Sami Ahmad Khan read Literature at Hindu College and Rajdhani College, University of Delhi. He then completed his master’s in English at Jawaharlal Nehru University. Sami was awarded a Fulbright grant at The University of Iowa, USA, in 2011. He has engaged in film production, teaching, theatre and writing. His short stories, plays and articles have been published in magazines and academic journals. His political thriller Red Jihad won the Muse India Young Writer (Runner-Up) Award at the Hyderabad Literary Festival 2013 and “Excellence in Youth Fiction Writing” at the National Debut Youth Fiction Awards at the Young Writers Meet during Delhi World Book Fair 2013.
Currently, Sami is a Doctoral Candidate at JNU, where he is working on Science Fiction and Techno-culture Studies. He is now working on a sequel to Red Jihad.
So we have him here for a tete – a – tete –
Aseem: What is one most important thing / things you have taken back from your days at the Hindu college and JNU?
Sami: Think for yourself, stick to your guns and have an opinion about anything and everything. It’s surprisingly liberating – DU/JNU style!
Aseem: How did you get inspired to write?
Sami: Everyone thinks, broods and muses, whether it’s a conscious decision or not. Manifestation is the next logical step. If one can think, imagine or feel it, then one wants to express it. Although there are multiple modes available for such expression, I chose to write simply because the act of writing makes me uber-happy – and this has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I can’t sing, dance, or paint to save my life! 😀
Aseem: How difficult was it to get a publisher?
Sami: Quite. I was not writing a ‘best-seller’ campus romance or a paperback that dealt with love, relationships, or the existential angst of engineering/management executives. Red Jihad perceived war, terrorism, and politics through a cold, clinical lens of non-emotionality that moved away from the pyaar-mohabbat formula we all adore so much. Thankfully, Rupa & Co. decided to pick it up and told me that they encourage newer talents and sub-genres. As if to vindicate their stand, the book went into a reprint within a couple of months of its release.
Aseem: Wasn’t it a difficult topic to begin with for a debut writer?
Sami: If debut authors can write about love, relationships, and matters of heart (which I personally feel are the most complex of human emotions), then how difficult can writing a book on terrorism be!? I personally feel that a broken, wounded heart is a much more explosive, intricate, convoluted and esoteric entity than the entire foundation of say, Indo-Pak relations or the Sino-Indian war-doctrine!
Aseem: How much and what kind of research did you do for the story?
Sami: I was writing as a non-specialist layman who wanted to give ‘Red Jihad’ a certain degree of fact-based credibility (but only some!) to be effective overall for a general (no pun intended!) reader; research had a gigantic role to play. I studied both online and offline primary sources, talked to people from the all across the political spectrum, different vocations and thought a lot about what I wanted to write and how – to be able to better understand, analyze, and portray the subject matter. Red Jihad was thus born.
Aseem: Do you feel the crux of your story could one day become reality?
Sami: Unfortunately, some of it already has. Red Jihad was a military thriller written in 2010 (but set in 2014); it fictionalized a Maoist-Mujahideen nexus in South Asia that sought to weaken secular, democratic ideals. Quite recently, a Maoist hideout was busted in the Red Corridor and a cache of arms supplied from across the border was recovered. Moreover, there are increasing instances of terrorist groups colluding together against common foes despite having any ideological similarities. That said, I just hope it doesn’t all come true! I was writing fiction, something which was fun to read, and made us think just a little bit (to result in socially conscious fiction), but nothing more. I was not writing the future, nor do I ever intend to.
Aseem: Considering you wrote this novel in 2010, how much do you feel the world has changed since?
Sami: I’ve said this somewhere before, and I will say this again. The more things change, the more they remain the same. The world may have changed, but have we learnt from the past?
Aseem: What’s your take on the Indian literary industry today?
Sami: It’s growing by leaps and bounds and I’m really happy that despite busy schedules, the written word isn’t being sidelined. Yes, the mediums might change, the dusty tomes might give way to reading on shiny cell-phones or sparkling tablets, but at least the act of ‘reading’ is doggedly continuing, even increasing; so is writing.
Aseem: Writing or Reading?
Sami: All writing is reading (from one’s mind), and all reading is re-writing (one’s own interpretation of the written word). So, both – with equal fervour.
Aseem: What kind of books do you read?
Sami: Anything that I might get my hands on. Though technically, I currently swear by ‘popular’ fiction – books in which the plot and the action is prioritized more than wordplay.
Aseem: How do you spend your free time?
Sami: I just act awesome 😛
Aseem: Any new books we can look forward to?
Sami: It’s my pleasure to announce via this forum that the sequel to Red Jihad is now complete. This novel is science-fiction and has invading extra-terrestrials, the RAW and the ISI, a deadly genetic mutation afflicting India and an even crazier Yasser Basheer!
You could reach Sami at –
Twitter handle – @SamiAhmadKhan
Facebook page for Sami A. Khan: https://www.facebook.com/KhanSamiAhmad
Facebook page for Red Jihad: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Red-Jihad-Battle-for-South-Asia/138190286279557
Thanks for taking out your time Sami. We wish you all the best in all your future endeavours.