“East of the Sun” is a quirky account of Siddhartha Sarma's travels across North East India
It all began with five emails. Siddhartha Sarma promised his friends that he'd tell them all about his travels across North East India once he got home, and that he did, through a series of lively emails. Those emails somehow found their way to the folks at Tranquebar, and just like that, “East of the Sun” — a quirky account of Sarma's travels across East Assam, Nagaland, Manipur and Western Myanmar — was born.
“It happened by accident,” says Sarma, journalist and author of two previous books for young adults, about his foray into travel writing. “I'd been travelling to research my first novel (‘The Grasshopper's Run'), and emailed my friends after getting back, since I didn't have access to the Internet on the road. When the emails eventually reached Tranquebar, the editor asked me to expand them into a book.”
The email roots of the book are evident in its chatty tone and use of Internet- / SMS-speak such as ‘imho' (in my honest opinion) and ‘prolly' (probably). “I decided to keep the tone and the language of the original five emails,” says the Delhi-based author who was in town to launch the book recently. “There's no reason why our contemporary Internet usage shouldn't be put down for posterity in print.”
Its somewhat flippant tone notwithstanding, “East of the Sun” contains a considerable amount of factual information on the culture, history, tradition and mythologies of the region. What is fictional is the character of the narrator. “I pulled him out of a hat since he served the purpose of the book — a cocky guy with a lot of opinions about a lot of things,” says Sarma.
That strategy has ended up backfiring a bit on him slightly, as he notes ruefully: “A lot of the reviews coming out say that the writer seems too sure of himself. It bothers me a bit, but, I guess, it means that the character really works!”
The North East is special to Sarma, who grew up there and later worked in the region as a reporter. “There are a lot of fissures and divisions there, many more than just the lines on the map,” he says, explaining the need for a travel book of this sort. “People often don't know their neighbours, and there are many areas of darkness; there's much less mobility than you'd expect in such a small area.”
For his next book though, he's headed for a totally different space and time — the 11th Century, and Europe and the Middle East, to be precise. “It's based on The Crusades,” he says. “Research is tough, and I have to save up to take a trip abroad for it… it's going to take a while!”