The City Inside: How Samit Basu Created His Anti-Dystopian Delhi

“Our story revolves around two people who are fairly privileged or at least privileged enough to live a safe, happy everyday life if they abide a little by the rules of the society they live in, and look away from the much darker ones. things that happen just outside their eyeline,” explains Basu. “So it’s essentially the story of how these two people first try to cope with and live normal lives in the strange world they find themselves in, but then slowly find their way into their own resistance and their own ways to figure it out. to come to who they are in a world that is constantly trying to distract and control them, and also how they can make the world around them a little bit better for other people.”

Originally, Basu had in mind a much broader setting for the story: a multi-volume book with 10 years time jumps between sections, featuring invented future technology that takes South Asia into the mid-21st century. The author eventually abandoned that plan because it “was all pretty depressing.” He adds: “It’s becoming increasingly clear that this is a part of the world where invented technology and heroes who run adventure situations or even, you know, start revolutions or undergo revolutions that lead to regime change, not necessarily the bigger problems. to resolve. problems to be solved, or problems that have existed in this part of the world for millennia [and elsewhere]† So the more I thought about it, the more artificial it felt to have your structure with your big action scenes and your heroes hacking into the evil company and taking down the evil forces and saving the day for a completely hazy future. It just didn’t seem right for a book based so heavily on the news and existing speculative nonfiction because I really wanted it to be as real as possible.”

Instead, Basu brought the book much closer to our own timeline, grounding the characters and technology that shaped their existence into what was around him. “I made sure that not only the technology, but also the locations, the people, the fields of work, everything were places that I knew,” he says. “All the people were kind of mashups of people I really know — well, most of them. That’s how I’m just 10 years into the future.” It’s also how he got into the cultural economy as it’s a world he’s been in and has been in since moving to Delhi two decades ago to pursue a career in Anglophone publishing. Basu published his first book, fantasy trilogy starter The Simoqin Prophecieswhen he was just 23 years old. “I’m bookish and mostly quiet,” says Basu. “And so going from there to suddenly being in gatherings where 200 people were in attendance, and at least 20 of them are really famous and expecting you to know everything about their lives was a huge culture shock to me.”

Since that first book, Basu has gone on to not only write science fiction, fantasy, and superhero stories, but also write and co-direct a Netflix feature film, House arrest, a Hindi comedy about a man who chooses to stay at home and the journalist who comes to live with him. Released in late 2019, it would become unexpectedly topical when the pandemic broke out a few months later, ushering in an unprecedented modern era of house arrest.

“I have been working in Bollywood and adjacent industries for over a decade now,” says Basu of his connection to the Indian entertainment industry and how it Into the city† “And so basically over two decades of movie gatherings and sets and media gatherings and literature festivals and book events and all that, this particular, fast-growing phenomenon of fame and how the nature of fame changes every year is something that I’ve observed with a mixture of fascination and horror…I’ve been wondering for a while how to talk about today’s Indian influencer culture and this seemed like a good place to do it as it will only grow in the next ten years.”

Into the city leans on the valid fears and horrors of our time, but does not ignore reasons for optimism. The book’s protagonists are inspired by today’s teenagers, a generation active in India’s 2019-2020 protests against proposed anti-Muslim changes to the country’s secular constitution. “I looked at the kids in these protests — like the people in their teens, their teens, their young teens — the generation that’s supposed to be extremely narcissistic and always online,” Basu says. “But they were out there, and they cared just as much about social things that didn’t really affect their day-to-day lives. They were on the street, they put themselves in danger… And that’s true [the book] came out: a mixture of my personal fears and looking at young people now and wondering what they will be.”