Book launch: Rahul Bhattacharya’s ‘The Sly Company of People Who Care’

Much like the book itself, the launch event of ‘The Sly Company of People Who Care’ by Rahul Bhattacharya was all about the Caribbean nation of Guyana – its people, its language and dialect, its colonial history and racial politics, and its decaying wooden splendour.

“It’s such a raw-ly beautiful country, with its red rivers and rainforests,” said Bhattacharya, in conversation with journalist and author Samanth Subramanian at Landmark. “I felt an instant affinity to its colours and dialects – it was so different from anything I’d experienced before.”

Delhi-based Bhattacharya is best known for his work on cricinfo.com and for his popular cricket book ‘Pundits from Pakistan’. ‘The Sly Company…’ is his debut novel and was also, in a sense, was born out of cricket.

“I was on my first international cricket tour to the West Indies, and my first port of call was Guyana,” he recalled. “It was a very boring week of test cricket – it always rains there during matches – but my affinity for the place stayed with me, and I decided to follow that feeling nearly four years later.”

He ended up spending a year there – unusual, to say the least. “No one goes to Guyana,” he said laughing. “Everyone flees Guyana – it’s such a desperate, struggling place.”

But it’s also a fascinating place, with its volatile racial mix of Africans, Indians, Chinese, and Portuguese, its grid of canals and trenches, and its sagging wooden houses with zinc roofs built by the Dutch. “I knew I’d write a book on it, but I didn’t what that book would be,” said Bhattacharya.

The book eventually took the shape of a novel (“I’d start with facts and then tell a whole lot of lies”), but the author still struggled with the non-fiction elements he needed to include.

“So few in India know the historical context of Guyana – how it was created entirely by colonial powers who brought in slaves and indentured labourers, and how its reality is shaped by what happened once the colonial powers left,” he said. “I had to reconcile these non-fictional elements with the storytelling – that was challenging.”

‘The Sly Company…’ tells the story of a young man from India who goes to Guyana in search of escape from ‘the deadness of life’, and embarks on an adventure with Baby, a diamond hunter. Slow paced and filled with dialogue in Guyanese dialect, the book isn’t always easy to read. But it did come alive during a long, dramatised reading by the author, who did a remarkable job in re-creating the distinctive rhythms of Guyanese speech (“I became quite good at it; people could mistake me for Guyanese by the end!”).

“When I came back, the dialect was bouncing in my head so hard – the vivid phrases and the very visual way of speaking were addictive,” he said. “A lot of the narrative in the book was in that style initially; I had to be reined in by my editor who felt it would be incomprehensible to readers.”

Naturally, much of the q-and-a session that followed focused on race and politics in Guyana. The turnout at the launch might have been small, but those present walked away with a deeper understanding of the Caribbean nation.

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9 Comments

Filed under Articles, Books, People

9 responses to “Book launch: Rahul Bhattacharya’s ‘The Sly Company of People Who Care’

  1. Preeti

    Hey,

    Just wanted to say what a small world this is: Rahul or Zatta as he is known to friends, is a close friend of my brother-in-law and sis, Samanth is an ex-schoolmate of my sister and we know you!! 🙂

    Nice to read about his launch; just might pick up the book now.

  2. victor

    hi …im trying to get in touch with Rahul…..im from bangalore and spent 2 years in guyana and would be great to lime with him.. i think i must have landed up a year after he left…..

  3. In this dazzling and ambitious debut novel, Rahul Bhattacharya has created a story that follows the shape and rhythms of life, not art.
    A truly remarkable and original novel of self-discovery, set in a country of great contrasts A twenty-six-year-old Indian cricket journalist, not unlike our author, decides to give up his job and travel to a country where he can ‘escape the deadness of his life’.
    The Sly Company Of People Who Care

  4. Apo

    If you are a Guyanese living abroad this is a MUST read. It was authored with perfection on the culture of Guyana. Great read! Reading this book was like my remote vacation. Great stuff!

  5. I’m reading Rahul’s novel, a gift from a friend who was in the diplomatic service in Guyana. As a Trinidadian (now retired to Arizna) I was amazed at how Rahul captured the Guyanese “gyaffing” (what in Trinidad we call ‘Oletalk’) and the heft and magic of the landscape. In this book I heard words from my own childhood, as spoken by Trinidad Indians, words I never thought had currency in any other place. I’ve recommended this book to people in Trinidad.

  6. E. Kumar

    Just completed novel. Very disappointed. I am Guyanese and cannot relate to any of the characters that are depicted, it would have been enjoyable reading if Mr. Bhattacharya had covered a wider spectrum of the Guyanese people.

  7. A must read for all Guyanese, locals, expats and West Indians for that matter.

    The book paints a very true picture of everyday life in Guyana. The author has a very good grasp and understanding of the politics and history and also lived and observed the everday life of the locals. His use of the local english interspersed with slang makes one truly nostalgic and reminds me of V.S. Naipaul’s Miguel Street with his characters. I am truly impressed and despite his obvious overt criticisms at times, “I think he can truly relate coming from India.”I gave this book 4.5 stars out of 5. ____________________________

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