By Mohd. Salman

Sami Ahmad Khan, the author of the recently published Red Jihad: The Battle for South Asia, likes it when he is called a ‘hoopy frood’, Douglas Adams’ term for a generally fun person. A love for science fiction, spy thrillers and a tendency for dry wit is a good combination, especially when one has a book in mind.

And a very good book it is indeed. Sami works with a little bag of tricks all his own to spring one ‘twist’ after another, in a short, well-paced volume. Set in 2014, it shows India and Pakistan wading through shaky days of peace, things taking a turn for the better. Which is when Islamist extremists in Pakistan connive with Maoist rebels in India to push the neighbours to the brink of nuclear war.

That should really make you pick the book up, and read on to know the rest.

An alumnus of Rajdhani College, Hindu College and JNU, Sami, also a Fulbright scholar, speaks to us about the time he wrote his first novel, including the week in May 2010 when the first draft of the novel was composed as, in his own words, he wrote ‘like a man possessed.’

LBBD | Your first book is a political thriller. Specific reasons for your choice?

Sami | Red Jihad portrays ideological clashes and analyses varied interpretations of the same phenomena, thereby destabilizing the black-and-white perspective we’re usually fed. I aimed at infotainment. A plot that made us think about the world we inhabit and in the direction we were being propelled; all the while being a light-read that was fun, entertaining and informative. Also, since the novel is set in 2014, it gave me the freedom to exercise my speculative-fiction cells, and ask the question of ‘what if’. However, the underlying reason was that this heady cocktail of political machinations, military operations, and techno-thrills, was immensely fun to write!


LBBD | Share with us the days of your writing {and re-writing} of the story.

Sami | It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. I sat staring at the laptop screen, my face reflected in its whitish glow, until a story hit me like a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster, and I realized I had to get it out of my system or it would have, a la Alien, become a total chest-burster. What a loss that’d have been. So, the first draft of Red Jihad was written in seven days straight in May 2010 {when I typed for more than 14 hours every day}, and for the next 10 months, was followed by constant re-writing, updating, and revisions, which were not only literary, but also, factual, or rather, quasi-factual, which made it all the more interesting. Finally, I turned to a couple of close friends for the first unveiling, who gave me feedback that made me better the draft further, which I then submitted to the publishers. Red Jihad was thus born.


LBBD | How important is research for a book like this? How much of the information on the security setups described exist in the public domain?

Sami | Even though Red Jihad is set in 2014 and is a work of utter fiction, it required a semblance of reality to have the desired effect. Consequently, it needed research in not only ideologies and their manifestations within the Indian subcontinent, but also in international relations, military affairs/technologies, and in strategic studies. Research becomes paramount in such novels. Thank God for the internet. If one has the skeleton of a plot, internet has all the fillers. Thus, all the information pertaining to security systems in this novel is freely available on the internet. I had no other way of knowing, unless I was equipped with megalomaniacal-genius’-superpowers {which I assure you, I am not…yet}.


LBBD | You’ve given the book a very ‘alternative’ political setting. You wrote it in 2010, and a lot has changed since then. Would knowledge of events recently past have altered the ‘setting’ of the novel?

Sami | The more things change, the more they remain the same. Moreover, alternative is just something waiting in the shadows, with the potential to become the reality any moment, and is thus the perfect complement to it. In 2010, I had extrapolated from contemporary material realities on how things could be in a couple of years. Some of my extrapolations {or should I refer to them as speculations?} were verified by time, some were not. It does not matter to me. What matters is that I tried to capture the uncertainty, the outlook, of 2010, and looked to the future for answers. Going by that, even knowledge of recent events would not have altered the current storyline, and Red Jihad, being a mere figment of my imagination, would still have been the same, even if the conditions of its reception were not the same {though technically, that would imply that then it won’t have been the same, but that’s a different question for another day}.


LBBD | Do you put yourself in your characters’ shoes? If yes, does that alter you as a person at the end of the story?

Sami | Yes, there is little sense in writing if I can only write from my own perspective. In Red Jihad, I tried to speak from the perspective of, inter alia, the characters too. For example, when a Naxalite discusses Communism with a Marxist, or an Islamic fundamentalist discusses Islam with a ‘liberal’ Muslim, are instances where I stepped in the shoes of my characters to be able to better comprehend {and thus paint} them. However, as I was writing a thriller that I wanted to be fast-paced, I did not focus on characters much. I took pains to ensure the language, or the characters, never became more important than the plot. This constant hopping between characters, perspectives, outlooks, and social environments, is bound to cause a fractured identity. One cannotwear two hats at the same time, unless one has two faces. MPD/DID may be a serious condition, but sometimes I wonder if it is not a good thing that could happen to a writer!


LBBD | What influences around you would you attribute the writing of this novel to?

Sami | Stemming from a pro-peace desire for social criticism and reconstruction, apart from a wish to write something that was fun to read, Red Jihad has had multiple influences, and was triggered by multiple emotional states, the most important of them being a dream of tolerance, mutual respect and peaceful co-existence. Newspapers were the biggest sources of information, as they kept me abreast with the latest developments, the newest problems, and the most dangerous threats we faced. I was influenced by how we were conditioned to perceive some issues, and ignore others. How we could have combated the social maladies afflicting us was another concern. The increasing polarization of our society along linguistic, religious, and political lines also disturbed me, and I wanted to write a narrative where we united to face the common threat of violence, parochialism and intolerance.


LBBD | What next from the pen of Sami Ahmad Khan? Same genre, or do we see you diversifying? 

Sami | Count no man happy till he be dead. I’ll take things as they come. I don’t know what exactly it will be. However, what I do know, with a degree of certainty, is what it will not be. A campus romance. I can’t write one. Yet. Moreover, there are others better equipped to write it.


LBBD | Rajdhani, Hindu and JNU, take us through your time there and the people who helped shape you as an author.

Sami | From the badass gunda-gardi of Rajdhani to the funilarity of Hindu, DU has been an amazing experience. JNU, on the other hand, raised awesomeness to a whole new level. Friends, teachers, and family have always been a source of great support and encouragement, so was my muse. They gave me the inspiration and courage I needed to write my take on what was happening around us. After all, we’re all writers, scripting the dialogs we utter hundreds of times daily, and the plot we create for ourselves {and for others} in our lives. I just got a chance to pen it down and I am glad that I did! Our lives are the biggest, richest and the most complex texts. Making us the most awesome writers – all of us!


On Our Reading List |

Red Jihad- The Battle for South Asia

Author | Sami Ahmad Khan

Publisher | Rupa Publications India Pvt. Ltd.

Find it on Flipkart here


About The Author


The former events manager, and PR and Marketing executive decided to give up the good life, to take on something greater- running her own start-up. Give her a non-fiction book, some place in the outdoors, running shoes, Bombay Bicycle Club and Jay Z, and you've got a happy camper.

Start the conversation

Sunny says:

Hey Sami! Congrats on the Young Writer Award! You deserve it man! Red Jihad is simply unputdownable! Keep writing bro!

Preetam Singh says:

I really liked this book – and the interview. Great story, good narration and quite a plot. “Red Jihad” is truly recommended for a general reader with an even decent IQ. Though I admit, you will only be able to fully appreciate the story if you regularly read newspapers and are up to date with what’s happening in India concerning terrorism, economic activities and Indo-Pak relations. Try it- it’s much better than the relationship/heartbreak crap flooding the market these days.

Mona Ahlawat says:

Nice interview. It led me to pick up the book. Read it in one sitting. Marvelous. It’s so good to see Indian authors producing such Ludlum-esque works. Keep it up!