Cracking a new code

CRITICAL VIEW Eshwar Sundaresan: `I believe the guest more easily notices the cracks in the ceiling and the fragrance of incense-sticks than the host...' PHOTO: MURALI KUMAR K.

CRITICAL VIEW Eshwar Sundaresan: `I believe the guest more easily notices the cracks in the ceiling and the fragrance of incense-sticks than the host...' PHOTO: MURALI KUMAR K.  

Former techie Eshwar Sundaresan's debut work presents the city's colourful expat community

"Oh, India is such a paradox. I tell you, I long to go home all the time, but the moment I reach there, I want to come back," says Sue who runs a Trinidadian restaurant in Bangalore. Married to a Malayali, she has a brother with yellow skin, Chinese eyes and an otherwise African face and a sister who looks a true-blue Hispanic. "Our family has Spanish, Indian, African and Chinese blood. But we siblings feel we're so much like each other. And we grew up not knowing racism."How would the conversation run when someone of Sue's background announce her pregnancy? Would the banal "Will that be a boy or girl?" debate take on a more colourful twist? Something on the lines of: "I bet it will be an African-Spanish girl." "Oh, out with you! It's surely going to be an Indian-Chinese boy!"

Great variety

Sue is one of the many colourful characters in debut author Eshwar Sundaresan's Bangalored - The Expat Story (EastWest, Rs. 350). The book, which presents the expatriate community of Bangalore in all its diverse hues, packs in a Korean taekwando master who talks passionately of the need for another Gandhiji, a mid-rung American IT professional who is baffled by "slave driving" in the Indian IT industry, a second-generation NRI who has come back to find her grove here, a young Italian girl working with an NGO, a Canadian Jesuit priest working among disposed people, a young and idealist lawyer fighting on patent issues... There is, of course, the star expat of Bangalore, Bob Hoekstra, who wants to climb the Himalayas, travel in New Zealand and Canada, study molecular diagnostics and be a good grandfather before he turns 60. Turn the page, and you find yourself in the company of poor Tibetan settlers on Meenakshi Koil Street and a Chinese shoemaker on Old Poor House Road who happens to be the oldest expat of the city.Equally interesting is Eshwar's own career switch from writing computer code to writing books. A techie who had made it fairly high up (project manager) in one of the big IT firms of Bangalore, he decided to chuck it all to pursue the elusive muse."I always wanted to write. But went through the motions of doing an engineering degree because that's what my family wanted at that point of time," he explains. Not that the profession bored him to death (well, at least not always), but the lure of the word was irresistible. And there soon came a point when he had to decide one way or the other. "I knew that I had to take the plunge sooner or later if I intended to be at peace with myself. The fear of regret, of not having tried, was far greater than the fear of an uncertain future." Eshwar asked himself if he would be happy in his boss's shoes and the answer was a loud no. It sure helped matters, he admits, that he has a "resourceful career woman" for wife and the rest of his family knew that once he made up his mind, there was no unmaking it.The next challenge was one of zeroing in on a theme. Having been a "reluctant immigrant" in the U.S. and having discovered fascinating global diversity on a subway ride in New York, his first instinct was to look for it in his own country. He wanted to explore what happens when more people flow into a land that is already bursting at the seams and is "diverse enough to numb sociologists".What keeps you cruising through Bangalored is the fact that it tells interesting stories without any pretence of a sociological analysis. They read like short journalistic profiles guided by a genuine curiosity for the sheer variety of life and a willingness to do what journalists call "serious legwork". It took him over 14 months to research on the history of expatriates in Bangalore (which he presents in some detail in a chapter), track down people, interview them and put his material together. His stint as a freelancer with a newspaper in Mangalore (for which he was never paid!) was good training ground, concedes Eshwar.The narratives in Bangalored are, like most journalistic features, essentially impressionistic. But it is precisely for this reason that they move you and tell simple truths that often escape highbrow analysis. The Chinese shoemaker's commonsensical perception of geopolitical equations, for instance, sounds like a moment of epiphany. Eshwar simply lets people speak and rarely intervenes to offer comments. And the few perfunctory comments he does offer at the end are what the book surely could have done without.Next on Eshwar's agenda is a novel. On the IT industry, of course. He has done four revisions of the novel, and now that he is adequately distanced from the industry, wants to make yet another go at it before he presents it to a publisher. Much has been written about the IT industry. But this one will be different, he says, because it is a critical insider perspective of a lower-level engineer. Eshwar is keen to show an industry that is not unidimensional, that it as real as "brick and mortar segments". And just in case you are getting ready to be Atlas to the IT world, Eshwar allays your fears: "My novel will have a racy plot woven around two very different love stories. And, well, it will be a thriller to the extent such a book can be one!" Bangalored: The Expat Story will be released on March 17 at Landmark, Forum Mall, at 7 p.m.BAGESHREE S.

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