by Mary Anne Mohanraj
This isn’t going to be a normal superhero origin story. It’s Wild Cards, so you already know how Natya got her powers – she was first Kavita Kandiah, a dancer who contracted the virus, and came out the other side with ace powers, the ability to channel the energy of her dance into forcefields that could be solid enough to dance on, to form into shimmering elements for her performances. They could also, it turned out, be slung forcefully into bad guys, especially the ones that kidnap her daughter…but that’s another story.
I wanted to tell you where the idea for Natya came from, and for that, I need to also tell you about Michael (nat cop) and Minal (joker prostitute). When George invited me to join Wild Cards, I immediately knew that I wanted to center my first story on a threesome.
Relationships always interest me; I was an erotica writer for the first decade of my writing career, and I think some of the most fascinating elements of someone’s personality are revealed in intimate circumstances. A man will reveal things during ‘pillow talk’ that society would forbid him to discuss otherwise.
As a young immigrant woman, sexuality was a minefield, the source of tremendous conflict between myself and my more traditional immigrant parents. It was bad enough that I wanted to date, but the fact that I was dating white boys, having sex with them, and later, having sex with girls too, and generally not monogamously – it was a lot for them to take in. Writers are drawn to where the conflict is, and in my young adulthood, sex was the locus of the most conflict, so I wrote about it. I wrote about it a lot.
Yet that’s only one element of what makes up Natya. I was born in Sri Lanka, of Tamil ethnicity. Sri Lanka is a divided land, home to a majority Sinhalese ethnic population, a minority Tamil population, and a few other, much smaller, groups. For two thousand years, those groups lived as neighbors in relative amity – a king might conquer his neighbor’s territory, but at the same time, Hindu Tamils were building temples jointly with their Sinhalese Buddhist neighbors, and on religious feast days, they’d bring their sacred foods to share in community.
But tensions that did exist between the groups were exacerbated by centuries of colonization – the Portuguese, Dutch, and British drove fissures through the island, and when they all finally left in 1948, they left gaping wounds behind them. Wounds that would be exploited and exacerbated until simmering resentments broke out into open conflict, with the bloody riots of Black July in 1983, and the decades of civil war that followed – you may have heard of the Tamil Tigers, a revolutionary group that fought for a separate Tamil homeland. They were defeated in 2009, their leader killed, and since then, Sri Lanka has endeavored to build a rocky peace in the wake of immense human suffering. It’s an ongoing and difficult process.
Almost everything I write circles back to the Sri Lankan conflict, in one form or another. In my thirties, I turned to mainstream lit., writing Bodies in Motion, a collection of Sri Lankan American immigrant stories that had the war as backdrop, covering several generations. In my forties, I came back to science fiction and fantasy (that I’d devoured as a child, and for all the years thereafter) and finally starting writing it seriously. The Stars Change is inspired by the events of Black July – it’s an alien ghetto under attack, but the humans who decide to fight to save it were inspired by stories of Sinhalese people who sheltered their Tamil neighbors at a time when brutal thugs were dragging Tamil people out of cars, putting tires around their necks, and setting them on fire.
So when George asked me to write something for Wild Cards, Natya sprang into being, fully-formed. A dancer who had lived through Black July as a child, she has been something of a pacifist up until the events chronicled in Fort Freak. Even when granted ace powers, she resisted using them in violent ways. But she met Michael, a nat policeman, fell in love and had a child. And then they met Minal, and the three of them became involved. I was in a threesome myself for three years, and though we broke apart in the end, it was one of my most significant relationships, so I was excited to have a chance to explore something similar in fiction.
It all feeds in – as a writer, every little bit of your life is fuel and fodder for the insatiable fire. I had a daughter in 2007, so it was only natural to give my threesome a daughter as well, Isai, whose garuda-like form and ability to manifest wings and grow immensely in size seemed but the natural extension of life with a rambunctious toddler. And of course, there are differences between Natya’s story and my own – the events of Low Chicago will put Natya in a place I could never go, having experiences entirely outside my own. But the seed of who she is – that’s basically me. So that’s my superhero origin story, or one of them, anyway.