Sly Company of the People Who Care by Rahul Bhattacharya
I am quite confused by this book Sly Company of the People Who Care. The subject was very interesting. An almost unknown land of Guyana, a year long travelogue that promises to take you around the country and introduce you to its people and their ways. The writing, to me too slow, too random and quite disconnected. Though it seems like a non-fiction, it is being called a novel, you have to accept it that way.
The story is narrated by an unnamed Indian from Mumbai who travels to Guyana to spend a year. Many years after he had first visited it for cricket reporting. All the three parts of the story are absolutely unrelated. There is no common thread. Not even the country remains same. And I could not see a plot except in the last part. It appears like random writings or the writing journal of a writer who lived a year in Guyana for some time. His random encounters with people there, mostly whom he happened to meet.
Most memorable episode from Part I of the book is when the narrator goes diamond hunting or ‘Porkknocking’ as it is locally called with a guy named Baby who has just come out of jail. The whole experience of people risking their lives to reach the hidden areas where they can look for small pieces of diamonds. Which they then sell to middle men for a small amount. Who sells it for profit in bigger markets. The quantity of diamonds and their value is not too much. But people are willing to kill each other for them.
They stay on those small islands for days, with limited food. Suffering mosquitoes and diseases. Makes you think what goes on behind the scenes for those shining stones on someone’s skin. Another interesting thing in this part is narrator’s introduction of red people. And how the mixed races came to become the red people. He tells you a bit about the Africans and Indians but leaves the most for the next section.
In the second section, he traces the advent of Africans and East Indians from Bihar and Bengal in Guyana for the Europeans colonizers to work as slaves. He presents an emotional story of the arrivals, the stay with no return, the settling down of families. And finally adopting the place as their own. People still continue to have Indian names and follow Indian rituals. Especially at times like weddings. He talks about the rivalry between the Africans and the Indians. About the influence of colonizers. But I missed the original Guyanese people altogether. It looked like narrator subconsciously was searching for India and Indians in Guyana as they remain prominent throughout his narration.
The only well-etched character is that of curiously named Seven Curry as a guy who makes a special curry at all weddings and loves attending them. The narrator talks about drug peddling, the crime numbers and the gang wars and politics. He mentions Georgetown and its surroundings. But somehow I did not get that it was a complete picture. It felt like he interacted with people only on the fringes, in the shacks and on the road. He never got to go inside a house and see a family that actually lives like a family. And I refuse to believe there are none in any place. It is like someone coming and staying at the beaches of Goa and giving you a feeling that this is all this country is all about.
In Part III, suddenly the pace changes. The story moves from Guyana to Brazil and then Venezuela, where the narrator meets a young girl Jankey who prefers to call herself Jan. I thought this part was totally disjointed from the earlier two sections. The narrator comes to these two countries without Visa, picks up the girl and travels with her to various places only promising to take care of her expenses never realizing there could be a trap. He gets lost in an obscure place in Venezuela, only to be rescued by an Indian travel agent Gomati. The story ends when he returns to Guyana and is slated to take a flight back to India the next day. In this section, he has infused lust, erotica and himself in the story.
The language of the book Sly Company of the People Who Care is written as it is spoken with grammatical mistakes and the local accent. It took me some time to get a hang of this style, sometimes I got confused if it was a word that I do not know and should look up the dictionary? Or is it that I need to figure out the Guyanese vernacular version of the word. To me, this was quite a distraction in reading and sometimes I felt the vernacular versions were exaggerated to create the effect.
I took me almost a month to finish this book Sly Company of the People Who Care and slept off many times while reading it. It makes a slow and boring reading about a very interesting and not so well known subject.