Published: 20th June 2020
Finding where the Indian gene has left its mark: Why you'll love reading Indogene
Author Sriram Devatha speaks about Indogene, a book that is a must-read if you want to know the history behind Indians living in different countries. He has included his personal experiences in it
The nearly three-month-long lockdown has been a challenge of sorts for everyone — some have taken up social media #challenges, some have challenged themselves to be better in general and then, of course, there are some who have challenged themselves to finally complete that long pending project. For this 31-year-old author and poet Sriram Devatha, it was the opportunity to challenge himself to complete his book of short stories about Indians across the globe. Aptly titled Indogene, the book is very much a literary tour of a pre-Corona world that takes you to countries like Egypt, Korea and Uganda, to discover the journey of Indians who settled there generations ago.
Narrating the origin of the idea for this book, Sriram says, "The inspiration behind writing this book was my love for Geography from my school days and my interest in travelling. Though I have not visited all these countries, my time in London for my higher education exposed me to different cultures and people. There, I not only learnt about the global perspective of how Indians are perceived but also the story behind citizens of other countries with Indian origin. I was supposed to complete the book last year and release it before the lockdown but routine work kept me busy."
Indogene has ten chapters and each one of them is unique — each will take you back to colonial times and explain why many Indians fled from the country to settle in different parts of the world. One such chapter is Suriname's Surname. "I once met a Dutch woman who told me that she has Indian roots. Today, the smallest country in South America, Suriname was once apparently a Dutch colony. When India's trade industry was under the control of the East India Company, some natives of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were sent to Suriname for work. This woman's grandparents were among them. After Suriname gained independence from the Dutch, many of these Indians moved to the Netherlands and settled there," explains Sriram.
Similarly, in another chapter titled Riches to Rags, Sriram writes about some of the Gujarati migrants who settled in Uganda and owned the biggest businesses. The author mentions in his chapter the special census that the Ugandan government undertook to identify the number of Asians residing there and then, policies were changed to provide employment and business opportunities to the Ugandans. This not only slowed the economic growth but also led Indians to move out of Uganda. Interesting right?
While most of these stories are true, Sriram has added his own style of fiction to make them more interesting for the reader. Explaining the clichéd views people have about India, he says, "Most people in other countries believe that India is only Rajasthan and Kerala. Their views are limited to the Taj Mahal and Bollywood. The most common thing that everybody knew about India was Mahatma Gandhi and yoga. These were some of the usual clichés but no one believes that we are still snake charmers."
Like every writer, Sriram had his own challenges and writer's block was one of them. Sriram takes a deep breath before he explains, "There were days when I had writer's block and I would not be happy with the ending that I'd written. I would attempt to rework the ending and when I was still not happy, I would read books. And I think that this is what most writers do when they're stuck," he says, adding, "It is necessary for budding writers to do their research and have that discipline to read books and learn new words. One must expand their vocabulary so that they are prepared to write better." Currently, Sriram is working on two different books — a crime thriller and a political thriller. He hopes to complete them both soon.