New Delhi:Don't call me an Indo-Anglian author: Kunal Basu (Interview) - IANS
Posted On: 31/01/2008 10:30 GMT
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New Delhi: Based in Oxford, he has been churning out “what if…” stories that have set the literary fraternity abuzz. Kunal Basu, author of “The Japanese Wife” , who insists he does not write about the diaspora, likes to work with the element of the unknown.

Clad in a black Nehru-style jacket, Basu looks every inch the Oxford don - he teaches marketing at Templeton College after all - but his dreamy eyes and mop of unruly salt-and-pepper curls give the writer away.

“Kunal Basu, the man, does not exist. When he is not teaching, he is at his desk writing,” he says. Busy thinking up “what if…” stories.

“All my stories have this element of the unknown - an imagined space. Suppose something like this had happened, what would it be like,” Basu told IANS in an interview here.

He was in the Indian capital for the launch of “The Japanese Wife”, a collection of short stories published by Harper Collins.

Basu likes to set himself apart from other NRI writers. “Don’t call me an Indo-Anglian author. I think I am one of the few Indian authors who do not write about the diaspora - that is if diaspora means non-resident Indians and crossover culture.

“None of my protagonists are NRIs or people of Indian origin living abroad. I think I am a complete Indian when it comes to writing about India and a foreigner when the story is set outside India.

“For instance, my book, ‘The Racist’, did not have a single Indian character or any Indian location. Similarly, in my collection of short stories, ‘The Japanese Wife’, the characters are either foreign or Indian. Their paths, however, cross sometimes.”

He has authored “The Opium Clerk”, “The Miniaturist” and “The Racist”.

“The Japanese Wife” has scaled a new milestone. It is being made into a movie by renowned filmmaker Aparna Sen. Its title story is the long-distance love saga in epistles between a lonely Bengali teacher and his Japanese wife whom he has never met.

“I did not consciously intend to write a long distance love story. It was just another thought that crept into my mind and I thought what if…”

“It is very difficult to say from where I get my story ideas. All my stories are confluences of thought. I keep thinking of stories constantly and only those which sound promising to my brain find their way on pen and paper,” says Basu.

His thoughts can be spurred by anything, says Basu, sometimes even by something as innocuous as newspaper reports. “One of the short stories, ‘The Grateful Ganga’, in my recent anthology was inspired by a small newspaper report about the death of rock musician Jerry Garcia of the band Grateful Dead.

“Garcia had two wives. One of them brought his ashes in an urn to be immersed in the Ganga respecting Garcia’s last wishes. But when the second wife came to know of it, she threatened to sue the first one,” narrates Basu.

On cue, “The Grateful Ganga” - the name, probably a take-off from the rock band The Grateful Dead - is the “story of two strangers - a widow of an American rock star - Andy Hofner - who is bringing his ashes for immersion in the Ganga and a Punjabi trader from Delhi’s Karol Bagh locality, married, with kids.”

His books, like his imagination, toy with variety. “All my books are different,” says Basu.

“‘The Opium Clerk’ (published in 2000) was the chronicle of the opium trade during the British era from Calcutta to Canton, whereas ‘The Miniaturist’ (published in 2004) was a slice of Mughal India under emperor Akbar narrating the story of a group of artists. ‘The Racist’ (2006), in comparison, was a totally European novel set in the 19th century about racism and evolution science,” explains Basu.

He is already on to his next venture, a novel set in contemporary India with an Indian protagonist. “Going by the pace, I think I will be able to complete it by 2010,” he says.

Born in Kolkata and educated in the United States, Basu draws his creative influence from a number of sources - Kolkata of the 1970s when masters like Mrinal Sen and Satyajit Ray were making their masterpieces. He even acted in a couple of them, “Punascha” and “Abasheshe” directed by Mrinal Sen.

Basu was born to literature - mother Shabi Basu was a Bengali writer and his father ran a publishing house. The influence is evident in his short story “Lenin’s Café”, one of the stories in his just-published anthology, about a father-son’s tryst with Lenin and communism in a Zurich cafe.

“It is autobiographical,” smiles Basu.

Like all good writers, Basu was a voracious reader as a child. “I read a lot. Mostly classical literature, the list is endless, but if you ask me to name my three most favourite authors, I would say Charles Dickens, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Bankim Chandra Chatterjee,” says Basu.

But do any of these authors influence him? “Not really. I follow my own style, genre. My books do not delve into the complexities of human psyche - not so substantially invested in the inner world. Context matters a lot in my books,” says Basu.

–By Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS

Edited & Published By Raj Francis Pereira

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