Novelist and journalist Hari Kunzru embarks on a multimedia trip with his podcast ‘Into The Zone’, which grapples with identity among other things
“I have seen reviews of my novels where I am addressed as Kunzru, but for my podcast, I am Hari.” A smile forms on novelist and journalist Hari Kunzru’s face as he talks about his foray into the world of podcasting over a video call from his home in New York. “It is an intimate thing because you are in someone’s ear; I think the excitement is when you find someone whose mind or style of storytelling you appreciate.” In his first podcast, Into The Zone, Hari’s crisp diction and soothing baritone faciliate an ASMR-like experience.
Hari describes his recently-released novel, Red Pill, “an anxious book.” His transition to podcasting comes at a time of loneliness and introspection for millions around the world owing to the pandemic. “That is the power of this format; the companionship in a lonely time and the escapism; just to be told a story is soothing even if it is about serious matters.”
Into The Zone has Hari taking listeners to meet an array of figures from philosophers and punk musicians to New Age gurus, to explore the zones between dichotomies — life and death, love and war, modernity and tradition.
In the episode, ‘The Guru of Ojai’, Hari, who often uses history to understand the world and his place in it, walks listeners through a weird story when his family home in Agra briefly hosted a messianic visitor in the 1920s. This kicks off the episode-long, researched monologue on theosophy and existentialism. “The theosophy was particularly personal to me because it is a family story and it allowed me to think about some of my relationships with my family, and also to England and India. I find theosophy an exotic belief system, it is not something I have an immediate connection with. But I appreciate that theosophical meetings were the only place where British and Indians could meet on a level of equality. There was a mutual risk and the political work started there.”
Theosophy is not the only school of thought the 51-year-old discussed; a new episode links the German punk music scene (Hari is an avid music-lover) and German philosopher Theodore W Adorno, who is known for his critical theory of society. One cannot help but see Hari’s mind as a crime scene bulletin board complete with splaying red thread, making all sorts of connections. In this case, however, Hari’s podcast is united by the themes of identity and also unites people who are trying to understand their own identity.
Hari’s podcasts are more than stream-of-consciousness outpourings; they get listeners to ponder the world from which they may be cut off now. “You have to find stories and compelling ways to discuss big issues. If you say ‘this is about borders’ and just talk about the nature of borders, it is easy to lose people. However, if you say ‘my father came from India, my mother came from England, and I have this existence on the border,’ that is much more relatable and personal,” he says.
Hari grins as he talks about creating his own ‘studio’ to record Into The Zone during lockdown. “I had to build a box, a six by six-foot cube and cover it in curtains, duvets and anything that deadens the sound. I stay inside and that is where I recorded all the tracks, the narration for the podcast… that was me sitting inside this past summer with the producers on video call so they could help me with the delivery. That has been a strange, isolated thing.”
Into The Zone can be streamed on Apple podcasts, Spotify and Google podcasts, with new episodes released weekly.