The contrast could not be starker: a top police officer from Assam mingling with writers and publishers from across the world in the London Book Fair. But award-winning writer Kuladhar Saikia is equally at ease tackling militants and discussing literary genres.
Saikia, 58, holds the post of special director general of police (law and order), specifically tasked with dealing with the world of crime and terrorism. An IPS officer of the 1985 batch, he is one of five Sahitya Akademi writers representing India at the book fair.
Along with the other four – Arundhati Subramaniam, Yeshe Dorji Thongchi, S L Bhyrappa and B Jayamohan – Saikia spoke at a symposium about his “stream of consciousness” style of writing, which marks his 20 books in Assamese on the first day of the three-day event.
“Writing makes you more sensitive to society, to people’s aspirations. We have been dealing with terrorism and militancy for decades; much of it is reflected in my writing. Dealing with people in their natural setting complements my writing and policing work,” Saikia told HT.
Winner of the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2015 for his book, ‘Akashar Chhabi Aru Anyanya Galpa’, Saikia is keen that the smaller language literatures in Assam and the north-east are encouraged. Unless bigger communities and the state support them, they will die, he fears.
“I spoke about writing in Assam and the north-eastern states. If we lose the less-spoken languages, we lose indigenous knowledge, lose cultures,” he said.
“There is a demand for literature in these languages with the development of a middle class.”
As the superintendent of police in militant hotbeds such as Nalbari, Kokrajhar and other districts, Saikia has been closely involved in anti-terror operations over the years, including Operation Bajranj and Operation Rhino against the United Liberation Front of Asom.
On Thursday, Saikia, a former Fulbright scholar whose drive to curb witch-hunting in Assam was recognised in a case study in the Harvard Business review, narrated his short story, If A River, in the session titled My World, My Writing in the book fair.
“People often ask me how I get the time to write. My simple answer is one can always find the time for one’s passion; when others go out and party, I sit down to write,” Saikia, who is cutting short his stay in London by a day to deal with a situation in Assam, said.
The five Sahitya Akademi writers are part of the London Book Fair’s Spotlight on India series of events this year. The London Book Fair collaborated with the Indian government’s export trade body, Capexil, to stage a presence over four pavilions for nearly 40 exhibitors.
Indian writers at the fair included Amit Chaudhuri and Shrabani Basu. The fair attracts a large number of writers and publishers from across the globe.