Samit Basu, Amitabh Ghosh and Indrapramit Das have dexterity in writing both in their native ie Bengali as well as in English.
Savitha Srinivasa from Bengaluru is currently active in Kannad and G. S. Unnikrishnan in Malayalam. Nellai Mutthu and Sujata in Tamil and Mohan Sajivan in Telagu.
Two Indian English science fiction novels are in discussion these days-Archana Mirajkar’s,’All the way home’ and Sami Ahmad Khan’s ‘Aliens in Delhi’. Besides these Sf writers some committed sf enthusiasts in India are Dr. Sri Narhari, Goutham Shenoy and Dip Ghosh who are dedicatedly working to promote the genre to attract the attention of global fraternity.
Give us some names of SF&F graphic artists in India.
We don’t have regular SF&F artists and illustrators. Only part time works as per need are done. In Hindi one Mr. Ivar Utial has done commendable work of sf art for various stories in mainstream magazines. In Bengla the name of the illustrators are Goutam Karmakar,Samir Sarkar,Bimal Das,Debasish Deb and HarshaMohan Chattoraj.
What makes India’s SF original?
The main feature of Indian science fiction is their optimistic approach. They are usually infused with human emotions and values as per the cultural milieu of the authors. Also, the interesting mix of Indian myths and science fiction could be seen in certain authors works which gives them a distinct identity