Writers on Reading. Part Two, Diksha Basu
Starched saris and buns, bindi wearing Monalisas, class divides and disillusioned youth are just a glimpse of the rich and often quirky details of The Windfall, the first novel by Diksha Basu. In keeping with the varied theme of things, we spoke to her about everything from Bertie Wooster to cheese naan.
Where did you write most of your book?
Anywhere and everywhere. I started this book while I was doing my MFA in Creative Writing at Columbia University. Now I split my time between New York City and Mumbai so those were the main locations – Brooklyn and Bandra, specifically - but I also spend time at my parents’ home in Ithaca, New York, which is peaceful and quiet and green and beautiful. I house-sat briefly at my brother’s apartment on 14th Street in Manhattan and that was great because the energy of that location trickles into everything I write there.
I wrote parts of it at my in-laws’ beautiful home in Auckland, New Zealand but that was distracting because I love New Zealand and don’t yet know it well enough to be able to ignore it and work so whenever I’m there I do some writing but more exploring.
As you can see, I’m lucky that so many of my loved ones so generously open their homes to me and my work.
I also spent part of last summer at the Vermont Studio Center which is a real haven for artists – they have writers, painters, sculptors, photographers there and I had a studio overlooking the Gihon River and I got to write to the sounds of gushing water and make friends with people like the talented poet/photographer Anita Olivia Koester and artist Katie Wild (I have since bought one of her stunning steampunk-inspired paintings. Here, enjoy her website: https://www.katiewild.com).
And I also wrote on airplanes and in airports – gosh that sounds so romantic and it was, at times, but it can also be depressing but my now husband, Mikey McCleary, and I were living in two different cities at the time so we spent an awful lot of time in airplanes and airports and I got very good at working while on the move.
Do you follow a routine and if yes, what would the routine be?
I have an eight month old baby now so I have to go by her routine for my days (she gets rather grumpy if we don’t respect her nap times) and I thought that would force routine on my writing but that has not happened.
Tell us about your favourite book and author. (They don't have to coincide)
I couldn’t possibly give you just one. This question – and I’ve been getting it a lot recently – always makes me panic and I promptly forget every book and every author I’ve ever read so I’m just going to avoid this question and tell you instead that a recent book I really enjoyed was Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong.
Is there a book that you love, and are almost embarrassed to like but can't help yourself? Like a book that is your guilty indulgence?
I don’t like that idea of guilty indulgence when it comes to reading. The books that are seen as guilty pleasures are the so-called “easy” reads but those are often the hardest to write. If I like something, I respect the work of the writer and like it loudly.
Let me tell you instead about a current guilty pleasure with food – it’s the cheese naan from Khan-e-Khaas in Bandra and I always feel awful after eating it but it’s worth it for the pleasure I get while eating it.
What is the book you ploughed through because it was by all standards a great book, but somehow you couldn't get around to really liking it?
I don’t force myself to finish a book I’m not enjoying.
Could you share a playlist you're listening to with us?
What was the last thing you Googled?
Does anyone answer this honestly? Reluctantly, I will – I Googled myself this afternoon. In my defence, I don’t have a Google alert set up for my name. And anyway this vanity backfired quickly because I found some blog post declaring The Windfall one of the six most overrated books of the year. I was considering getting offended because it’s so easy to do so but I stopped myself and started thinking about whether I’d rather be overrated or underrated and I’m no longer offended.
Do you have a favourite literary character?
I always have a hard time committing to favourites of any sort because it excludes too much and I’m not good at commitment but a character I love and who stays with me is Peter Jernigan, the main character in Jernigan by David Gates. Flawed, funny, mean, painful, complicated – just a fantastic difficult character.
And Bertie Wooster, of course, who needs no introduction or explanation.
And Nora Ephron as a character on the page in her own non-fiction work. Does she qualify as a literary character of her own creation? I’m saying she does. And see, now I’ve listed three and I feel I’m missing so many more and I’ll feel guilty about that later and that’s why questions about favorites always drive me to despair. Now I also have to mention the two naughty boys (danpite chele) in Sukumar Ray’s Abol Tabol.
I’m forcing myself to stop here.
Regular books or Kindle?
I prefer the feel and sensation of books of course but appreciate the ease of the Kindle. Because of new parenthood, over the last eight months I’ve often had to read in the dark with one hand while holding my daughter or rocking her as she naps in my other arm and the Kindle has been a lifesaver. I also find I read more on a Kindle somehow – perhaps it’s the ease, perhaps it’s the dependence on and comfort with screens that we’ve all developed - I don’t know but I read a lot on the Kindle.
Interviewed by Meera Ganapathi