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Sanjay Bahadur

Sanjay Bahadur

Sanjay Bahadur

We would love to know your literary journey.

I started writing for the college and Academy magazines; it was a time when civil servants such as Upamanyu Chatterjee were gaining literary ground. Then, a friend sent me a link to an online competition hosted by Oxford Bookstore. I was then in the Ministry of Coal, and there was an incident; I wrote some 2,500 words of what had happened. It was among the top 20 of the 800-odd entries. That turned out to be the first words of my debut novel, The Sound of Water. The book was published in India, the US and Italy, and long-listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize.

What story does your book Bite of the Black Dogs wish to bring forth?

It’s based on an operation by commandos Rashtriya Rifles. The commandos had received the Shaurya Chakra for encountering militants. Names and locations have been fictionalised in the book…. I would’ve opted for a non-fictional account, but I wanted to bring all the blood, grime, and the almost dispassionate engagement that the soldiers have with the work they do, and put all of that together in a manner that is palatable.

When and how did the idea of Santhal Rebellion of 1855 occur to you as the subject for Hul:Cry Rebel?

Frankly, I had never thought of writing a historical novel or a novel on Santhals. However, during one of my trips to Jharkhand, I came across a book called the ‘Struggle for Swaraj’ written by the local parish. It was a vivid account of the rebellion. Then I read PO Bodding’s Santal Folk Tales on Santhal Culture. These two formed the basis of my understanding of the history and culture of these people. This was 2008. I was so inspired by the information, I couldn’’t resist writing about HUL.

How important was research while writing Bite of the Black Dogs?

I am not an army man or a soldier, so research was necessary. Be it weapons, on-ground action, military jargon, the relevance of it all to that specific time, the size of the unit, their commands, all of it had to be authentic.Visiting actual locations of the operation wasn’t possible, so I had to meet the commandos or visit the places where they were trained, like Shillong, Belgaon, and more. I had to go through all the unclassified documents related to the actual operations, including the very citation that was read out at Rashtrapati Bhavan when the Shaurya Chakra was awarded. Readers these days are smart and intuitive that way, so if proper research isn’t there, they get to know, and the book collapses.

How essential is to stick to technical and military jargon while writing a Military thriller?

This was a fantastic story that needed to be told. For an author, what is important is integrity in the writing, even when you can’t reveal all since the information is classified. In a military thriller, it calls for ensuring that the sidearm of an officer in the Special Forces in 1997 is a Glock. For the lay person it may not matter, but it lends the book authenticity.

How important is the book in our Military History?

Brigadier Pasbola and I have been in touch over the years. The operation that is fictionalised here is the one for which he received the Shaurya Chakra in 1998. Then, I hadn’t thought of writing about it. But, over time, I realised these are stories lost in a news item. No one talks about the huge machinery involved, or the grammar of what it takes to be commandos — how it affects their minds, personal lives, relationships. I needed to humanise this. When we get to the war-mongering, we forget there is often a father, brother or a friend involved.

About the Interviewee:

Sanjay Bahadur’s debut novel, The Sound of Water, was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize and has been published in the US and in Italy. His second novel, HUL: Cry Rebel, was published in 2013. Sanjay is an officer of the Indian Revenue Service (IRS) and is presently the Commissioner of Income Tax in Mumbai.