Dadgum Road

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India’s north east has never really been part of the country. Journalist B Verghese spoke of how people in the north east had been discriminated against for centuries simply because they were a mostly slant eyed people who spoke their own languages and worshipped animistic gods. When the Hindus and later the Muslims over ran those parts, they formed their own communities, raised their temples and mosques and ignored the local population as far as they could. With time and for various reasons, insurgency raised its head in the north east. Naga tribes spilled over into Manipur, Bangladeshis crossed non existent borders and set up shop and whole area became a pot that was constantly boiling over.

Sidhartha Sarma, a journalist by profession, born in Assam, set out in the spring of 2008 to walk through the troubled north east and take a look at life there. He started most naturally with his home state and then went on to Meghalaya, Arunachal, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura, finally crossing the border into Moreh in Myanmar. What he has is an incredible fund of tall traveller’s – though not tourists’ – tales. He’ll tell you about being chased by stinky soup in Manipur, or about the ‘waves of badass anger on Lachit’s face’ – Lachit being the heroic nephew of an ancient Ahom ruler. He’ll also tell you that one of the favourite sports in Guwahati is falling into storm drains, or that the Dimapur city sport is ‘the Great Crappy Restaurant Food Game’.

If you’re expecting ecstatic descriptions of natural beauty, most often they’re not there except for snippets like the fact that Arunachal smells of orchids. He counts tribes along the way and occasionally potholes – the Nagas get kudos for having studied tourism and set up model villages and tragopan sanctuaries. Mizoram, except for its lost Jewish tribe is rather glossed over. Gradually, however, as he progresses on his lonely road, the book becomes more and more political. There are gun toting students in Manipur. You will have a problem taking cell phones and cameras into Myanmar but can easily walk out with a katana and a couple of daos. Aung San Su Kyi, he says, would be better off dealing with the Buddhist monks in her country and certain of her own team members who are determined to make life difficult for the tribes in the north. Arundhati Roy, who was born in Meghalaya, is brought in with a tongue cheek reference to turnip throwers.

Occasionally you wonder why Sarma peppers his pages with words like ‘dadgum’. ‘badass’ and ‘prolly’ for ‘probably’ while making fun of what he calls ‘Potato Chip Tourists’ who spend their life sms-ing and can’t spell for nuts. But all this is because he is being presented as a guy who thinks a helluva lot of himself, ‘nearly stoned’, and to back this up occasionally his editor chips in with comments on Sarma and his tall tales in bold font. ‘Yeah, right, I can see the readers cracking up’ is one typical editorial comment.

The style is quirky and fast paced and it’s an entertaining way to go junketing over roads seldom travelled studying history, architecture and politics. The only thing is, sometimes you wish there were a ‘dadgum’ or two less.

East of the Sun, A nearly stoned walk down the road in a different land by Siddhartha Sarma
Published by Tranquebar India

Buy book online
Buy book online
East of the Sun
by Siddhartha Sarma

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Written by Anjana Basu
Anjana Basu

Anjana Basu works as an advertising consultant in Calcutta. In 2003, Harper Collins India brought out her novel Curses In Ivory. In 2004, she was awarded a Hawthornden Fellowship in Scotland where she worked on her second novel, Black Tongue, published by Roli in 2007. In February 2010. her children's novel Chinku and the Wolfboy was brought out by Roli. She writes features for travel magazines and reviews for Indian newspapers.

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