Terrorism & Naxalism Are Already Together In The Red Corridor : Sami Ahmad Khan
Terrorists create mayhem, Naxals create mayhem and if they come together it is mayhem raised to the power of two!
Sami Ahmad Khan is a young debut writer but has decided to flow against the tide and write something that isn’t what sells. He decides to write a political thriller and thus was born Red Jihad -The terrifying thought-in-action of coming together of Terrorism and Naxalism. And am I glad he wrote something that I call A thriller worth every page in there. An alumnus of Rajdhani College, Hindu College and JNU, Sami and also a Fulbright scholar, Sami clubs his fictional mind, in-depth research and a no-nonsense storytelling style to give us a book…well I already said that. The wordsmith gets inKonversation at the Pensieve talking writing, nirvana, red and jihad. Read on:
Tell us about Sami, the man behind the writer.
A guy who’s lost. One who has no answers. He doesn’t even know what the questions are! But one who deludes himself into believing that writing will give him some inner peace. The messed up part is when it does!
Your debut book deals in terrorism and naxalism together; where does the inspiration come from to deal with such a subject in your debut book itself?
The seeds of Red Jihad were sown one fine day when I realized that I was no longer able to differentiate between ‘terrorism’ and ‘naxalism’. For too long had we ignored wanton violence in the Red Corridor by classifying it as ‘extremism’ (something disgruntled Indians opt for) rather than ‘terrorism’ (read cross-border proxy war). I decided to write about the future via conducting a thought-experiment. What if the opposites extremes (right and left) at the two ends of a political semicircle were to join in a circle? I wanted to write something that was not only fun to read/write but also made the reader think about the direction in which we, as a socio-political entity, were headed. As an Indian middle-class youth, I wanted to focus on those burning issues which (in my opinion) merited more attention. Terrorism, violence and war were some of them. The inspiration was to create a better tomorrow where we could rise above our petty differences and work together for a brighter future for us all.
Writing stories is so much different from writing papers; when did the writing bug get to you?
A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far away. I realized that random things just struck my brain. It gave me pleasure to pen them down – displeasure followed if I wasn’t able to get them out of my head (by writing them). Starting with poems, essays and short stories, I finally graduated to novel writing. I don’t regret at least this bug-bite.
The amount of research involved in Red Jihad is so evident when we transverse from cover to cover. How did you go about it?
Red Jihad pertains to, inter alia, military matters, strategic studies and international relations – areas in which I have had no formal grounding. However, I believed that if I were to write a good, thought-provoking thriller, meticulous research needed to be undertaken to flesh out the actualities in the plot. It was only this way the tag of plausibility could be attached to Red Jihad. That was necessary as I wanted the readers the seriously think about what they’d read and not immediately dismiss it as the by-product of a deranged imagination. Consequently, both online and offline sources were utilized. I also talked to people from various backgrounds and asked for their opinion on the matters under consideration.
How did the journey from manuscript to published hardcover go? We usually hear about the initial glitches, how was your journey?
It was long and arduous. Not only was I veering away from the relationships/campus romance/existential angst formula that I was ‘supposed’ to adhere to (due to my age group), but I was also writing on Terrorism and India-Pakistan relations in a cold, clinical manner in which I wanted no sentimentality, jingoism or mush. Writing was taxing; finding a good publisher to take a chance with my debut even more so. Thankfully, Rupa did not ask me what many other leading publishers did – why was I writing on Religious Fundamentalism/Political Extremism when I could write on campus romances that everyone loved to read (read they sell more)! Thankfully, this gamble by the publishers seemed to have paid off as Red Jihad is doing quite well. Escaping the limitations imposed by market forces sometimes become imperative. And even more so in the current Indian scenario where the youth are expected to write solely based on what ‘sells’.
What kind of a reader would you call yourself?
A voracious one. One of the ways of attaining nirvana, if my subconscious is to be believed. I prefer popular fiction. Highbrow, literary literature is not for me.
What are your favorites – Book/ Author/ Genre?
I am a huge fan of science fiction and fantasy, especially the Star Trek, LOTR, and Star Wars universes. Douglas Adams, Arthur Conan Doyle, JK Rowling, etc, are some of my favourites.
What is next on the literary front?
I am working on a quasi-sequel to Red Jihad – this one will be science fiction.
Red Jihad works on the idea that terrorists and naxalites can come together in future for more sinister plans. How much do you personally believe that could be possible?
I pray it never happens, but if newspapers reports are to be believed, it already is happening in the Red Corridor – even as we speak. I just hope that sense prevails soon and we start shunning violence to resolve our disputes.
Has anybody, so far, accused you of giving ideas to the anti-social elements through your book?
Not at all. By this logic, every thriller, every fantasy, every single book that comes out can and will be indicted as inciting some evil design. On the contrary, Red Jihad has nothing but a pro-peace desire of mutual brotherhood, cooperation and tolerance at its heart. Moreover, Red Jihad is a work of fiction and I have heavily borrowed from newspaper reports and information present in the public domain. I have merely fictionalized and masalaized what is already out there, nothing else.
How is Red Jihad faring? Do you see yourself being a full time writer?
Red Jihad has been doing quite well. It has gone into a second edition within months of its release and has simultaneously garnered critical appreciation for a fast-paced, engrossing plot and a lucid narrative style. However, since I write as I like to write – not because I want critical or popular acclaim – I am fine with whatever monetary or literary reception my book generates. Full time writing seems to be a salivating prospect but as I do not write to earn money (and financial stability is what we all crave for), I will have engage with some other means of livelihood to earn my bread and butter as I continue writing.
Your words of wisdom for newbie writers.
Follow your heart. Write what you want, when you want, how you want, and where you want. To each, his own.