In 1994, Sanjoy Hazarika’s first book on Northeast, Strangers of the Mist: Tales of War and Peace from India’s Northeast, was hailed as a path-breaking narrative of the region. It explored various aspects, including immigration issues before and after Independence. In his latest book, Strangers no More that comes two decades after his first one on the region, the author checks where the region stands now. “Situations will take time to develop. Twenty four years is a good time to assess how things have changed,” says Sanjoy. The book is deeply personal for Sanjoy. “That is how I write,” he says.
He writes in a manner that caters to a larger audience. He narrates the incidents with the ease of a storyteller, emphasising even on the tiny details that speak volumes about the scenario. For instance, in the introductory chapter titled, ‘Disputed Borders, Divided People’, he describes the Line of Actual Control as a space where ‘in places, barbed wire fences, border posts, signs and heavily armed and heavily-clad soldiers stand, patrol, wave, stare or glare at each other.’
It took Sanjoy eight years to complete Strangers no More. “I lost my wife as soon as I started writing the book. It took me a long time to come out of that. I had a writer’s block for one year,” recalls Sanjoy, who resumed writing in 2016. “That too because of encouragement from my daughter, old book agents and friends, who are named in the book.”
As he says in the author’s note, the book reflects what he regards as the core issues facing the eight Northeastern states of India. “A lot of my thoughts are there in the book. I don’t expect people to agree with it all,” says Sanjoy, who has put in his years of expertise in the book. An award-winning journalist, filmmaker and humanitarian, his field experiences have contributed to the writing process. “My conversations with people from different strata of society, hundreds of notes, thousands of pictures, information gathered online and from libraries, important interviews with people and my own thoughts have helped me in writing this book,” he says.
The book discusses subjects like border issues, situations in different Northeast states, Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), psychological distances, discriminations and differences prevalent there. “I put in a lot of time looking at the border issues between India and China, which is still not understood properly, and how the demarcation has left a legacy that’s still haunting us. I decided that would be one part of the book. Another part assesses where things stand in the case of migration. For that, I went back to Nellie where the massacre took place in 1983. I talked to survivors and that forms a vibrant part of the book,” explains Sanjoy.
He says thousands of young people have migrated from Assam to different parts of India seeking better life and these migrants have good and bad stories to share. The AFSPA and stories related to it are substantiated at the beginning of the book. About his writing process, he says, “Once I start writing, I lose track of time. I enjoyed most parts of this book, especially the one on Mizoram as I have travelled there extensively.” He has also written Bhopal: The Lessons of a Tragedy; Rites of Passage: Border Crossings, Imagined Homelands, India’s East and Bangladesh; and Writing on the Wall — a collection of essays. He is Director of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and founder and managing trustee of C-nes, which has pioneered the work of boat clinics on the Brahmaputra River benefiting half a million people. “I make films, write books and do healthcare services; among these, the last one, which I began 16 years ago, gives me the great satisfaction,” concludes the writer.