- Don't call me an Indo-Anglian
author: Kunal Basu
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-.......More
- NRI Kunal
Basu does not believe in writing about alienation like other NRI
Kunal Basu is a Reader in Marketing at the Saïd Business
School and Templeton College, Oxford University. Prior to Oxford,
he was a tenured Associate Professor at McGill University and
Director of the Powercorp Centre for International Management
Studies, Montreal, Canada...............More
THE MAN FROM
By TARUN J TEJPAL
With three books published to quiet acclaim in five years, Kunal
Basu is still a relative misfit in the wheeling-dealing literary
trade. Escapee status sits easy on him though, says Shoma Chaudhury
At first glance, Kunal Basu could pass for a picture of square
fidelity: tall, well-built, well-to-do. Wavy grey hair, professor
of management studies at Oxford, soldier of impressive academia,
veteran of conference circuits. Married. Bengali. One daughter.
A man who always makes the A-grade.
But his eyes give him away. Basu is not an Oxford don, covetous
of the gown and seat at high table. That is just well-managed camouflage.
Basu is a writer, more accurately a misfit-writer in the capitalist
world of Indian writers in English. His real life is lived in faraway
places — a deserted, obscure island in Africa, a bitter winter
in China, a harem in Mughal India. Canton. Samarkand. Victorian
London. Anything can set his imagination on fire. He’s earned
his degrees in science and engineering, but he is an escapee from
the “regime of numbers to the republic of words”. He’s
a romantic in search of adventure, perched precariously at the edge
of continents, and what’s much more precarious, at the edge
of literary markets.
Basu is a writer in the old mould. Three novels in five years —
none of them have been wildly successful commercially, but with
each book he has stretched and surprised himself. Cultural conversations
bore him; he refuses to write the money-spinning nri book. His agent
in the UK often asks him when he will write his “Bengal book”.
There’s enough there to write about — Basu was a card-holding
member of the CPM during the Naxal movement in the 1970s, there
are misa files on him. His father was one of the founding members
of the CPM; his mother was a member of ipta, and his grandfather
was a member of the Liberal Party that opposed the Indian National
Congress. But Basu hasn’t wrought his elaborate camouflage
to live a lie. He understands what sort of book would gather chips
in the market place, but he cleaves passionately — tenaciously
— to the stories whispering in his head. His writing must
take him “beyond self, beyond flesh”. That is his life-giving
ectoplasm. Living by the market would create more easy fame, but
it wouldn’t foster the same relish for life. Basu turns 50
this year. He believes he’ll live to 150. There’s that
much he wants to do.
The whispering in his head tugs Basu far out from shore. Racists
was an unusual, daring book about a chilling experiment set up by
competing scientists. A black boy and a white girl are brought up
as savages on a deserted African island, watched over only by a
mute nurse. The purpose? To map their brain size to see which one
of them emerges as the natural leader. This historical fiction about
racial science in Victorian England became a resonant metaphor for
contemporary society. As Basu says, it is a fitting comment that
the black boy and white girl can grow up as siblings only on a savage
island. The “civilised” world would drive them apart.
That the real savages who emerge in the book are the scientists
themselves is a mark of Basu’s deep humanism.
His upcoming book is about syphilis and the ideas of sickness and
healing that inform different cultures. A Portuguese doctor goes
to China to explore how eastern societies understand sickness. The
Opium Clerk was conceived while on a trek in Thailand; The Miniaturist
on millennium eve in London. Even Basu is surprised by his own motivations.
Living at the edge of literary markets does not necessarily equal
naïve happiness. Basu was in India recently to promote his
last book, Racists. He wants his books to tumble off the shelves.
But the talk of agents and advances and cynical editorial interventions
that younger Indian writers in English are adroit at frighten him.
Are you bankers or writers, he asks them in the silence of his head.
Sitting amidst the expensive clatter of an upmarket restaurant in
Delhi, he says with sudden intensity, “I am an infidel, a
At Oxford — his “desk” rather than his “home”
— his colleagues view him with a fair degree of suspicion.
How does he pull it off, they wonder. Is he fudging the academic
papers piling up in his name? Once, when a crusty dean questioned
him sourly about this “other life” of his, Basu replied
silkily, “Would you feel better if I played golf?”
That’s Basu out of camouflage. The Indian-writing-in-English
club would do well to give him gold card membership.