With a November chill in the air, eerie shadows creating a pastiche, there couldn't have been a better setting for the launch of British Indian novelist Hari Kunzru's new novel Gods Without Men. In a conversation with Manu Joseph, author of Serious Men, Kunzru talked about his fascination for the paranormal.
Gods Without Men, explores facets of human life in a community awaits extra terrestrial contact. On being asked by Joseph, whether he believes in aliens, Kunzru said, "The straight answer is yes and no! Logically universe is a big place, so it is unlikely that we are the only form of intelligent life here. However I don't believe that reporting of extraterrestrial contact is real but there's mass wish to believe in them. "
The author warmed up to the theme of extraterrestrial phenomenon, " I think since the Second World War, there have been unexplained aerial phenomena which pilots have reported and people l under influence of new worries about technologies, especially days after atom bomb were dropped, there was a feel of being in great danger. In 40s and 50s, reportings were of highly evolved beings who would come to help us to heal the world and help the binary opposition of the cold war. Later on they become hostile presences who kidnapped us and treated us like lower beings.
While he admits his fascination for the paranormal, Kunzru takes a rationalist view of aliens, "The aliens are a projection of our fear and longing, and that was cannily used by the US air force which was doing secret testing about which they didn't want the Russians and Chinese to know. It was useful to them to keep the rumours flying so that no intelligent information about the actual testing is leaked."
He added with a chuckle, "I take a rationalist view of the aliens, but if they turn up this evening I would treat them with respect."
Kunzru is as funny in real as he is as a writer. While talking about how he deals with bad reviews, he sent the audience into guffaws, "I have a guy called Baba, 6 feet tall and 250 pounds, I just give him names and numbers and never ask questions."
A British rock star, a former member of an extraterrestrial-worshipping cult, a teenage Iraqi refugee, might never cross each other's paths in real life, but their worlds collide in the book. Set in the Mojave desert in south-eastern California, Gods Without Men, brims with a variety of characters. While critics differ on whether he was able to do justice to all of them, the author believes that a writer shouldn't be self-conscious about creating characters.
"As as a writer, you should start from the position that there is nothing fundamentally alien to your experiences as a human being and you can try to imagine whoever you can. You take something of your experience and extrapolate out of that something which is appears very distant."
Named one of Granta's best young British novelists, Kunzru confesses that reviews can mentally screw you up, "I go thru phases of reading them and phases where I would rather exist in blissful ignorance."
Quite used to being at the receiving end of both critic bashing and adulation, he says, "There are two kinds of reviews - a bad review by a clever person and a bad review by a stupid person. The second is only annoying if it is written by head critic of New York Times. Then there're the bad review by a clever person which can often be the most useful review a writer can receive as someone has sincerely engaged with your work without viciousness and explain why it didn't function well with them. Conversely, other annoying reviews are a good review by a stupid person, because you say I don't want you to like my book because you are a fool and you end up asking if it is a book liked by fools? So strangely these good reviews can undermine you as a writer."