By Pallavi Narayan
Kunal Basu exudes warmth as one listens to him speak about his work privately or on stage. Even over email, I feel connected with this affable author of historical fiction whose writing encompasses disparate subjects with seeming ease. His first novel, The Opium Clerk, is set in the time of the Indian Mutiny of 1857. The Miniaturist transports the reader to the landscape of the court painters of the Mughals in the sixteenth century. Racists, a novel set in the Victorian period, deals with two infants—one black and the other white—left to grow up on a deserted island and prove, definitively, the superiority of race, was nominated for the Crossword Book Awards in 2006. Lisbon and Peking of the late nineteenth century dance in vivid description woven into the narrative in The Yellow Emperor’s Cure, which delves into traditional Chinese healing techniques versus Western medicine. His recent novel Kalkatta draws the reader into the shadowy everyday life of the gigolo in the crumbling Kolkata of migrants set against the glittering city of the elite, established Kalkatta-wallahs. The critically acclaimed film The Japanese Wife is based on the title story of his collection of short stories.
In elegant, descriptive prose, Basu transforms the strange into the familiar. A teaching and research fellow at the University of Oxford, he has published extensively in the areas of branding, marketing, consumer behaviour and advertising. He identifies most closely, however, with his fiction, in the writing of which, he asserts, he connects with the world.
What moves you to write?
The lure of the written word, I suppose. Having grown up with a mother who was an author and a publisher father, I was infected very early. As a voracious reader, I marvel entering an author’s mind and deciphering the thrill of creativity. Personally, I find nothing more exciting than this inward journey. Also, it’s the only way I know to connect with the world around me—both the euphoria and the disenchantments of life—raising my pen against injustice and inequality, or to celebrate the marvels of humanity.