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By Nitish S. Rele

Ten years ago, a sub-editor at his first newspaper job was handed a photograph of a woman accused of being a porn actress, someone who had been shot by an obscure insurgent group in the distant border state of Manipur. The excited youth ran to the news editor with the picture, insisting he run it. The paper never carried the picture. But the memory of the photograph stayed with Siddhartha Deb.

The result is the 35-year-old�s latest novel, �An Outline of the Republic,� which tells the story of a disillusioned journalist at a Calcutta daily. Amrit, a Sikh, is given an assignment to write about a porn actress against whom a gruesome act of violence has been committed. Amrit�s search for the woman takes him halfway across India, to a region of seven hill states bordered by China and Burma, where drugs, guns and timber sustain the crumbling economy and where militancy and insurgency movements continue to gain momentum.

Siddhartha Deb
�As a journalist, I realized that nobody was interested in the northeast,� says Deb, who was a native of northeast India for 18 years. �I felt that if I can�t portray life in the northeast while working as a journalist, then I can be a novelist and write about it. There is a lot of violence in that part of the world but there is beauty too.�

Deb moved to New York City in 1998 on a fellowship to Columbia University. At present, he divides his time between New York City and India while contributing to �Granta,� �Nation,� �Boston Globe� and �Times Literary Supplement. �One of the highlights of my time in NYC was teaching union construction workers for four months how to write,� he says.

All is not lost as far as northeast India is concerned, he believes. �Most people don�t realize that the Naga separatist problem is much older than even the conflict about Kashmir,� he says. �Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura are culturally different than the rest of India and people there don�t feel like they are a part of the country. It is here that not just the government but the media has to actively engage itself with the northeast.�

Deb reveals that his next project won�t be focused on northeast India. �I will probably be working on a novel set in India since I was completely formed in India though I happen to live in NYC right now,� he says. �I am also working on a non-fiction book.�

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