Sami Ahmad Khan: ‘The present has been colonized by the future’

Chatting with Sami Ahmad Khan is at all times enjoyable. When he mentioned he was re-reading Douglas Adams’ seminal Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy as he was together with the more and more inaccurate trilogy of 5 in an elective course, one’s curiosity was naturally piqued. Sami teaches at the University School of Humanities and Social Sciences, GGS Indraprastha University. “We run MA, MPhil and PhD programmes in Literary and Culture Studies,” says the 34-year-old creator of Red Jihaad and Aliens in Delhi.

“The senior faculty members are quite receptive to new ideas, and constantly seek strategies for the school to stay updated with a rapidly-mutating world. Consequently, we are encouraged to undergo frequent syllabus revisions, especially for our MA (English) course.”

Science fiction electives

The newest revision Sami says was in 2019, and gave the school the alternative to interact with their core areas of analysis in a classroom setting. “These teacher-specific programs (provided in MA second 12 months) vary from exploring a number of dimensions of artwork, philosophy, gender, drama and tradition, temporal/occasion excavations (akin to Partition research) and trans-media (cinema) to space and style research (akin to Science Fiction). Under this paradigm, I’m happy to supply two electives on SF in the upcoming semesters: the first course is on international SF and introduces learners to stalwarts akin to Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Phillip Ok. Dick and up to date movies akin to Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar to review the origins and theories of SF in the Global North. The second course is on Indian SF, and makes use of, as beginning factors, choose works by Satyajit Ray (Bangla) and Jayant Narlikar (Marathi) amongst others, and Shankar’s Enthiran, to discover how our personal SF traditions function throughout totally different narrative varieties (quick tales, novels, movies, web-series and so on). These programs concurrently perform as introductory primers for these eager about figuring out extra about SF as a style/mode, and likewise handle the textual/contextual depths and theoretical complexities an MA pupil should navigate.

Don’t panic

The creator says he included The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in the course on international SF “the same ways dolphins don’t. What better novel to study about the end of world during the end of the world? It questions the philosophical underpinnings of our world and exhibits how SF toys with semantics/syntax of the narratives around it. Like a timeless classic, it doesn’t fail to respond to our contemporary material realities. Above all, it “has the words DON’T PANIC inscribed in large friendly letters on its cover.” We may use this useful recommendation in the maddening occasions of COVID-42”— Could it probably be the reply to the questions of life, the universe and all the pieces?

Sami says the lockdown has been treating him higher than anticipated. “I’m privileged enough to have a full belly, a roof over my head, a broadband connection, a Netflix subscription, and a gargantuan reading list. Usually, too, I’m happy being left to my own devices. I just need a book/film/web-series (i.e. a text) and the time/space to construct (and deconstruct) random ideas in my head, which this lockdown has given me. If only the circumstances weren’t so grim. This is when we begin to “question the nature of our reality” (as per Westworld), and begin on the lookout for our towel.”

Descriptive not predictive

These are troubling occasions and Sami hits the nail on the head when he says it’s simpler to examine dystopia than dwell it. “Through its monsters, future wars, zombie apocalypses, rogue AI, invading aliens, environmental fiascos, and alternate histories etc., SF, whether set in the near future or on a nearby planet or even in an alternate universe, is almost always about our today. Even Ursula Le Guin finds SF ‘descriptive’ and not ‘predictive’.”

The Delhi-based creator says, “SF foregrounds and amplifies the feedback we receive from these dystopian narratives to our present(s), which then radically changes the way we approach our own lives and societies. SF’s dystopias and their hapless characters translate into an almost quasi-utopian connotation for us (the readers). A shared nightmare in/of the future suddenly awakens us to the lacunae of our times.”

Opposite sentiment

An actual dystopia, in response to Sami, portrays the precise reverse sentiment. “It is built on the premise that the SF dystopia (and its feedback) has failed to warn us, and in doing so, birthed an actual one in our lived reality. All that we are doing to this planet today – and what it is doing to us in return – makes it clear that the present has been colonized by the future. The age of men is over; the age of superbugs has begun.”

When we final spoke, Sami had spoken of a sequel to his 2017 SF thriller Aliens in Delhi, the place reptilian creatures take over the capital. “I’m a fanboy who has been fortunate sufficient to not solely get the alternative to show SF but additionally analysis and write it. I simply completed a brief story referred to as Biryani Bagh, which brings aliens (and this time I could use this phrase otherwise) to a Bagh that has haunted modern fashionable creativeness. I’ve been instructed it might seem in the second Gollancz Book of South Asian Science Fiction (Sami’s final story, 15004, appeared in the first quantity). My subsequent full-length venture is a tutorial monograph, a important catalogue of Indian Anglophonic SF for a college press. After that, maybe, I’d begin writing the sequel of Aliens in Delhi – however provided that the world hasn’t produced it already, not as fiction, however as a lived actuality.

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