He sits across the table from me. Dark eyes seem to piece my mind as he takes another drag from his e-cigarette. The message is clear; he need not say a word. I move uncomfortably in my seat before this unspoken banter.
He exhales, releasing a cloud of billowing vapor with a slight hint of scented coffee. I’m transfixed by the swirling patterns which dissipate quickly with the cool breeze that blows towards us from the lake.
This is Jai Reddy; the one and only; the creator of Bantaa91. I am here today to meet this perpetual paragon of perplexity outside his Brisbane mansion to discover what makes him tick.
“Sup, dude?” He cooly articulates. His voice is like mulled wine lightly drizzled over the supple bosom of a Siamese clairvoyant.
My hands begin to perspire as I rummage through my bag looking for my prepared list of questions. ‘Shit’ I murmur under my breath. I left them at home. Somewhere by the lake a kookaburra laughs as if mocking my incompetence.
I take one last swig of my beer and place it near the four already empty cans scattered haphazardly around the table, and our interview begins…
‘Soo…’ I slur at last ‘When did you first become interested in writing?’
Jai’s eyes seem to glaze over as he reminisces over his former years of youth, innocence, and awkward locker room conversations.
‘Well that’s a tough one. The first time I wrote something I really liked was probably back in high-school, around year 11. There was this free-form creative writing assignment and it was actually fun. I didn’t write an amazing story or anything. In fact I think I got a B- for that assignment. But what really got through to me though was something my English teacher said at the time:
“Don’t try and write anything if you haven’t experienced it yourself. People who have been there will know you’re making it up.”
‘Back then, it was a bit disheartening. The story itself involved samurais in space. Fast forward about a decade later and what the old silver fox said finally rings true – an overactive imagination is not enough to make a good story.’
“People want things they can relate to.”
I nod slightly but firmly in agreement with his choice of space-samurais.
‘What is your typical source of inspiration today?’
‘For Wolfie Dreams? Honestly… hookers, drugs, late nights, running away from myself, self-destructive fun, a need to relive those golden years, a fear of getting older, and my own insecurities (I call them my demons).
It’s funny – people seem to assume that these stories are very introspective and reveal a lot about me. To a certain extent it’s true, but I like to think that I grow faster than most. What usually makes it into my writing is an echo of an echo of my former self, as seen through the eyes of a version of me who’s learnt not to make the same mistakes again. I don’t think I will ever be brave enough to reveal what is happening in my life in the current moment.’
‘And what is happening in the current moment?’
Jai pauses to give me a sour look. I pretend to busy myself with a loosened tie before realising I’m not wearing one. Then I continue.
‘How did the idea for Bantaa91 come about?’
‘Well, ‘Bantaa’ was my screen name on Whisper for about 5 months. After my girlfriend at the time asked for a ‘break’, I had every demon that lives in my head decide to start jumping up and down all at once. As much as I tried to hide it, it started showing in my demeanor and slowly started shaping my habits and actions. I was falling head-first into my own demise.’
“It was utter chaos.”
‘I needed an escape from myself (said every addict ever). Once all the normal vices stopped working, I started getting more and more reckless. Something had to change.
So I turned to this little app called Whisper – an anonymous app for hopeless types. I used it mostly for venting and talking shit with other people who needed an escape. And that’s how it was for the longest time – trolling and venting, until I came to pity them. I made it my quest to see just how weird my conversations with these people could get.
Amongst all of this, I did manage to strike up a conversation with this girl – ‘Holland Park Girl’, I called her. We agreed to stay anonymous, but after a few months of talking, I got curious. Really curious.’
“I got attached.”
‘Then the pangs of paranoia kicked in and I started asking my friends if they were this person. She just sounded so familiar in the way she related to me.
I couldn’t tell if she was a sugar baby, troll, fellow broken heart, or even my ex. To this day I still don’t know for sure. Whoever she (or he) was, she was my best friend for a few months.
Unfortunately it all came to an end. I was with one of my “single-serving friends” and she decided it was not healthy how obsessed I was with this person… and that was it. I haven’t heard from ‘Holland Park Girl’ since, all on the whim of a one-night stand.’
“It just goes to show how fleeting moments are.”
‘Bantaa91.com was born out of the need for banter; a cure for boredom; a way to fight off those 3AM thoughts.’
I scramble to write down the word ‘cure’ for later reference. I have a feeling I might need it.
‘What is the premise of the website? How do you want your readers to approach the stories they find?’
Jai ponders for a moment…
“I’m offering perspective.”
‘At some point I realised that people actually listen to what I have to say. I didn’t know I had that kind of effect on people. It took me a while to understand it, but in a world of memes and the internet, it sometimes feels like the concept of ‘original thought’ is dying. But I at least still happen to have some left.
Some might think I’m being stuck up and narcissistic – so did I, but over the past few months I’ve decided I’m somewhat an indigo child.
As I made my way deeper into the workforce, I realised just how comfortable people are doing the same thing day in, day out. It makes no sense to me why you wouldn’t strive to look for a higher purpose. This need for understanding makes me feel like I’m somewhat different from most people, and the same goes for the people who choose to share their stories on the website.’
“We’re all something special.”
‘I feel that growing up the way I did has given me a unique perspective. I see things that others don’t notice. It’s a gift and it needs to be shared, if only to let others like me know that they’re not alone.’
His response arouses my interest, and the table seems to rise half an inch.
‘Have you ever experimented with other art forms?’
‘This isn’t my first attempt at self-expression. I tried my hand at being a musician, but ‘Cardinal Head Joy’ as a musical endeavor was a flop. My paintings are only amazing and mesmerizing to me and a few druggos. My photography skills are alright (with filters) but I don’t know how to express effectively why the green grass is so calm and the sun is an exploding fireball of chaotic radioactive energy with photographs… but with words I can.’
“Bantaa91 exists to break the ice.”
‘I set the tone; the pace. I break the seal so that other people are comfortable to express themselves. Like I said, I fancy myself as an indigo child.
The indigo child in this case is a martyr. I don’t want people to glorify the bat-shit crazy things I do. I want them to understand that when they do feel nutty that it could be a lot worse.’
“I want people to know that sometimes it’s okay not to be okay.”
‘This is a sacrifice. The rise from rock-bottom is one hell of a journey. I’m not particularly attached to my writing as I don’t think I’m highly skilled, but if I can give someone else the right words to express an emotion or a thought, then I’ve done my bit for the world.’
I contemplate the ramifications of such a concept before missing the point entirely…
‘Bantaa is still in its early stages. What is your vision for the website as it continues to develop?’
‘Well, this site started off as a place to share a story or two. From there I found readers from all over the planet. There’s this little Indonesian girl living in America from a broken home who found solace in my work. The same is true of this Nigerian dude who started writing short stories. Closer to home, there’s a girl who plays in an orchestra who relates to my style of writing. I guess in the short term I just want to find more people like them. There appears to be demand for the types of stories we share on here.’
‘And in the long-term?’
‘In the long term, I want to have these amazing people who think the site is neat to start contributing their own stories. Hopefully from there it will snowball into some weird hybrid of Thought Catalog and The New Yorker.
I want to be able to get a small publication group started as well – magazines and books. I’m even thinking of taking the stories from the site, finding producers and creating ‘Bantaa-Shorts’ mini movies.
I want to crowd source stories, poems, songs – all art. I want a collection of art and artists who just want to show the world what they see. If we add enough perspectives together,’
“maybe nine plus one will actually equal ten.”
‘I want to build a little network of eccentric people and just have everything snowball into something much larger than myself.
Everything great started with a few people who wanted to change the world so why the fuck not us too?’
I gasp in profundity at his ambitious aspirations. Somewhere, somehow, a lion pauses mid-hunt and a gazelle eludes certain doom.
‘I understand that your magazine idea is already in-production. Tell us more about it.’
‘This is the first step to towards creating the Bantaa Media Group (Rupert Murdoc watch out, I’m coming for you). The magazine is a way to hopefully make the content on here more accessible to an older crowd or those with limited internet access. Maybe it could be something to flip through during lunch breaks. Magazines are a little archaic as a distribution platform but I think they still have their merit.
“People still like to read and with ‘Bantaa-Zine’ we can experiment with a different platform.”
Designing a magazine spread that guides someone’s eyes across a page is very different to having them choose what they want to read on the internet. It’s too easy to ignore things that you don’t want to read. With a magazine, you might pick it up for an album review but keep reading until you get to a review of some fancy new device, and then end up laughing at a comic about a dog on a piano.’
“It’s a way to passively push an individual’s boundaries when they aren’t expecting it.”
‘That sounds like a worthwhile endeavor to me. I just hope it takes off. A lot of projects like this start loosing heart and drive after a while and I don’t want that to be the case. We’ve started off with a good splash in the first few months with 600 visitors and a few thousand views.’
“That’s enough of an endorsement for me to pursue.”
I thank Jai for his time and our interview wraps up. As I make my way to leave I feel a cold shudder of anticipation for what is to come – a disturbance in the force, if you will, and I am reminded of a quote by Donald Trump which I googled before I finished writing this blog post…
“My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been documented, are various other parts of my body.”
– Empty Chair Interviews