Taking on a monstrous Delhi
With racy dialogues, an engaging plot and immersive graphics by Ghanshyam Bochgeri, writer Samit Basu weaves a fantasy story in Local Monsters about four Delhi youngsters with monster-like powers -- Tashi, Bella, Indra and Latha -- who apart from combating daily problems like molesters, water woes and racial discrimination, also battle evil beings. Basu talks to Hassan M Kamal about this unique storyboard, which apart from its thrills, also looks at social issues that plague
What inspired you to write the story? And why did you use youngsters as central characters?
I always wanted to write a story that was set in a big Indian city, where its characters are in their early to mid-20s, and are dealing with real-world realities for the first time -- like rent, water-less taps, nosy neighbours, etc. There’s too much pressure around youngsters.
Not only are they facing such problems but there is also the insecurity of an uncertain future and larger questions like corruption. The fact that they have superpowers adds spice to the story. But it’s not about them becoming heroes and showing their powers to the society; in fact, they would be judged harshly if they show their strength.
The story, although set in a fantasy world, also touches on real issues like molestation and corruption prevalent in Delhi and across Indian society. Why the mix of fantasy with reality?
Stories set in a fantasy world with monsters get stronger when they are rooted in reality. Over the years, I have come to prefer stories that acknowledge the darker realities of life.
A big problem facing our popular forms of entertainment is that many of these are set in a bubble of non-reality to appeal to the young people. But they lose their value when it comes to readers like me. So, I always found fantasy stories more interesting when they were situated in reality. Besides, people are different from each other. Unfortunately, in Delhi and in other parts of India, we are shunning them, be it through sexual discrimination or racial discrimination; people from the North East of India and from Africa are treated horribly in India. We are blind to our flaws. The book is an attempt to acknowledge that these problems exist, and that life is not as sugar-coated as shown in films and television shows.
...So, is this the local connection?
In Delhi, there is always a cluster of people who are facing problems like local hostilities, alienation, racial discrimination and molestation. It’s rooted in the locale. In fact, almost every girl I know in Delhi has been molested by different groups of bikers (also, the opening chapter of the book). But Local Monsters is not a social commentary, it’s just a surface collection of things that most people face in Delhi and other parts of India. It’s just there. And they live with it because there is no other way to be, really. I had written the opening story long before the horrific events of last winter (the December Delhi rape case). I was concerned. It’s not really a reference, but it’s unfortunate that this kind of reality exists.
Local Monsters, Samit Basu, Rs 495, Westland. Available at leading bookstores.
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Samit Basu’s other works include the Gameworld Trilogy featuring three novels and the superhero novel, Turbulence, which won Wired’s Goldenbot Award in 2012.