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Kunal Basu- Professor of Marketing and author of three novels


  • 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 writers

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




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 kafir.”

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.



Kunal Basu does not believe in writing about alienation and the search for one’s roots like other expatriate Indian writers. He prefers the strange to the familiar, and so all his novels so far have a historical setting.

Kunal Basu is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Management, McGill University, and a Fellow in Strategic Marketing, University of Oxford, Templeton College, where he is also the Director of the Oxford Advanced Management Program.

  • Kunal Basu
    Kunal Basu was born in Calcutta but has spent much of his adult life in Canada and the USA.
  • He has taught at the McGill university and been a Professor of Marketing at Templeton College, Oxford University, England. He has also acted on film in India, and written a screenplay Snakecharmer, as well as written and directed two documentaries.