Tag Archives: Tishani Doshi

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.

DIVYA KUMAR

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Book launch: ‘The Pleasure Seekers’ by Tishani Doshi

Photo: S.S. Kumar

This might have been the toughest book launch event Tishani Doshi has had to attend.

“It’s very unnerving to be in a position where I know so many people in the audience,” she said with a laugh during the launch of her debut novel,The Pleasure Seekers at Taj Connemara. “I feel you already know so much about me — it’s almost better to have anonymity to start with and have the audience get to know you!”

It was a little unnerving for a couple of other people in the audience as well — her parents, since the book for the most part is inspired by their Gujarati-Welsh marriage and the ‘hybrid’ family that resulted.

“My parents are here and I know they’re squirming in their seats,” she said with a smile. “But it’s an amazing story — I know I’ve never met any other Welsh-Gujaratis!”

Launched earlier in the U.K. to considerable acclaim, The Pleasure Seekers tells the story of Babo, a Gujarati boy who leaves his traditional family behind in Madras to study in London only to fall completely and irrevocably in love with Sian, a Welsh girl from an equally traditional family. How Sian comes all the way to Madras to make her life with him (and his family), and how they create their own little world with their daughters Mayuri and Bean in the “house of orange and black gates” forms the rest of this warm and heartfelt novel.

“This is not a memoir — it’s a re-inventing of their story,” said Tishani, in conversation with musician Susheela Raman. “I took the bits I found interesting and layered and added to it until, over time, the real people faded away and I was left with the characters of my own making.”

The book has been nearly a decade in the making, during which time Tishani has, of course, done a number of other things, including journalism, dancing with the iconic Chandralekha and writing poetry. Naturally, some influences from these other experiences have seeped into the novel — particularly, it appears, in the central character of Ba, Babo’s grandmother, a wise and almost mystical figure in the book.

“I’ve always maintained that Chandralekha was the biggest influence in my life,” she said. “Ba isn’t a portrait of Chandralekha, but does have elements of her. Her house, especially, was my inspiration for Ba’s home in Ganga Bazaar — a place to discover stuff, to heal.”

The book is also an exploration of Tishani’s own experiences of growing up as a ‘hybrid’. “It came out of my own need to answer the question — where do I come from?” she said. “Now, being from many places is much more accepted, but growing up, I was quite perplexed by it.”

Unsurprisingly, the question and answer session that followed focussed quite a bit on the blurring of lines between fact and fiction.

“As a writer, you’re interested in telling stories, and real life has great stories,” said Tishani. “You’re a magpie, stealing all these memories, yours and other people’s, for your nest… the blurring happens quite organically.”

So what’s next for the writer, dancer and poet? More multi-tasking, it appears. “I find wearing multiple hats liberating,” she laughed. “Writing a novel can feel like you’re teetering on the edge of despair, so I’m happy to be writing poetry again, and to be doing a dance performance at the end of the year!”

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