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Updated: November 13, 2010 17:17 IST

When fantasy meets mainstream

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Samit Basu: Superhero makeover. Photo: K. Murali Kumar
Samit Basu: Superhero makeover. Photo: K. Murali Kumar

In Samit Basu's own words, his new book, Turbulence, is just like any other contemporary fiction about a motley bunch of people dealing with problems of anonymity, helplessness and failure; only the volume is turned up really high. Of course millions of people dream of making a difference and changing the world; what if some of them actually could do just that?

The book offers a be-careful-what-you-wish-for theme interwoven with the utter madness and chaos that is India. And Pakistan. And England. Basically an existential crisis with the edges tweaked, the book asks all the important self-exploratory questions: who am I; what is my purpose? Only the people who do the asking suddenly find that they can fly or split into multiple bodies or change the weather or even become an actual anime warrior princess, complete with big soulful cartoon eyes and a perfectly drawn rosebud mouth.

Just 23 years when he wrote his first book, The Simoqin Prophecies, Basu has just escaped his twenties. His voice is fresh and confident, and he paints his pictures in large bold strokes, clearly attuned with the world he is writing about. He knows how young India talks, walks and thinks, and even without the token Hinglish words, he manages to create characters you half expect (and hope) will step out of the book. Excerpts from an interview:

You were called the first Science Fiction Fantasy (SFF) writer in India. What made you choose that genre?

I have never really written science fiction, you know. Neither were my books just fantasies. I suppose I was not really writing with a genre or category in mind. I was just writing, that's why it would be tough to slot them into any specific genre. I also don't think I was the first anything. Luckily, it worked out so that my book got publicity, which made me seem like I was the first.

Would you say that your age has helped you write books that are easier for the younger generation to read and relate to?

Not really. I do hope I have been writing books that people can identify with — and I hope they are as real and now, as I intended to make them — but I don't think it has much to do with age. I wouldn't know if I was writing for a certain generation. Actually I don't even know how this generation will be defined. I want to write for everyone and anyone who wants to read my books.

How difficult was it to enter a market that doesn't have too much SFF?

Surprisingly it was not that difficult. I think I got very lucky. My first book was published by the publisher I wanted. I had a lot of people spreading the word; hopefully because they liked it, not because I was a friend. But a lot of people were glad I had written something. Also, I wrote at a time when blogging was in; everyone was doing it. So having a blog helped a lot. I don't think I did anything revolutionary to the market, though.

So you wouldn't say that you kicked off a trend in the Indian literary scene?

Not at all. I don't think that, if people write fantasies in India, it is because of me. There is a lot of fantasy coming out actually, but that's because of Tolkien and Rowling and what they have done to the market. What happens is that one kind of genre does well and then almost everybody is writing something similar. But, personally, I wouldn't say any kind of fantasy writing was happening because of me.

How is this book different from your earlier ones? Was it a conscious decision to switch genres?

Actually if you take the superpowers away, it's just like a mainstream novel, with a group of average people frustrated with their lives, each wanting more, and wanting to matter.

But then there is a so what to that. Of course everyone has problems, but then that's personal and doesn't actually affect more either just them or a very small group of people. So I began with that and then I suppose, somewhere along the line, the normal novel got bitten by a radioactive spider. What if these average, otherwise nondescript, characters got powers? They could actually make a difference.

The only thing was, since they got these powers without actively demanding them and by someone who didn't consult them first, would they actually choose to save the world? Or would it just make their life a lot more complicated, affecting many more people in the process?

You've worked on graphic novels and fantasy and now something like a hyper-real mainstream novel. Are you going to try out more genres or switch to honest-to-goodness mainstream?

Actually Turbulence is as mainstream as it gets. This book doesn't belong to a genre. It does have the magical element, but it is essentially mainstream. In the Game World trilogy, I was taking already existing narratives and twisting them into something new. I was trying inter-textuality and fantasy and magic.

Turbulence is about real life. I have set it as much in the present as I could. Instead of sitting in a calm and silent atmosphere, I have worked on this book right where the noise is. When you are writing something that is called turbulence, you need to be where the action is.

Do you have any plans to sell movie rights of any of your books?

Not of the trilogy, though I had many offers. This book, though, I think I'll be selling the rights very soon. Though when the actual movie will come out is anybody's guess.

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