try so hard to block out. Some stories make it to a newspaper, but are dispensed in a functional three paragraphs and then forgotten.
Some stories, if lucky, find themselves unfold and told, fully and thoughtfully, in a well-written book. Such is the case with V Sudarshan’s latest book, Adrift: A True Story Of Survival At Sea: a three-para newspaper mention of the week-long ordeal of six people marooned in a dinghy in the Andaman Sea is transformed by the author’s sure and steady voice into an engrossing yarn.
Part of the reason is that V Sudarshan, a Chennai-based journalist, spent some of his boyhood in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, where his sense of adventure was sharpened by the archipelago and its vast sea, as well as by whale skeletons on the seabed.
It’s a region that remains undiscovered for most Indians. His eye for detail and ear for the rhythms of local life help make this book more accessible than previous writing on the Andamans, mostly academic.
His voice has had practice with an earlier work of dramatic nonfiction, Anatomy of an Abduction, the story of three Indian drivers abducted by Iraqi gunmen during the Gulf War (It has been optioned by filmmaker Dibakar Banerjee).
The story is simple: a French couple, Bruno Beauregard and Camille Pascal, hire ex-navy man Avtar Singh Baath’s dinghy (with an Indian crew of three) and go diving off Sir Hugh Rose Island. One morning, it starts raining and they’re about to head back to Port Blair when they spot whales. They go for a closer look but get caught in a storm.
Ignoring Baath’s instincts, the Frenchman insists they follow his compass, which turns out to be defective. By that time, the only thing on the horizon is more sea.
Foodless, they collect drinking water during the storm. But then the rain stops and the sea is still. Desperation washes over each of them, as in Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat. But they come up with timely ideas to survive. A week later, the coast guard finds them.
Sudarshan’s nonlinear narrative cleverly uses the characters’ back stories to propel the survival story forward. His accounts of attacks by a crocodile, a shark, and a black sea snake are riveting.
Where Ang Lee’s Life of Pi gave collective ocean life a mystical look, Sudarshan does the same for individual species: “(The Grouper) looked as though the behemoth was enveloped in a yellow and black cloud, as it swam majestically, ignoring the commotion of a hundred cleaner fish swimming along with it, picking on the barnacles growing on its head like a crown”, he writes in a passage that appears towards the book’s end, but which occurs moments before the six are marooned. It works. Adrift is an adventure tale for all ages, and highly recommended.
Aditya Sinha is the former Editor-in-Chief of The New Indian Express and of DNA