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Book review: A stroll through the NE
Published on 9 Jan. 2011 11:39 PM IST
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Travelling to the north-east has always been a circumspect idea. Insurgent groups and lack of connectivity and infrastructure are cited as the most common excuses. However, having grown up and worked in these parts — largely in Assam — author Siddhartha Sarma asks us to take a leap of faith. He more or less succeeds, in East Of The Sun: A Nearly Stoned Walk Down The Road In A Different Land. But he cautions, “The North-east is best visited as a traveller, not a tourist.”
Despite warning us that the book is not a tourist guide, Sarma’s narrative voice is a lot like that of one, though friendlier and more informed. His tone is chatty (“Hey peoples”), full of wit (“Guwahati’s city sport is falling into storm drains”), and yet annoying thanks to his liberal use of SMS lingo. The book is full of them — “imho” (in my humble opinion), “conv.” (conversation), “thassall” (that’s all), and others. For instance, how do you react to a line like this: “And the point I shall now illustrate is that, imho, Hinduism does not really have a concept of evil.”
That forgiven, Sarma knows the region like a good geography professor. The book takes us through the Brahmaputra valley to further East, or Upper Assam, and then through the Naga hills towards Kohima and onward, moving into the Imphal valley. Then it continues south through Manipur and eastward into the southern Patkai range, finally crossing into Myanmar.
The account is fascinating for the most part. He digs deep into the mythologies of the region and unearths interesting tales, dispels myths about the consumption of dog meat, and traces the nomenclature of cities (The oil rig Digboi derived its name from instructions to dig deeper: “Dig, boy, dig!”).
Importantly, he also sheds light on why independent music from the North-east has given indipop a run for its money. “The church plays a big role in society, even in politics in Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland, but its best part is the choirs. They have a big part to play on how rock music first took hold in these parts.”
And even as development comes to these states slowly and steadily, Sarma makes a valid point about industrialisation and how it’s making all the cities look alike. He writes, “I kinda get annoyed with this whole homogenisation business that urban places in India are getting into. Now every town and city looks like every other. I suppose it is inevitable, but I wish cities could retain some of their distinct individuality amid all this.”
You want to agree with him when he says this, especially at a time when the backpacking culture is hitting India big-time, and budget travellers look for new places to explore, what with Shimla-Manali-Ooty type of places flooded with tourists who litter.
East Of The Sun may not be the most perfect documentation of travel in the North-east, but it certainly has enough in it to make you consider travelling there sometime soon.

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