It’s not very often that you attend a book reading where you get to meet the people who are central characters in the paperback. Unless the book in question is an autobiography, or as in the case of V Sudarshan’s Adrift — it’s a true story which has been published under the non-fiction genre. A true and compelling account of the lives of six individuals lost off the Andaman coast on a dinghy, with dwindling supplies and a glimmer of hope that they would be rescued, Adrift had a formal reading in the city last weekend.
“This book may not have happened if these two officers from the Coast Guard hadn’t been there. There’s no telling if the dinghy would have been found if they hadn’t kept the search going for as long as they did and finally found Commander Baath and the others,” said the author, introducing Coast Guard Chief S P Sharma and the pilot who found the dinghy and rescued them. Commander Baath, the mariner who led the diving expedition, is still in the Andamans — “He’s a great storyteller and he loved telling me about this terrifying adventure,” said Sudarshan.
Despite the looming threat of superstorm Phailin pounding the Indian coast, S P Sharma was persuaded into addressing book lovers and members of the Madras Book Club, who had gathered at the Vivanta by Taj -Connemara, “Baath was a top guy and I’ve known him ever since we served together in the early 80s, in Gujarat. When I came to know that he was missing, my heart skipped a beat. We wasted a lot of time searching in the wrong direction, but thankfully, we spotted them on the sixth day,” he said. Vallya, the pilot of the dornier that found them, marvelled at the “accuracy” of Adrift, even with the cockpit chatter that he had with his crew.
Reflecting on why he chose to write a non-fiction, instead of dramatising this story, Sudarshan said, “It goes to the crux of what differentiates fiction from non-fiction. I wanted to be faithful to what had happened and tell it like it was. If I had written it like a work of fiction, the story could’ve been totally different. It’s because the story was fairly gripping that I retained it — the challenge was to keep to gripping from beginning to end.” He went on recount how the research and verification was painstakingly thorough, “I first heard the story almost five years ago. It’s taken two years to check the facts, do interviews, re-do them and another two years to write the manuscript. I wasn’t able to speak to the two foreigners on the boat, but I managed to get the accounts of four out of six people, so I had a pretty good idea of what happened,” he added. To give people a taste of what the book had to offer, portions were read out by the author’s daughter and classmates in the 10th grade.
Even as author and playwright Timeri N Murari prodded him about whether non-fiction as a genre worked for Indian readers, Sudarshan responded with as much frankness, “Plenty of non-fiction books are like works of extended feature writing. It’s laughable, the amount that publishing houses are offering authors to write accounts of true incidents like 26/11. Foreign grants aside, it is difficult for an Indian author to thrive on non-fiction. Luckily for me, I have a day job.”
Published by Hachette India, Adrift is available at all leading bookstores.