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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Adrift: The Hidden Gem of the Year


                                                                 By Sumeet Shetty

Adrift begins with a blonde woman reading a book on an idyllic beach in the Andamans. When the book is revealed to be based on a real-life incident and ‘situation-inappropriate’, what she’s reading seems especially portentous and one shudders to think what will happen next. A few pages later, the book in question is revealed to have the silhouette of a big fish on the cover, probably a shark. Peter Benchley’s Jaws? V Sudarshan keeps us guessing, but in the meantime terrifies us with his spare and unsentimental, almost Hitchcockian description of a crocodile attack.
Adrift is the true story of Commander Baath, his guests Bruno Beauregard and Camille Pascal, his staff Rama Rao Senior and Rama Rao Junior and Himanshu Mallik; and their week-long tryst with destiny, adrift in the Andaman Sea. It is perhaps India’s first creative non-fiction seafaring story, and is written by a senior journalist and editor eminently qualified to tell the tale. Sudarshan’s previous book -- Anatomy of an Abduction: How the Indian Hostages in Iraq Were Freed -- was an incisive and well-written account of the 2004 kidnapping in Iraq of seven truck drivers, three of whom were from India.
On a placid March morning, the protagonists of Adrift embark on a diving trip in a dinghy,from Port Blair to Sir Hugh Rose Island, just 20 nautical miles away. An unexpected encounter with whales, and the detour to capture the experience on film ends with them,literally and figuratively, at sea.
Sudarshan chooses to tell this tale, which he heard second-hand in a coffee shop, in the simple present tense, which immediately renders the readers active participants aboard the very dinghy that the principal characters survive on, and are trapped in. The action at sea is interspersed with biographical sketches of the principal characters and their families. He makes his protagonists memorable, and masterfully captures their personality and character : sometimes saying more by what is left unsaid, and inviting the reader to probe the shadows and fill in the blanks.
Bruno Beauregard reminds us about the limits of technology and the thin line between an adventure and a death-wish. Camille Pascal endures her crises with dignity and, at one point, even invokes Tintin, Captain Haddock and billions of blue blistering barnacles while being stranded at sea!
Rama Rao Senior imaginatively pushes the envelope on the nomenclature of sharks (badmash machchi), while Rama Rao Junior gets us addicted to sukka, and eerily reminds us of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner during his abduction of a bird.
However, it is Commander Baath who emerges as the unmistakable hero of this saga: a seafaring Steve Waugh, who handles his people and resources with imagination and composure. It is his leadership that
steers his dinghy and his compatriots out of their crisis.
V Sudarshan’s instincts as a senior journalist and editor serve him well for his fiction debut, allowing him to flesh out an absorbing story in a style reminiscent of literary minimalism.
A riveting tale of survival, perseverance and fortitude, Adrift is a fine addition to V Sudarshan’s body of work and is, in this reviewer’s opinion, the hidden gem of the year.
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Sumeet Shetty is a Development Manager with SAP Labs India and the President of Literati, India’s largest corporate book-club. This review is specifically done for the defence blog Tarmak007.

Summet Shetty

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