ANIRUDDHA BAHAL braced himself for criticism like no other novelist when he released his debut. Before Bunker 13 had even hit the shelves it was sullied by his heaviest critic - the Indian government, which put him behind bars after he exposed corruption through his other job, investigative journalism. 'The government claimed that my advance was an illicit gain earned abroad, which I was now channeling through various publishing houses into India,' Bahal 36, said from his home in Delhi. As a reporter for India's controversial news website Tehelka, Bahal posed as a representative for a defence company. Using hidden cameras, he helped film politicians and army officers accepting kickbacks. The scandal ranked among the biggest in India's recent history, alongside one over corruption in cricket - which Bahal also had a hand in exposing. The defence row forced the resignation of Defence Minister George Fernandes, though he returned to the government a few months later. By that time Bahal had been in and out of jail after being accused of abusing and assaulting a Central Bureau of Investigation officer. Bahal was released this time last year after being backed by 10 witnesses and the Indian public. But the government was able to shut down Tehelka's investor, Indian brokerage firm First Global. Bahal has since founded Cobrapost, an online news portal. 'My vision is to do much of what Tehelka started off doing originally - until the government started harassing us,' he says. 'I plan to pursue public interest stories that mainstream media does not have the time or resources or inclination to pursue.' Bahal says he started Bunker 13 in 1996. But he often found writing tougher than bringing a government to its knees. 'It's a very hard job,' he says of fiction. 'You need peace and quiet for writing fiction, something journalism can never give you. My family has been very supportive of my work, and had it not been for my uninterfering wife I would have found the going very tough.' The father of two also credits his agent, Gillon Aitken: 'He represents Sir V.S. Naipaul and is an old India hand. He liked the initial chapters of Bunker 13 and agreed to represent me way back in 1999 - except that I finished the novel in 2002.' Translation rights have been sold in Spain and Italy, with more expected soon. The book is a thriller laced with humour and satire. The central character, the mercenary Minty Mehta, Bahal's journalistic alter-ego, roars between a massacre in Kashmir and high-level corruption. MM's life outside work consists of vividly described sex, drugs and rocking the norm that a hero needs to be likeable. His professional pursuit of the bad guy, Major Rodriguez, often melds with his chemical recreation, as when the reader is told how to shoot up while skydiving. The huge amount of drugs described, consumed and pursued during the 345 pages of Bunker 13 has attracted criticism. Bahal denies he was looking for Hunter S. Thompson-like exaggeration. 'Drugs are as huge in India as they are everywhere else. Many people don't know that India is the biggest producer of pharmaceutical opium.' Like many journalists-turned-novelists, Bahal brought his reporting skills into the writing. 'You research by talking to service people. You use the internet and then you go to libraries and browse books. 'Of course, I also covered the Kargil war in 1999 - a border spat between Indian and Pakistani troops. A lot of that went into Bunker 13. What journalism does is expose you to a lot of material, if you are reporting on current affairs,' he says. 'If you are a writer, you essentially observe human nature at close quarters, and that helps in constructing plots. A whole gamut of material sprang up [while reporting], to which I'd have access in any future work. Research [alone] is often not good enough.' The book leaves the reader wondering just how much Bahal has witnessed, and how much of MM is fiction, particularly when he is in the thick of a Kashmiri combat zone - 'The major follows unwritten army procedure for civil disobedience in disturbed territories adjacent to the national border. Step one: Separate the population by sex. It's easier for rape.' But Bahal says he wanted the book to be about more than tensions in Kashmir. 'My main aim was to capture the energy in middle-class India, the contemporary India,' he says. 'I think I have achieved that. There was too much colonial baggage in English fiction out of India.' He has a manuscript for a second book ready and is working on a third. 'But journalism is not something I will give up,' he says. 'My life will keep alternating between fiction and journalism.'