The Grasshopper’s Run – A Magnificient Debut Novel!
Most great works of detailed writing come from the author having lived the life he writes about. Joseph Heller was a bombardier. John Grisham was a lawyer. Mark Boal, who wrote the script of The Hurt Locker and the article upon which In The Valley of Elah was based, was an embedded journalist with US bomb squads in Iraq. So it comes as a huge surprise that Siddhartha Sarma, whose formative years as far as I know have mostly revolved around school and college and university campuses, should make a stunning debut with a novel set in the hills and jungles of undivided Assam in World War II.
Siddhartha Sarma has the stereotypical appearance of a nerd. He’s on the slimmer side, isn’t very vertical and sports extremely thick glasses, and the last time I met him, he still had Archie Andrews freckles. So it comes as a big surprise that Gojen Rajkhowa, his debut novel’s hero, is an Annie Oakley with a rifle and an Asterix when it comes to hunting.
My favourite books and movies are those which can tell me in fascinating detail about an entirely new world. It might be literally a new world, like Pandora in Avatar, or it could be the world of a computer sales office, like in Rocket Singh. The level of detailing in The Grasshopper’s Run is such that I found myself wondering whether nerdy geeky Siddhartha actually had a secret hobby of rifle shooting and collecting. Where did he practice? Behind the bus stop near his house?
Here’s one of my favourite passages:
‘ “When you aim, forget everything else. Just aim like you have always done before, get the position correct, do all the things you know. Then, you go inside yourself. Find a small place there that tells you: aim and fire, just don’t miss. That small place does not tell you that this is a human being, so let us get and wave to him and he will wave back and smile and not shoot. If you can find it, stay inside that place and fire.”’
Great stuff. Whether the product of a rich imagination or of painstaking research, Sid deserves resounding pats and thumps on the back.
The story begins with the massacre of an Ao Naga village by a subhuman Japanese Colonel. Uti, grandson of the Ao chief and more than a brother to Gojen Rajkhowa, is among those killed. What follows is a racy, dramatic story of a hunt which I finished reading in just two sessions, and the interruption was only because I had tickets for Ishqiya. The scope of the book is sprawling, not just touching upon but explaining in dramatic depth the geography of the Naga hills, the battle tactics of the Japanese and the British, the Naga customs, practices and psychology, etc etc. When it comes to thrillers, I find Frederick Forsyth unequalled in terms of detail and plot complexity. While the plot of The Grasshopper’s Run is more on the simple side, I would say the wealth of detail is truly world class.
This is one of those books which you start reading and immediately think, “This would make a great movie.” Hopefully, more and more Hollywood studios will start suing more and more copycat Indian producers. Then wonderful source material like this book will start receiving its true value.
I’m personally very happy for Sid as a friend and professionally almost jealous that he’s made such a smashing debut. I would have been insanely jealous if I were writing in the same genre, but thankfully he’s not in competition there – at least, The Grasshopper’s Run isn’t much of a school/college comedy.
Recently in Landmark, I browsed through some of the new books by young Indian writers and I was left aghast. In Wodehousian terms, I practically tottered. Their back page blurbs themselves were so terrible and amateurish that I was left saying “Ye haalat ho gayi hai?” There was one particular book I bought last year which had a long line of quotes of praise on its back cover. It turned out to be so absolutely crappy that I couldn’t bear pushing myself to trudge through more than about 40 pages. Asinine sentence construction and obvious grammatical mistakes decorated a juvenile plot which I can’t even remember now. The Grasshopper’s Run is in the stratosphere compared to this flotsam and jetsam.
Siddhartha is definitely going places. With his background in investigative journalism, he probably already has all the right material to work on a novel which can expose what news media can’t. I’m eagerly looking forward to whatever he writes next.
You can order the book from http://www.flipkart.com/grasshopper-39-run-siddhartha-sarma/8184772882-aw23fd2k4c
It costs just 183 bucks and it did get delivered to my doorstep in 3 days as promised.
(Landmark and Odyssey are likely to stock the book. For Dilliwalas, the best bet is Eureka The Children’s Bookstore in Alaknanda)