See Noir Evil, Hear Noir Evil

The award-winning New York-based Akashic Noir Books left American neighbourhoods a while ago with anthologies set in Asia and Europe. The first of the series set in India, the Delhi Noir anthology, is coming here through HarperCollins in August. These all-new stories attempt to provide an alternate, gritty map of the capital. The following are excerpts from an interview with Hirsh Sawhney, editor of Delhi Noir.

How does Delhi Noir relate to the rest of the Akashic Noir series?
The stories in Delhi Noir, like the other books in the series, paint intimate portraits of the neighborhoods in which they are set. Yet they don't shy away from the disparity and corruption that define many urban spaces. As far as the differences go, Brooklyn Noir, Chicago Noir, Los Angeles Noir — these volumes contain many literary writers, but many of the stories were written by authors who specialise in crime fiction. Almost all of Delhi Noir's contributors, however, are literary writers.

Tell us about the authors.
I was searching for authors who were willing to dig their hands deep into the genre (not stories that were “kind of dark”), willing to work hard to make sure their prose was perfectly honed, their stories well-plotted. I was searching for stories that would enthrall readers and provide them with a uniquely penetrative take on Delhi.

The authors are as diverse as Delhi. There are Bengalis, Biharis, Punjabis, Keralites, UP-wallahs. They are Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, Christian. They are straight and gay. Most continue to reside in Delhi, while others live in Uttarakhand or New York. They all possesses the unflinching eye, edginess, and disaffection that are essential to the genre.

The book contains many beloved Indian authors, like Uday Prakash, Manjula Padmanabhan, Ruchir Joshi, Allan Sealy, Uday Prakash, and Tabish Khair. It also showcases the work of some of my favourite young Indian authors —Siddharth Chowdhury, Omair Ahmad, and Radhika Jha. It will introduce Indian readers to former Delhi-ite Mohan Sikka, who now lives in New York and just won an O’Henry Award, and New York-based Meera Nair, whose acclaimed book Video wasn't ever officially published in India.

A story set in RK Puram by Delhi resident Nalinaksha Bhattacharya — a novelist and civil servant — is a dark yet hilarious take on saasbahu serials. One was written by Hartosh Singh Bal, who opened my mind to such important parts of Delhi life with his story, ‘Just Another Death’. It also artfully depicts Delhi just as the Indian economy is beginning to open up and gives readers a glimpse of an often-ignored neighborhood across the Yamuna.

How has your relationship with noir been affected because of this book?
When I first decided I wanted to write professionally, I read Paul Auster's memoirs. It was he who instructed all wannabe writers to read the great detective novelists to learn how to tell a compelling story. He was right. I've been in love with noir for a few years now. As a writer, I wanted to do two things. First of all, I wanted to engage people, entertain people — ensnare them. At the same time, I also wanted to force them to ask themselves some difficult questions. With noir, you can very effectively do both.

How does Delhi lend itself to noir?
Delhi is a city undergoing dramatic economic, social and geographic changes, a city defined by a constant influx of migrants. It is a city whose newspapers are oozing with stories of all types of corruption and crime. These are perfect ingredients for noir!

Published here.


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