Today I’m handing the controls of CTG HQ over to Ankush Saikia who’s here to talk about his detective Arjun Arora series, including Dead Meat (2015) and Remember Death (2016), both published by Penguin Random House India.
Welcome Ankush Saikia! So how did the Delhi detective series comes about, and what is the social relevance of the books?
I was born in Assam in 1975, and grew up there and (along with a few years in the US, where my father was teaching) in Shillong, both in North East India. When I was 21 I left for Delhi, where I stayed for a long time (more than a decade), working first in journalism and then in publishing. Delhi was a city I grew to love and detest in equal measure, a tough, almost-violent place that taught one how to survive. I returned to North East India in 2011, and, after writing a noir thriller set in Shillong (The Girl From Nongrim Hills, Penguin India 2013), I began trying to write something which had been on my mind for a while: a dark novel set in Delhi that looked at the multiple layers of existence in that city.
The detective came about as a character who, by virtue of his profession, would be able to easily access different levels of society in the capital. Delhi is a city of outsiders, but to make Arjun Arora even more of an outsider, I made him the only child from a mixed marriage (a Punjabi father, a Nepali mother) who grew up in North East India, but was forced to move with his family in his teens to Delhi after his construction-supervisor father was shot in the knee by insurgents in remote Manipur. His memories of his time in North East India remain a source of nostalgia for Arjun Arora; he is someone with one foot permanently in the past. Then there is his time as a major in the Indian army, which he was asked to leave due to insubordination. A stint as a private security contractor in Iraq sees him narrowly escaping a beheading after being kidnapped. Back in Delhi he tries his hand and fails at various businesses, and starts drinking too much. His wife and teenage daughter leave him. Then he finds something which he is good at, being a detective, even as handling cases involving greed and deceit leads him further into the darkest corners of his soul.
Both the books so far have elements of true crime in them: the infamous Delhi “tandoor” murder and cricket match-fixing in the first book, a gruesome murder case of a woman in Bangalore (she was drugged and buried alive in a box) and the strange lives of Bollywood actresses from the 1960s in the second. The third book should see Arjun Arora travel to Nagaland and Manipur in North East India in connection with a case, where he gets mixed up in smuggling and insurgent activity.
As far as the social relevance of the books are concerned, I would like to think they shine a light on the varied lives and classes in India, from the high to low, from the innocent to corrupt, and reinterpret the traditional detective character in an Indian setting. Also, the country is undergoing social change on a vast scale, which means there are more and more people—especially in the cities—who are adrift, cut loose from traditional beliefs and a sense of rootedness. Arjun Arora can be taken as a representative of this change. India is a vast country with myriad problems—and so that can only mean more interesting cases for detective Arjun Arora in the future.
A big thank you to Ankush for joining us at CTG HQ today.
To find out more about Ankush Saikia over on his website: www.ankushsaikia.com
Follow him on Instagram & Twitter: @ankushsaikia
Publisher’s links …
Remember Death http://penguin.co.in/book/fiction/remember-death/
Dead Meat http://penguin.co.in/book/fiction/dead-meat/
The Girl from Nongrim Hills http://penguin.co.in/book/fiction/girl-nongrim-hills/
And check out some reviews here …
The Girl from Nongrim Hills