Book launch: Samit Basu’s ‘Turbulence’

It isn’t often that a book launch begins with a dramatic audio-visual presentation. Especially one that looks like a promo for a summer Hollywood blockbuster film. But then, not every novel has 17 superheroes fighting to save the world…

In spite of a delayed start, the launch of ‘Turbulence’, fantasy fiction writer Samit Basu’s ‘breakaway’ mainstream novel (his quirky version of one, anyway) at Landmark ended up being quite as lively as the book itself.

The event had Basu in conversation with author, poet and dancer Tishani Doshi, and it was refreshingly laidback, with both writers joking around (you know any conversation that begins with mildly off-colour references to the anthology of Indian erotica they both wrote for isn’t going to take itself too seriously).

That isn’t to say the packed audience didn’t get a feel for the book; both readings from the book brought to life Basu’s comic turn of phrase, and had the listeners chuckling more than once. And the chat that followed was full of information about random old superheroes (“Arm Tear Off Boy”, anybody?) that would make any geek giddy with happiness.

“After seven years of writing fantasy fiction, I decided to do the sort of novel Indian writers are supposed to, dealing with the realities of contemporary India and the questions 20 and 30-year-olds ask themselves,” says Basu, who became one of India’s youngest published authors when he came out with the first part of his GameWorld trilogy at the age of 23.

Somehow, though, his ‘big crossover book’ turned into a superhero novel, even as it covered a host of urban Indian issues – the media, politics, and terrorism, Bollywood, cricket and other ‘popular Wiki subjects’. “I realised our world is far more bizarre than any fantasy universe,” says the author, who’s also done comics, screenplays and a graphic novel. “I kept turning up the volume on the characters so they won’t be lost in the middle of it all, and in spite of myself, ended up with a superhero novel.”

‘Turbulence’ tells the story of a group of people who step off BA flight 142 from London to Delhi and find they’ve all gotten superpowers – and this is the cool part – linked to their innermost desires. A wannabe Bollywood star can now make anyone love her; an overworked mom can split herself into multiple copies; an Air Force officer can fly, and then there’s the guy who can control the weather with his stomach…

“I’m sure every superpower in this book has been done before by some insane comic book writer in 1940s America,” he says. “But I’ve done away with costumes (the good ones are all taken anyway), sidekicks and origin stories (gamma rays, radioactive spiders, etc.); I wanted this to be about a group of people dealing with real life situations.”

Except for the fact that they have superpowers, that is. Not surprisingly, the rest of Basu’s free-wheeling chat with Doshi and the audience was superhero-themed, from the sad state of Indian superheroes (“Shaktimaan? I mean, come on…”) to what superpowers he’d like, personally (“Not invisibility – I don’t think I’d use it for good.”).

And, of course, everyone wanted to know – what about a sequel? “I actually have it all planned out in my head, but I’m tired of writing series. Maybe I’ll do something completely different instead,” he says. Sounds like a plan.



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