Transmission is a 2004 novel by British Indian author Hari Kunzru.  It is his second novel. [1] The story interweaves the fates of Arjun Mehta, Guy Swift, Leela Zahir and Gabriella Caro in the events that lead up to and follow the release of a powerful computer virus written by Arjun. The novel is structured in two parts. The first part, "Signal," comprises the majority of the book and describes how the virus came to be as well as its release and the immediate aftermath. The epilogue, entitled "Noise," changes to a retrospective tone as it documents or speculates about the outcomes for each of the characters.

Plot SummaryEdit

Arjun Mehta, is a young Indian software engineer and recent graduate of North Okhla Institute of Technology. He lives with his conservative middle-class family in the Greater Noida[2] suburb of New Delhi, India. He goes to interview with a software contracting firm called Databodies, and is given the offer to go work in California's Silicon Valley[3]. His family is very proud of him and engages in celebrations prior to his departure. Upon arrival in California, Arjun is placed by Databodies in small shared apartment in a low income neighborhood near highway 101. Arjun is given software consulting work and is paid on a contract according to the time he spends with clients. He is given an H1-B visa, but is substantially underpaid compared to American engineers due being a foreigner. His first assignment is to assist a fish processing firm in Portland, Maine in fixing their data networks.

Bicycle Capital of the Northwest

Redmond, Washington- where Arjun lived while working at Virugenix

[4]thumb|Redmond, Washington- where Arjun lived while working at Virugenix |link=[5]thumb|Redmond, Washington- where Arjun lived while working at Virugenix |link=[6]thumb|Redmond, Washington- where Arjun lived while working at Virugenix |link=[7]

The work is trivial and he makes an effort to work slow so that he has work for the three week duration that he has to be on the project. After several slow months, Arjun gets a job as a virus [8] testing assistant with Virugenix in Redmond, Washington. He performs well there and enjoys his work although the people in his office are reclusive and his boss, Darryl, is not pleasant. Arjun completes various personality assessments, and one of them is a "How Aspergers are You" quiz administered by Christine Schnorr, a colleague of Arjun's. Christine and Arjun meet and befriend each other. While Christine, or "Chris", spends time with Arjun, she learns about his Indian culture, teaches him about American culture, and teaches him how to drive. Christine and Arjun drink together and get to know each other. Arjun is confused by Chris's bisexuality and questions her. This angers her and she engages in a violent scene with him in a parking lot, but later they make up. One night, Chris gets high, goes to Arjun's house, and has sex with him. Afterwords, she regrets it and ignores his correspondence out of embarrassment. Soon after, the market crashes, Virigunix stock tanks, and Arjun loses his job. Arjun is distraught because his whole time in America, he has been telling his family a different story from what he has actually been through. His family thinks he is immensely successful and wealthy, when in reality he is troubled and underpaid[9]. In a discussion with his boss while he is being fired he says "No, you don't understand. I need this job. This job is all I have."(Kunzru, 91). Soon after his unemployment, he reaches out to Chris and she consoles him. They get in an argument and Arjun walks off. Virugenix gives Arjun two wee


Arjun's "Leela Virus" makes systems all over the world inoperable.


ks to make preparations to leave and in this time Arjun is committed to retaining his job. He decides to create a business for his employer by creating a very serious computer virus that only he knows how to cure, and thus will make him an indispensable employee. Systems across the globe are affected and become inoperable. The only life that shows on computers is Leela Zahir, a top Bollywood actress, dancing across the screen thus making his virus, the "Leela Virus". Arjun's dream of keeping his job is not fulfilled. Arjun's plot is uncovered by the FBI and Arjun is labeled one of the world's most wanted terrorists. Arjun, in fear of shaming his family, flees Washington in Chris's car and makes efforts to leave the country. The second half of the story focuses on a character named Guy Swift. He is the CEO of Tomorrow, a brand and marketing firm based in London. He is from a wealthy and successful family and has been successful in everything he has done in life thus far. Swift is in a relationship with a beautiful Gabriella Caro, who does not want to be with him. Swift is moody and resorts to drugs and alcohol during troubled times. Guy's firm is one of the world's top marketing word suppliers and branding firms. Guy blows a deal with Mr. Al-Rahman, a rich Arabian golf magnet. Mr. Al-Rahman wants to hear Guy's pitch while they play golf. Guy's in unable to sell to Mr. Al-Rahman because of his lack of knowledge of Arabian culture and inability to play golf. Furthermore, Guy does not have elaborate PowerPoints, graphs, and visuals to hide the lack of inherent worth and value of his product. Investors demand to see their returns and guy is not able to give results. Guy's firm embarks on a steep decline, and Arjun's "Leela Virus" adds to the firms problems. To add to his problems, Guy is deported due to a system error in his identification. In the last part of the novel, the young Indian superstar diva, Leela Zahir, leaves her international identity and career due to the spread of the "Leela virus" and the stress from being ordered by her controlling mother. She escapes the hotel during a film shooting and leaves to engage in self-indulgence. [11]

Major CharactersEdit

Arjun MehtaEdit

A graduate of North Okhla Institute of Technology who comes from a conservative, middle-class Indian family. At a job interview, he is promised a software engineer job in the United States. After many troubling months of interviewing for contract work, Mehta settles in Redmond, Wa., as a tester for Virugenix. Throughout the book, Mehta admits he shows many signs of Asperger syndrome , namely difficulties in social interaction. He is responsible for creating and spreading the Leela computer virus that caused the failure of systems worldwide. Labeled a terrorist and fearing he has shamed his family back home, Mehta flees Washington in hopes of leaving the country.

Map of Arjun Mehta Travels Transmission

Map of Arjun Mehta's U.S. travels. 1) His first contract job in Portland, ME 2) His move to Virugenix in Redmond, WA 3) His runaway on bus to San Ysidro

Guy SwiftEdit

The CEO of Tomorrow*, a brand and marketing consulting firm in London. Swift comes from a wealthy and successful family, his father often saying that "people like us don't lose." [12] As such, he is used to finding success in anything he does. When things do not go his way, Swift often panics, sometimes turning to drugs and alcohol for temporary relief. Throughout the story he is in a relationship with Gabriella Caro, although he is too stubborn to realize she does not want to be with him anymore.

Leela ZahirEdit


Indian Bollywood actress Shazahn Padamsee wearing a traditional sari similar to those worn by the character Leela Zahir.

One of the most famous young actresses in Bollywood and also the subject of the Leela computer virus. Zahir, 21, was raised by her mother, former celebrity Fazia Zahir , to be in show business, having her clothes, food, friends and other parts of her life chosen for her. She did not ask for the fame given to her, but throughout life she has accepted her fate mainly because she is intimidated by her mother.

Gabriella CaroEdit

A public relations specialist and also Guy Swift's girlfriend. Caro comes from a troubled family. Her sister, Caroline, died after overdosing on drugs. Her parents split when Caro was young, and she moved a lot with her mother. As a result, Caro struggled to find any stability throughout her life.

Major ThemesEdit

Dependence on Technology and LogicEdit

Being the most widely touched on theme throughout the book, we see this dependence on technology where the impacts of its malfunction are felt by just about everybody. It would be an understatement to say that the Leela variant viruses terrorized the world as we know it. This period of time, termed "Grayday" , gripped the world with "appalling losses, drop-outs, crashes and absences of every kind...Grayday was an informational disaster, a holocaust of bits".[13] Home computers, system networks, and mobile telephones were compromised and what culminated was a period of uncertainty where the only option was to simply move on. At this stage in the book the blurring of physical space and cyberspace was more visible then ever. The reality that became of technology reflected the reality that took hold of the world during this period of time, that we could not survive without our working technological systems. The effects of "Grayday" touched more than Arjun had originally intended, including his own, Leela's, and Guy's, to name a few. The dependence of the world on this technology essentially:

For a more in-depth look at the effect of technology has on our 21st generation society, refer to Cyberpunk, Cyberspace, and Ghost in the Shell

An additional reading to reference for this notion of "blurring of physical space and cyberspace" please see Burning Chrome by William Gibson

Cultural DifferencesEdit

The cultural differences that we see in this novel often formed barriers that were difficult to overcome. These led to misunderstanings and miscommunications that ultimately crippled important relationships throughout the novel and forced characters to rethink their approach to these situations. Most notably of these cultural differences were:

  • Arjun's misunderstanding of Chris's bisexuality.
  • Arjun's lack of knowledge of American customs and distinction of his own physical appearance and social classification.
  • Guy being unable to successfully pitch his business plan to Mr. Al-Rahman due to his lack of knowledge of arabic culture.

All of these cultural differences led to miscommunications of sorts that ended in unintended harsh feelings and, in some cases, a sense of inferiority.

Exertion of Pressure by Influence of Others Edit

The major points here stem out of relationships that end up being severed by the end of the novel due to the pressure that one party exerts on the other. These are:

  • Leela and her mother
  • Arjun and his parents

Leelas overbearing mother was another big reason that drove her into fleeing Scotland and the rest of the world. Being pressured at a young age to go to parties and hang out with older men rather than being in school caused a great amount of stress on Leela as a young movie star. Being in the spotlight was not all that she imagined and she soon longed for a normal life without the influence of her mother who wanted the financial stability that her daughter offered.

Arjun's parents, although they never directly stated their expectations and always supported his decisions, had a great deal of responsibility when it came to Arjun making the decisions he made in America. Arjun knew that he parents expected him to become a Silicon Valley millionaire and this placed great amounts of pressure on Arjun when he found out he was on the verge of being fired. Being faced with this finality of his short-lived career, he was forced to do the unthinkable and released a virus that wreaked havoc on the world in an attempt to impress his boss and keep his job when he was the one to come up with the solution.


Dubai, United Arab EmiratesEdit

Upon flying to Dubai, Guy Swift is immediately made aware of the wealth of Dubai. Rather than a traditional meeting within a business office, Guy is forced to make his business pitch to Al-Rahman on a golf course. This intimidating change from the normal office meeting is an example of Dubai’s connotation of being A Mirage of Wealth.

Mumbai, IndiaEdit

Mumbai, previously known as Bombay, is the home to Hindi film industry commonly referred to as 
100 Years Of Bollywood - Birth Of Indian Cinema

100 Years Of Bollywood - Birth Of Indian Cinema

Bollywood. As an actress in Bollywood Leela Zahir resides in Mumbai. As one of the premier film locations throughout the world, Bollywood has more than “1,000 films produced annually (about double Hollywood’s output”. [14]

London, EnglandEdit

Within Transmission, Kunzru uses a unique type of virtual space by creating an in-text movie. Within "Naughty Naughty, Lovely Lovely" protagonist Dilip is in London chasing after a girl. While there, Dilip searches for “a cheap hotel in the vicinity of Buckingham Palace” and gets “sidetracked by the delights of tourism [where he] visits Madame Tussaud’s and Convent Garden” (Kunzru, 34).

As the capital city of England as well as the United Kingdown, London is a very prominent global city throughout the world. During Dilip’s visit within N2L2 he came across many major landmarks and globally recognized vicinities.  As of 2011, about 6.6% of London residents were of Indian decent [15]  which would mean Dilip would not have been treated as a cultural outsider during his trip. 

Silicon ValleyEdit

Arjun had expected the Silicon Valley to be a “prime daydream-location” (Kunzru, 22) where he would have a guaranteed job working as an engineer. While the job was not guaranteed like Arjun had predicted, the Silicon Valley itself was the widespread technology region he had anticipated.  


Map of the companies located within the Silicon Valley

Often referred to as the “Technology Capital of the World” the southern area of San Francisco has become coined as Silicon Valley. Major international technology corporations including Google, Facouebook, eBay, Netflix, and Yahoo! are all based out of this region making it a coveted place for computer engineers like Arjun to find employment.  

Washington, USAEdit

Arjun eventually acquires a job working for Virugenix in Redmond, Washington which is described to have “Tall trees, sunlight glittering on the blue-green waters of Lake Sammamish” (Kunzru, 49). While Arjun had finally accomplished his dream of working for a tech firm in the United States, his division within society would have played a major impact on him adjusting to life in Redmond, Washington. According to the 2012 census, Washington State is only 5.1% Asian and more than 71% white.[16]

Historical ContextEdit

Written in 2004 and set in the current day, Transmission takes place shortly after the dawn of the 21st century. Public awareness of the digital threat of computer viruses was on the rise due to widely publicised incidents such as the Mellisa and ILOVEYOU worms. The fact that these viruses exploited the social aspect of email technology to propogate through otherwise trusted connections resulted in damages that are estimated in the billions of dollars. 

Awards and RecognitionsEdit

Hari Kunzru is a British Indian novelist. He resides in London, and is well known for his works : The Impressionist,Transmission, My Revolutions and Gods Without Men. The book transmission earned a lot of attention for its intelligence, entertaining, and realistic view. Critics thought that the book was comedic, educating, and was presented in an elegant manner. It shows clear signs of Kunzru's interest in technology, and the issue of globalization. Kunzru does a spectacular job at presenting the story to the audience with great characters; especially,'Arjun Mehta.' He characterizes Arjun as a shy Immigrant from the middle-class India, who dreams of moving to America and having a successful life.

Reviews by Book Critics:Edit

 •  "Transmission possesses a wonderful lightness, and keeps you rooting for its bumbling hero, wincing at self-obsessed Guy, growing sorry for unfulfilled Gabriella and hoping against hope that Leela can escape her dreadful life -- and her even more dreadful mother" - Michael Dirda, The Washington Post[17]

 "With this second novel (after The Impressionist, a wildly inventive gallop through the raj with a shape-shifting British-Indian hero), the entertaining Mr. Kunzru makes it even clearer that he has a flair for culture clash and metamorphosis. The new book's other characters are every bit as mutable -- and comically hapless -- as Arjun proves to be." -Janet Maslin, New York Times [18]

 • "Kunzru's great skill is his ability to create colorful vignettes about modern life: the geek culture at computer companies; the outrageous ambiance at the world's only six-star hotel (in Dubai). (...) Transmission's trick is being able to deftly jump easily between locales and show how, despite the vast differences between Bombay or Dubai, San Diego or Scotland, rich and poor are interdependent." - Edward Nawotka, USA Today [19]

Transmission Trailer

Transmission Trailer

A class project. Review by a local high school students.

Reviews by UMD ENGL295 students: 

The overall impression of Transmission by ENGL295 students from University of Maryland, College Park is positive. Most students found the text to be engaging and the writing creative. One student found the novel so interesting that he did not want to stop reading. There was a general interest in the themes and lead characters. The two themes that were recognized in the class blog the most were Asperger’s Syndrome and cultural struggles. The lead character Arjun was also of special interest to the students. Most sympathized with Arjun. They did this through acknowledging that the difficulties he was enduring was not his fault, rather his mental and social disability.

There was a division regarding whether Arjun’s unsuccess was related to his social or mental disability. On one side of the argument, students thought Arjun does not show strong signs of Asperger’s and can function in everyday activities. Thus, living in a new culture was his greatest impediment.  Others thought that his mental disability added to his social understanding to the point that it was his greatest impediment.

List of Awards won by Transmission:

Hari Kuzru has won many awards  for his books. Awards won for Transmission are:

 • 2005: British Book Awards Decibel Writer of the Year, Transmission

 • 2005: New York Times Notable Book of the Year, Transmission

 2005: Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize, Transmission

SourcesEdit Edit

  11. Kunzru, Hari. Transmission. New York: Dutton, 2004. Print.
  12. Transmission, pg. 206
  13. Transmission, pg. 254
  14. [1] "How Big is Indias Mammoth Film Festival"
  15. (2012) BBC News, “2011 Census: 45% of Londoners white British”
  17. Dirda, Miranda (2004) The Washington Post, "Things fall apart in this sly postmodern fable of information-age displacement"
  18. Maslin, Janet (2004) The New York Times, "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; Culture Clash on the Messy Trail of Computer Viruses"
  19. Nawotka, Edward (2004) USA Today, "Transmission finds a bug in the digital age"