Amandeep Sandhu’s two novels deal with issues like mental illness, communalism, and violence. He speaks about his engagement with writing, and the concerns he intends to explore.

By NANDINI KRISHNAN

Though I had read Amandeep Sandhu’s first book before I met him, he would become a friend before his second was out. Perhaps one of the reasons for that—aside from literary discussions that took place between ribald jokes and politically incorrect conversations—is the way in which he bares himself through his work.

His debut novel, Sepia Leaves, interweaves the political climate of India in the Seventies into the life of a child who unknowingly becomes a caregiver for his mother who suffers from schizophrenia. His second, Roll of Honour, examines the Khalistan movement through two perspectives: a writer revisiting his adolescence, and an adolescent reconciling his ambition to join the army with the events unfolding in Punjab during the Eighties.

Both books deal with issues that society isn’t sure how to react to: mental illness, communalism, megalomania, and violence. In this interview, Sandhu speaks about what takes him to those places, and what he leaves with.

I’m going to start off playing devil’s advocate. Both books you’ve written speak of very important, intensely personal stories, which were only part fiction. Does it worry you that you’ve told the most significant stories in your life already? Do you think, what next?

No, it doesn’t worry me. One prepares to empty oneself. I prepare to empty myself of stories, of things. There is no guarantee as to how long one will live, and if I were to die tomorrow, at least I’ll die knowing that I did put the stories of my life out. So that is my way of looking at it. In fact, I’m very happy that I could do these two, and I will do other stories in the future.

You’ve spoken to me about how you write to make sense of the world, to see what triggered the events that happened to you and around you. Have you considered looking outside yourself, at another life entirely, someone whom you can’t be?

Yeah, absolutely, and at this moment, I’m deciding on what to do next. I’m working on a book of non-fiction, but I’m also flirting with some fiction writing. My idea is to do things which are outside of me now, and take them into me and do them, or get into them and do them. See, I’m raising the level of my own writing. Sepia Leaves was about one family. Roll of Honour was about one community. But I’m trying to develop my voice into a larger voice, to talk about, maybe, country. I’m also hoping that there will be a book of non-fiction essays on Punjab, which I think is very, very important, but I’m not getting one thread to tie up the whole of Punjab in a book.

"The main reason for writing the book is that there are only three states which have come out of terrorism in this country: Punjab, Tripura, and Mizoram. And yet, around 30 to 40 per cent of the country is still under siege by Maoists, by whatever factional parties are fighting wars. If we want to draw them out of that war, we need to showcase what happens to places which were at war and where peace has returned[quoteclose]

Punjab as it is now?

Yes, Punjab as it is now, a snapshot in time of Punjab. It may work, it may not work. The main reason for writing the book is that there are only three states which have come out of terrorism in this country: Punjab, Tripura, and Mizoram. And yet, around 30 to 40 per cent of the country is still under siege by Maoists, by whatever factional parties are fighting wars. If we want to draw them out of that war, we need to showcase what happens to places which were at war and where peace has returned.

So, I wanted to see whether Punjab has really flourished, post the problem years, and I see that it has not; it has actually become much worse. My question with that book in my head is what is the model we are going to show to those parts of the country that are under siege still, as a successful model of development for when they come out of war.

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