In 2002, a cricket tour took him to the West Indies, four years later, “a hunch” took him back, and now, a leap of the imagination has crystallised these visits into cricket writer Rahul Bhattacharya’s first novel.
The Caribbean voyages gave birth to The Sly Company of People Who Care, a novel about a young Indian who wings it to Guyana, and finds himself confronting an unfamiliar but hugely attractive country.
“Just landing there (the Caribbean) was such a different sort of an encounter with something you didn’t know existed and that had been on the periphery of your imagination,” said Bhattacharya, 31, a Delhi resident who was in the city on Saturday for the book’s release. “To actually encounter it, in both the sensual way of the sights, sounds and smells as well as an introduction to a very interesting mixed society, all of that stayed with me.”
The experience directed the form. “I knew I was going to write about it (the Caribbean experience), but I didn’t know how,” said Bhattacharya. “When I did start writing… it just felt like the truest thing I could do was to capture the encounter with that society through a novel.”
The Sly Company… follows an Indian cricket writer who docks in the West Indies and finds himself hurtling into a series of adventures through interactions with Guyanese society and its people. The book has already perched itself atop various compendia of books to look forward to in 2011.
Six years, several thousand miles, and a whole other world ago, Bhattacharya’s highly acclaimed Pundits from Pakistan had profiled another country and another adventure through the lens of a bridge-building cricketing tour.
“There was no pressure to write another book after Pundits, but there was the pressure to keep writing about cricket,” said Bhattacharya. “So to break away from that, to say I don’t want to do this writing, I don’t want this assignment, that has been a constant challenge.”
Bhattacharya has in the past written on cricket for The Guardian and Wisden, and currently writes columns for Mint and Cricinfo. However, after about 10 years of cricket writing, he says he hopes to give it a break.
“I don’t have the same passion for it (cricket writing) that I did,” said Bhattacharya. “The more I write on cricket, the more I am asked only to write on cricket. I feel like I am writing from reflex and becoming a bit of a cricket hack and I don’t want to be that.”