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Heartfelt affluence: Diksha Basu on her new book 'The Windfall'

The most remarkable stories usually comprise an out-of-comfort-zone perspective, inviting readers to empathise and grow with the characters. Author Diksha Basu, who makes no exception to this philosophy, also personifies charismatic writing and produces compelling plotlines in her forthcoming book aptly titled The Windfall (Crown, Penguin Random House). This comedy of manners revolves around East-Delhi-based Jha family that goes through a swathe of changes when they come into a lot of money, resulting in a move to the wealthy area of Gurgaon.

During a Masters-level creative writing class in Columbia, Diksha was tired of her stories orienting around 20-something women, feeling the topics had become desensitising. At the time Diksha was studying with writer Gary Shteyngart, who motivated her to scale out her collection of short stories, which she wrote through the perspective of a middle-aged man — who in this case is Anil Kumar Jha, “It wasn’t a conscious decision; when I was playing around with the idea of this character, I also wanted it to have a lot of humanity and humour. For some reason, it just came to me as a male voice. We’re also talking about 90s money, and most of the people who came into money were the men — hoorah! — working in fields like tech and finance. The stories of financial boom tend to be more tied with the patriarchy. Now it’s definitely changing and we have female entrepreneurs coming onto the scene, but the original stories of the money and how it affects things belong more to the men.”

Money, money, money...

Heartfelt affluence: Diksha Basu on her new book 'The Windfall'

Diksha, who grew up in Delhi in the 90s, was witness to an explosion of wealth and massive infrastructural changes that were unmissable, “It was everywhere and it was very clear. Even though I was a pre-adolescent at the time and didn’t have the vocabulary to describe it; it has obviously stayed with me, just seeing how the city changed. Around 1994, I started going in and out of the city and so I saw the changes more concretely because I would be gone for four or five months and then I’d come back and see how buildings are changing and which cars people are driving.”

As a result, materialism takes up a unique personality in The Windfall, “I find the whole idea of money so interesting because it’s such a potentially violent topic but there’s also so much pressure and humanity within it as it affects so much of our lives.” So, due to the culture shock of switching neighbourhoods, the Jhas’ world is tilted on its axis as their wealth grows, leading to changes in how they see the world and even how they see each other. “It’s mostly a preconceived idea of cultural differences which, for me, is something that is true across cultural lines and social lines. So much of it is a bunch of preconceived notions of what the other side is. And that’s where so much friction lies these days, unfortunately, and a lot of fear too. And with the political climate, that’s what the world is cashing in on.” This raises the debate of monetary wealth in correlation to wealth in life. However, the Jhas deal with their sudden riches, their living experience richen with valuable lessons and interactions. As Diksha points out, wealth is not an ugly character but a catalyst for the events in The Windfall.

Family dynamics

Diksha shares she has a tremendous amount of love for her characters. What started out as an episodic collection became a year and half’s worth of character development into a novel format, providing readers with a unique cultural window into the Jha’s family life. “I hope there’s no judgement or condescension towards any groups; not to the supremely wealthy, not towards the ones aspiring for wealth, because I think ultimately this book is about insecurities and personal wealth. The humanity of insecurities is really the main thing across the board. It’s the same way for me with wealth, and, yes, the Jha family right now is declined by this idea of wealth but there are still relationships that have a lot of bubbling tension on the surface but on the whole, it is about a father and his son, about a husband and a wife, about a mother and a son. As a writer and consumer of fiction myself, it’s those smaller relationships that control the dynamics that make it more interesting.”’

Additionally, more and more Indian families are acclimatising to notions of gender equalities. “I think one of the things we see often — we see this in the book and we see it around us — is women trying to make their way in circumstances that are not societally accepted. You see Mrs Ray as a young widow or even Mrs Jha who’s coming into this money with a husband who doesn’t quite know how to handle it. Seeing this navigation by women outside societal forms is interesting. There are many who are doing it so successfully now, and I hope some of my female characters embody that strength that so many of us display.”

There’s much to unravel in The Windfall, and there’s plenty with which to relate because of its cultural variance. This potential was seen by producer Shonali Bose (of Margarita with a Straw) who will be having a major hand in a TV series based on the book, backed by Paramount Television and Anonymous Content.

Diksha Basu’s ‘The Windfall’ releases on June 27 worldwide, and on July 13 in India and will be available on Amazon.in.


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Printable version | Sep 26, 2021 7:39:10 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-authors/diksha-basu-the-windfall-2017/article19149404.ece

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