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To call the literary scene of the NE region nascent would be quite an understatement. The steady but not so thriving reading cultures in the towns have always gorged on fare from foreign shores and city based authors, sprinkled now and then with works from the region. Shillong based author and journalist Ankush Saikia is slowly changing that. The outwardly reserved and soft spoken writer is bursting with ideas and plots and is gearing up with his third publication in three years, Red River Blue Hills. Besides keeping the fans of crime fiction enthralled with his previous novels The Girl from Nongrim Hills and Dead Meat, Ankush is also a journalist, and has traveled to various corners of the region while researching for his work. Here he is, discussing his books, his travails and the art of story telling in general.
Ankush describes Red River Blue Hills as a crime novel conceptualized and written before his last 2 novels. "It has a bit of Delhi, a bit of Assam and a bit of Shillong. So I have basically written about places where I have lived and experienced." "I believe the readers would enjoy a story spread across the locations with a strong female protagonist at the helm." He continued on the reception he has received locally for his previous works, "It has been overall positive, especially The Girl from Nongrim Hills. There were a lot of people, first time readers who picked up the book and read it."
Asked about the challenges of writing about regional locales to a largely mainland audience, Ankush declared, "I don't think about it too much. Keep things clear and focus on plot driven stories." To other budding writers, the Edmundian alumni had some tips, "Be curious about what is around you, and traveling really helps. Sometimes the books you enjoy can have too much of an influence on your style so look for experiences outside."
Ankush describes his recent research related travels as good source for future material and shared a couple of experiences. "I visited Kimi in Arunachal Pradesh. There is a huge hydel project underway there and a tunnel being built through the mountains. And there is a significant settlement too, and all this is in the middle of nowhere, sort of like a frontier town. Then there was my backbreaking journey to the Myanmar border of Mizoram. There is a huge smuggling problem in these border towns, and the drugs are cheap across the border, so there are people who take risks and operate there." The traveling would reduce a bit though according to the writer, and as if on cue, his three-year-old son wandered into the room oblivious to the interview. Mr. Saikia is also a family man and journeys to distant Champai tend to take family time away.
When asked about his future works, Ankush revealed that he was developing his last novel into a noir/crime fiction series, "I'm working on the sequel for Dead Meat starring the main protagonist, private eye Arjun Arora, and maybe have an NE setting in the works at a latter stage."
Finally, Ankush shared some of the books he is currently reading, "Besides crime and other fiction, I read a lot of books on the NE written by administrators – accounts of the region. They may come across as very dry initially but there are lots of interesting observations of this region. Nari Rustomji's Enchanted Frontiers has recorded many events and stories of the old NEFA, present day Arunachal region."
Outside his warm sitting room, the Diwali crackers announced their arrival and junior walked in again. Ankush Saikia sipped the remainder of his tea and calmly put the cup back on the table. The interview was now on a distant plane, separated by time and thought. None of the factors seemed to faze him, and amidst the noise and the night maybe there was another dark plot that was itching to unravel, and it was time for the author to dive back into the rabbit hole of twists, conspiracies and pure thrill.
*Red River Blue Hills is now available on Westland.