Success StoriesFrom Army Bases to Bookshelves: The Journey of Sahana Ahmed

From Army Bases to Bookshelves: The Journey of Sahana Ahmed

Sahana Ahmed is a poet and novelist based in Gurugram. She is the author of ‘Combat Skirts’ (Juggernaut, 2018) and the editor of ‘Amity: peace poems’ (Hawakal, 2022). She is the founder of Bare Bones, a publishing venture producing books for children and young adults. For her work in the social sector, she received the Woman of the Decade award at the Women Economic Forum 2022. She has been widely published in prestigious international magazines and journals.

She was born in the picturesque town of Katwa, West Bengal, but was raised across India due to her father’s career as an army officer. In a conversation with PTCC describing about her early life and education, she said “I have written about my childhood experiences extensively, especially the syncretic nature of an army upbringing. I studied in a dozen schools, including eight Kendriya Vidyalayas.”

Talking about higher education, she said, “I studied Hotel Management at IHM Kolkata and completed my Industrial Exposure Training from Taj Bengal. Those three years contributed majorly to shaping my personality as I learned to be hyper aware of my surroundings; that was a professional requirement. Also, the hotel industry has much in common with the military. There is a strict hierarchy, one needs to have advanced levels of soft skills, and discipline and team spirit are non-negotiable.”

Describing about pivotal moments or experiences during her academic years that contributed to her development as a writer, she said, “Very early in my first year at IHM, I won an inter-college writing competition. As I was competing with students from the best English departments in India, that told me I had real skills. Also, it was a very public win as my certificate gave my friends a free pass to the exclusive after-party. That made me quite popular.”

In a writer’s life, the first significant moment is always cherished.  Recalling that moment she said, “I was commissioned to write my first novel because the publisher, Juggernaut, loved the tone and milieu of a short story I had written. They offered me a contract when I didn’t have an outline or even a title for the book. This was when they were trying to disrupt the publishing business by introducing an app in association with Airtel. It was a revolutionary idea, especially as a new writer like me could rub virtual shoulders with Arundhati Roy and William Dalrymple. Sadly, the digital imprint could not sustain because of frequent technical glitches and other practical issues like the lack of trade reviews. ‘Combat Skirts’, however, received immense love from readers and that gave me the courage to request Juggernaut to release the print rights so I could publish the paperback myself.”

About any particular writing routines or rituals, she said, “I do not follow writing rituals unless I have a deadline. I do not treat writing as a chore. I also do not believe that a writer must be published constantly to stay relevant. We are forever evolving as artists and our goalposts keep shifting, but what does not change is the ethos of doing your best every single time.”

We asked her, ‘How did you develop your distinctive writing style and were there any authors or literary movements that influenced your style?” She said, “I was influenced by the works of PG Wodehouse, Satyajit Ray, Uderzo & Goscinny, and Ajit Ninan. The wit and humor were what attracted me, but more than that, I learned that depth and refinement could co-exist. I wasn’t aware of Hemingway or his theory of omission. I finally learned the Iceberg Theory as a management student. Much later, when I started writing snippets to polish my craft, I learned about flash fiction. And that is the style I use even in my longer pieces. To give you an example, I wrote 80 scenes in my novel instead of 50. That made it feel lighter to the reader. These are little technical details that create experiences.”

Taking us through her professional journey, she narrates, “I had a smooth entry into the world of writing, starting with prestigious publications like the journal of the International Flash Fiction Association. I received praise from well-known writers like Amit Chaudhuri. I was made to feel I belonged. However, getting published was a humbling experience. It turned me from an artist to a marketeer. It is not easy to survive in an industry where there are more suppliers than consumers. A writer can easily get lost trying to create a brand for themselves. One can lose the purity of intent that made them want to write in the first place.”

Her new dream project, venturing into publishing, she very excitedly explained its motivational source, “I felt very strongly about the lack of accountability in the publishing ecosystem. Rather than cribbing about it, I decided to jump in. I had the money to invest, I am not afraid of hard work, and I am a fast learner.”

She further explained, “Bare Bones, my company, will make sure to support writers adequately before and after publication. That is what I have learned as a writer. We need to bring reforms in the way books are distributed and sold. We also need to change the perception that writing is not a serious career or that India writers are not as good as their Western counterparts.”

For authors who want to know the new publishing trend, “In India, more and more publishers are looking for material that can be adapted for the screen. Consequently, mystery, thrillers, and crime novels are getting more space on the bookshelves. Of course, any book that is well-written and well-promoted will sell, regardless of genre.”

Answering diplomatically about how her publishing house is different from others, she said, “It is too early to say what is different right now. I am in the process of setting up the systems and the guidelines. What I know for sure is that we are going to start with an imprint that will focus on children’s literature.”

When asked about, how is this publishing house going to serve the people, she replied philosophically, “Honestly, bringing new books into the world is service enough. We do, however, have other plans like offering mentorship programmes and discovering new talent. As we evolve, we aim to scale up our efforts too.”

Taking about her view on the evolution of her writing style and themes over the years and how her perspective on literature and storytelling changed, she said, “My writing has always been sparse, but now I evaluate more keenly if a piece really needs to go out into the world. I do not wish to add to the noise of “content”. I would rather have five good pieces in a year than twenty decent ones. I am an introvert. I am not saying I am shy; I just need to preserve my energies to stay functional.”

In reflection to her life and career as an author, her advice to aspiring writers, “Have patience, and do not give in to the fear of missing out. Have an altruistic mindset. There are enough opportunities out there for everyone. Take your work very seriously; yourself, not so much.”

Finally the roadmap to convert your passion to profession is to “Believe in yourself. That sounds like a cliché, but clichés endure for a reason. Clarity of purpose, organizational skills, and perseverance are the other factors you need.”

In conclusion, these insights provide a glimpse into the dynamics of the publishing industry, the motivations behind launching a publishing house, and the vision for its future. As the industry continues to evolve, adapting to trends and staying true to one’s passion and purpose remain essential aspects of a successful journey in publishing.

For more details, please visit her website at

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