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An Interview with Kunal Basu

05
Feb 2016

An Interview with Kunal Basu

kunal

Kunal Basu, in a session with Barun Chanda and Iftekhar Ahsan, spoke about the many faces of Kolkata. I caught up with him soon afterwards to ask some burning questions. Here’s what we discussed:

In the course of the research for your book, “Kalkatta”, you saw a Kolkata within Kolkata that we don’t really see. How do you reconcile these two very different sides to the city?

  • One never reconciles them. A city does not have one character. It has multiple characters within itself. The important thing is to see the difference within them, to understand them and to appreciate the distinctions from one part to the other. You have to be willing to take a chance, prepared to step out of your comfort zone and explore these other parts.

Your foray into this other Calcutta has changed you, you said. Could you tell us how?

  • It has made me less suspicious of people who are not from my socio-economic background. I don’t naturally recoil when I see somebody who is not within my circle of friends, or who is a complete stranger. In fact, it piques my curiosity. I want to find who is this person (sic), what has been his or her life story.

The word “intolerance” is everywhere these days. What are the kinds of intolerances you encountered while researching for this book?

  • I was incredibly fortunate. I did not have resistance from the world that I was trying to research. The gigolos did not, initially, want to identify themselves to me, because they feared I might be a journalist. Being exposed in a newspaper could have devastating consequences for them. Many have families who are completely unaware of their job. That, too, was breached once I explained my purpose to them.

You mentioned that the familiar world of the city doesn’t excite you. So what is about the unfamiliar that you like?

  • That’s a very hard question to answer. It has to do with some aspect of the place, some character, some event which is totally unexpected, that I never had a brush with in the past. What shape that will take is very hard to predict. If I could, it wouldn’t be exciting anymore!

Do you think authors are afraid to explore these unfamiliar parts?

  • I would not use the word ‘afraid’. Authors do what they do. Who am I to fault people if they do this or they do that? I certainly don’t take orders from people about my writing. But it is fact that contemporary Indian writing is far too focused on the upwardly mobile, affluent metro-city individuals, reflecting the worlds of the writers themselves.

Writers often talk about being “struck by inspiration” to be able to write. Is that a luxury that only established authors have, or do you think young, aspiring writers too ought to wait for such a moment?

  • Any creative person, not just an author, in any domain, even business, has to be struck with inspiration. The seasoned practitioner, the novice, everybody has to see a kind of vision, have a kind of hope, a certain perception of what is about to be created. This is not a question of luxury, for me. If you don’t have it, you can’t be a creative person.

What is the most important advice you give to young authors?

  • I never give advice to authors! Every person’s journey is different. I’ve never sought advice from any person in the world on writing. The only thing I would say is what has worked for me: to immerse myself in as many different kinds of worlds as I possibly can. Out of those immersions, come stories.

Indeed, wiser words were never spoken.

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Rushati Mukherjee

Rushati Mukherjee

Blogger at Spiktinot
Blogger, poet, possible writer and aspiring journalist.
Rushati Mukherjee

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    Rushati Mukherjee"> Rushati Mukherjee
    Blogger, poet, possible writer and aspiring journalist.
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