42 QUESTIONS WITH SAMIT BASU
In this series, we ask people the hard questions about things that matter – like monsters under the bed, Simon Le Bon, and fan mail.
This week we talk to Samit Basu, the pioneer of Indian English fantasy writing. The best-selling Gameworld Trilogy, comics, science fiction, and kids’ books have earned him a fan base around the world. His novel Turbulence won Wired’s Goldenbot Award– and not just because parts of it are coming alarmingly true!
WORDS BY THE CITY STORY TEAM
1. How are you?
I am well! I spend most of my days doing work I like and meeting only people I like, which makes me feel very lucky.
2. What did the monsters under your bed look like when you were little?
I didn’t have monsters under my bed, but I did sometimes imagine faces in the window, especially during thunderstorms – visible when lightning flashed, and then disappearing. Just people looking in.
3. What do they look like now?
Blocked on Twitter.
4. Do you have an inner child? How old is it?
I do. It is a matryoshka inner child buried inside other layers of successively older inner children. The innermost one is around three.
5. Which was your coming of age book or film?
I need a more specific definition of coming of age.
6. Name the scariest thing in Turbulence that came true?
There was a sudden surge in outbursts of spontaneous mob violence/flashmob lootings around the world the year after it was published in India. Also, Osama being found in Pakistan, though I had him in a cave, not a random house. The larger crisis of Resistance is starting to come true, though, even in a world without super-powered people, and that’s far more worrying.
7. You once said modern times could do with a Yuga Placement Manager. Which Yug would you choose?
If I could time-travel I’d either go back around 20 years but with context, or to around 40 years from now, when the current bad phase should end by my very precise calculations – for the survivors, that is. These are both present-Yug situations, I guess.
8. Which is the city you’re most comfortable in – Calcutta, Delhi, or Mumbai?
I think Indian cities are monoculturing at a very rapid pace, so the differences between Calcutta, Delhi, and Bombay are eroding very fast. If I had to pick one, it would be Delhi, but mainly because I have the most friends there, and it has a winter.
9. Which city gets most on your nerves?
Mumbai. But that’s not the city’s fault, it’s the nature of the work I do there, which involves meetings. Meetings. I… meetings.
10. Which is your favourite part of Mumbai?
The wavering spine of micro-cultures that line the seaface at 20-minute intervals. It’s like a little archipelago connected by auto-boats. I wish I’d spent more of my 20s in Mumbai.
11. Where are you most likely to find monsters in Mumbai?
Housing society meetings and the top floors of towers. But this might be a worldwide phenomenon.
12. And do you have a favourite place to be fed in the city?
Versova cafés and restaurants where there’s a film being planned at every table, but the real story is the sitcom about the plan.
13. Which bookstores in Mumbai do you think are alright?
Any bookstore is fine by me. The ones townside are older and more chaotic and likelier to have people in them who know their books, which always add to displaced nostalgia, but listing the usual suspects would be touristy: I didn’t grow up in them. I’ve never had a really good local bookstore anywhere in the country. My first book event was at Crossword Kemps, so I’ll always have fond memories about that store.
14. Spirit of Mumbai: paraclete, poltergeist, or phantasm?
15. Three words to describe Bollywood as you know it.
So much potential
16. You’ve written several amazing, internationally acclaimed books and comics. Would you like to see one adapted for the screen?
Thank you. Yes. It’s a conversation that’s happened many, many times. It continues to happen now on three separate things. Hopefully one day.
17. Which is your favourite movie/TV show of all time?
I don’t know. It’s the same problem as favourite book, constantly changing roster, far too many to list. The last show I loved unreservedly was Stranger Things. On the Indian front, I think Sacred Games was several literal cuts ahead of the rest so far.
18. What are you watching/reading right now?
Sasha Baron Cohen’s new show. Not reading anything at the moment because I’m working on a novel, but the next book on my TBR is Tade Thompson’s Rosewater.
19. Dogs or cats? Don’t be diplomatic.
20. Is your dog really named after a steamed bread?
I am one of Tingmo’s humans, he doesn’t belong to me. And yes: he looked exactly like a tingmo as a puppy.
21. Which social media app is best for an alter ego?
All our online personas are alter egos on every app. I like Instagram the best, I think.
22. What career were you planning on when you went to IIM-A?
Career planning is such an admirable idea and I really should have tried it at some point. No, when I went to IIMA I was clearly not thinking at all, let alone career planning.
23. Which is the most unlikely/farthrest (geographically or culturally) place you’ve received fan mail from?
Geographically, Vancouver. Culturally it’s harder to say: I think writers and readers who like their books are linked by culture, and I certainly don’t identify strongly with mainstream culture in my geographical region at the moment: the link was far stronger in the 90s and early turn-of-century. The countries I’ve been most pleasantly surprised to get reader letters from are Estonia and South Africa.
24. Most overused SF/fantasy trope.
25. Most underrated writer or book or series?
Underrated is another very tough one because my personal ratings of books have nothing to do with how much money they made, what awards they won, or how diligently they were marketed.
26. Biggest disappointment regarding the promises SF made us about ‘the future’.
None, SF is speculative and not predictive. If I could have one thing out of SF, it would be a Star Wars cultural origin point, a post-race, post-money world. But it’s not like I ever thought it was possible.
27. Do you think George RR Martin will finish the book series?
28. Did you ever meet Simon Le Bon?
29. Who would you like to sit down for a chat with, living or dead, real or fictional?
I spent far too much time pacing around my house thinking about this. I need to move on with my life, so Unity, the hivemind from Rick and Morty.
30. How often do you put people from real life into your fiction?
Quite often. Never the whole person, of course, but most of my leading characters started out as people I know well.
31. What is the best thing about being a writer?
The commute to my desk.
32. And the worst?
The daily news.
33. Do you stop reading when it is time to write?
Not always, but usually. I’m less afraid of being influenced by whatever I’m reading now because there’s more experience at saying what I want to say, but I’m more afraid of being distracted, because my attention span isn’t what it used to be.
34. How do you deal with monkey invasions of your home?
Wearily. They are far too frequent.
35. What’s your favourite thing to do on holiday?
It used to exploration and ticking things off lists. Now it’s mostly food and meandering.
36. How many siblings do you have and what is your birth order?
37. Have you ever bullied anyone?
I have performed a complete scan of my entire life thus far and am happy to report I have not. I have behaved badly with lots of people though.
38. Do you think intelligent life outside the planet exists and we will have contact in our lifetime?
A good time for all of us to remember that intelligent life exists on our planet and I for one have made contact with it. I hope intelligent life exists outside it as well. We’re not meeting it in this lifetime if it’s actually intelligent.
39. What is the most ridiculous social construct?
I’m going to walk riiiight past this minefield because is anything ridiculous if it causes lots of deaths and everything I just thought of does.
40. Do you have a theoretical team for the post-apocalyptic world?
No, what is the point, I won’t make it. And if I do I won’t get this theoretical team and will just be really upset with my fellow survivors which will lead to my eventual expulsion from that already not-ideal team.
It is all quite sad because I do have extensive theoretical knowledge of post-apocalyptic scenarios, but who will have time to ask me about this in such a situation?
41. If you had a super power what would it be?
Again, whatever I can get. What is this scenario where I am offered a menu of superpowers and I can pick one? Who is offering me this? Why? How? Why only one? I need more information.
Seriously, I’m not picky. Give.
42. What’s your newest book about and when will we be able to read it?
The extensive procrastination this interview involved was such a happy time. I miss it already.
It’s too early to talk about the new book, but it’s very different from anything I’ve done before, which is why it’s taken me a really long time. I hope it’ll be out next year, but that depends entirely on the vicissitudes of the publishing process. It’s a big one, though. I am, dare I say it, excited and hopeful.