Writing Indian Stories for The World

January 05, 2022

How has the pandemic affected our ideas of home and global mobility? What are the risks, anxieties and opportunities unearthed in its wake, and how will they inform writers and future works of fiction? On November 18, 2021, Columbia Global Centers | Mumbai organized a conversation between author and alumna of Columbia University’s School of the Arts, Diksha Basu, and the Center’s Director, Dr. Ravina Aggarwal, to address this and more in an online discussion entitled, ‘Indian Stories on the Global Stage.’ This was the second event in a series that puts a spotlight on the process of writing by Columbia University authors writing about India.

Ms. Basu’s novels — most recently Destination Wedding (2020) and The Windfall (2017) — often explore the possibilities of home, belonging and work-life balance, presenting them in a state of flux and evolution. Her characters cross physical and social boundaries within cities, countries, class and privilege structures; enmeshed in a world that pulls at their fears and hopes. With this in mind, the discussion with her unpacked themes of alienation and identity that pushed beyond the straightjacket of being informed by a particular geography or a culture in an increasingly mobile world. As someone who has moved between New Delhi, Ithaca, New York City and Mumbai, Ms. Basu shared how her varied experiences and observations have found life in her works. She noted that her characters and stories, while rooted in a certain “Indian-ness,” have found an international appeal with global audiences as they touch upon universal emotions and aspirations — the want to pursue a better life, career, or love.

Detailing her experiences with the publishing industry and the prospect of her works being adapted for screen, Ms. Basu observed that with the proliferation of storytelling platforms due to streaming platforms, more voices are moving from the East to the West, thereby shifting the mainstream gaze on certain locales and the perceptions around them.

Ms. Basu also shared her journey of honing her craft at Columbia University during her Master of Fine Arts and emphasized the value that the formal program added to her writing.  She acknowledged the importance of having a community of professors and fellow students that could offer encouragement and quality feedback, leading her to becoming an established author after an early career in acting.

Ms. Basu, who is set to return to Columbia as an Assistant Professor for the Creative Writing program in Spring 2022, advised aspiring writers to read other writers, edit more effectively, build a peer community, and take criticism and rejection in their stride. In her concluding remarks, she added, “I always tell my students at Columbia that you need a sort of perfect combination of thick skin to deal with the industry but thin porous skin to let the world affect you because you need to be able to have the broad spectrum of emotions, both positive and negative, in order to be able to write.”