An officer of the Indian Revenue Service since 1989, author Sanjay Bahadur was longlisted for the inaugural Man Asian Literary Prize in 2007, something that not many authors can boast of! Now, with his latest book, Bite of the Black Dogs, a military action thriller that draws from real-life Special Forces operations in Kashmir, he attempts to grip readers with the on-ground action.
“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,” says Bahadur.
“Military action-thrillers aren’t that popular in India locally. People enjoy the genre, but the books are mostly by foreign authors. That’s why I came up with this book,” he adds.
Asked how he managed to source details about the operation, he says, “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,” says Bahadur.
“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.
Bahadur is someone on a quest to write across genres. It’s not just an attempt to escape being typecast, but also something that comes naturally to him. Citing an example, he says, “Think of any good director, say Christopher Nolan; he has made Dunkirk, but also made movies on Batman, my approach is similar. One should be able to tell a story across genres. My books are all on topics that are completely unrelated — the first was a literary fiction, the next dealt more with history, and now, the latest is a military based thriller,” he says.
How has being longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize helped him in his career? “It gave me the break I needed (a mainstream publication). In those days, an author could directly make an unpublished submission to the committee, a rule that doesn’t apply anymore. My raw copy was one of the thousand entries that came in that year from Asia. Being longlisted gave me a big boost and confidence that even my raw writing is capable of getting a stamp of approval from such a distinguished panel,” says Bahadur.
Any tips for amateur writers or hopeful authors? “It helps to know the technicalities and nuances of the craft, but if you have a love for stories, storytelling just flows naturally. Here’s something that [Indian novelist] Vikram Seth once told me, ‘Get down and write the first page of whatever you want to write about, and then go ahead and finish it.’ His words always stayed with me, and I’d say the same to new writers,” says Bahadur.