writers & readers
September 25 - 30, 2007
Kunal is no newcomer to the world of public speaking. Born
in Calcutta, he entered the realms of Bollywood in his younger
days and played leading roles in several Indian films before
hanging up his bejewelled hat and pursuing a career in marketing
and management. His studies took him west to the United States,
Canada and finally, England. His home is in Oxford where he
is Associate Professor in the Faculty of Management at Templeton
College, Oxford University, Oxford.
Kunal Basu was one of the Indian stars presenting at the Ubud
Writers & Readers Festival this year and who could not
have imagined the impact he would have on our little town.
On the first day of the festival, Kunal joined The Ubud Book
Club at the Three Monkeys cafe in Monkey Forest Road for morning
tea to chat about his recent book, The Racists, which was
one of the groups recommended readings.
The Racists has been described by acclaimed African writer,
Mike Phillips, as ‘a panorama of 19th-century ideas
about race, but it is also a sly, penetrating commentary on
their contemporary survival, highlighting the cross-fertilisation
between social science, politics and philanthropy. Taut, elegant
and intelligent, this is one of the most interesting novels
so far to chart the history and content of European racism’.
The Book Club were curious about the theme of the Kunal’s
book and were delighted at the prospect of meeting the author.
And what a pleasant surprise, was the thought on everyone’s
mind when they lay eyes on this tall, impressive gentleman!
Kunal’s smooth, elegant voice and irresistible charm
had the audience mesmerized as he explained his inspiration
for the story. Dressed in a soft mauve cotton kaftan, he was
every bit the stylish Indian Prince; Rama and Krishna wrapped
into one. Questions and answers followed, but the real question
on everyone’s lips was, ‘what is your mobile phone
In one of Kunal’s panel sessions at the festival, he
discussed the dilemma of wanting to be a writer while working
in the confines of academia. ‘All I want to be is a
paper-back writer’ he said wistfully, ‘you know,
just like in the Beatles song. In fact, who knows’ he
followed, ‘maybe I will toss in my day job and come
and live in Ubud to finish my next book’.
You could hear the sigh sweep through the audience, as more
then thirty love-struck women imagined Kunal being their precious
neighbour in the ricefields. ‘Yes, oh yes’ squealed
a few viewers. ‘I have a spare room in my house’
whispered the woman beside me with great eagerness. ‘Lordie,Lordie’
said Kerry Pendergrast!
And then came the love debate at Dragonfly. The star-studded
line-up included Kunal Basu and Indian journalist Tarun Tejpal
on the authors team against a team of young poets that included
Raoul Shrott and our Ketut Yuliarsa, from Ubud, as they contested
in hot, lusty debate ‘who writes the best love scenes
- poets or novelists’. With Kunal leading the author’s
team and pouring out realms of sultry romance, who else could
stand a chance! The audience gave Kunal’s side a hefty
applause and they were announced as the undisputed winners
(although some people said the poets were actually more organized).
At the recent Melbourne Cup Gala Lunchtime Party at my house,
the winning hat was created by none other than Ubud artiste
– performer Kerry Pendergrast who is also a member of
the Ubud Book Club. And her magnificent head piece was an
affectionate tribute to our Kunal! A copy of his book was
perched on top of a heart-shaped hat that was fringed with
a dozen photo-copied images of Ubud’s current heart-throb!
‘Such a nice guy’, she said dreamily.
On the closing night of the Ubud festival, a panic-stricken
Kunal ran to Deepika Shetty, of Asia TV News Singapore, asking
her for protection. ‘A woman has just asked me to take
my shirt off! he cried. One has to pay the price for being
As Angela Jade from Booksellers and Publishers magazine wrote
in their November edition, ‘Kunal Basu promises to be
a big name with his sweeping and varied historical novels
The Opium Clerk, The Miniaturist, and The Racists. He enthralled
his audience when reading aloud charged sections of text.
Perhaps Kunal’s fourth book will include tales of his
Ubud fan club and days appearing at the Ubud Writers &
Readers Festival. And for those who are interested, Kunal
will be appearing at the Perth Writer’s Festival in
2007. I imagine all of Ubud’s ex-pat community will