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Year of the Weeds – Siddhartha Sarma

Year of the Weeds – Siddhartha Sarma

Year of the Weeds – Siddhartha Sarma

Akshyata Ray

The story talks about the predicament of the people living in harmony with nature. Did you draw inspiration from the movements against the Vedanta incident or the bauxite developments in the KBK belt, or is the story purely ‘fiction’?

The story is based on the Niyamgiri movement in Odisha to a large extent, and also has elements drawn from other people’s movements from across India. Almost all of the events in the novel are based on real events.

 

Your story has an extremely authentic touch – with your in-depth description of places and phrases from the language Odia. Are you versed with the language and culture? Either way, your book surely has an astounding amount of research behind it. Can you elaborate on how you developed this detailed script?

I had been following the Niyamgiri agitation for about a decade by the time of the Supreme Court order of 2013, after which I decided to write the novel. I also follow land rights and other movements across the country, so I was familiar with the details of these movements as well as the state’s response to them. I have met some of the leaders of the Niyamgiri movement in the past, much before I decided to write the novel. I did some research on the Gonds of Odisha and on other people of Balangir and adjoining districts. I did not do a lot of research on their language, lives and cultures or folklore, just to the extent that I thought was necessary to show their everyday life in the context of the plot. The story deals with ideas and themes which are common to the experience of oppressed communities across India, so I focused on these themes and issues rather than on the specific life of a single tribe or tribal group.

 

‘Year of the Weeds’ talks a lot about gardening – be it Korok’s love for gardening or the analogy of the government to the weeds. Is it in any manner in-sync with your love for gardening, as we’ve read that you desire to have a garden someday?

Korok being a gardener was necessary for the plot of the novel, because I wanted him to be involved in a craft or a creative discipline which is intimately connected to the land. There is a certain amount of emotional involvement with the land which a gardener has which is more than the transactional relationship of a farmer or of any other profession with land. For a gardener, the land is a living entity in more ways than one and I wanted to use Korok’s interests to show this to readers. It is only incidentally connected to my wish to have a garden someday. I think we all wish that, somewhere inside us. But that is not why the novel talks a lot about gardening.

 

Talking about the battle between the tribals and the government – many people support tribals owing to the balance in ecology that their ways bring, and also from the rights perspective. But some definitely support the latter, highlighting that ‘development’ is the need of the hour. What are your views on this? What according to you is the ideal solution to this contention?

 First, we need to ask whether the model of development that we have embraced, based on certain parameters including the need to keep increasing production and consumption year after year is sustainable or even desirable, and what the fallout of this will be. We need to debate whether we want this sort of ‘development’ at all. Then we need to consider whether we ought to impose our views on development and prosperity and similar concepts on communities who perhaps do not want to be involved in this in the first place. And in any case, development should not come at the cost of stripping marginalised communities of their traditional ways of life, of their land, their water and forests, their traditions and their lived inheritances. I understand that some people want to chase this mirage of development at all costs to themselves and to traditionally marginalised and vulnerable communities. But the state and others who know the fallout of this policy must prevent this from happening.

 

It is seldom that the tribals win in the dispute between them and the government. Why do you think that is the scenario?

By now the state has heavily bought into the model of development mentioned above, and is promoting the interests of a few corporate and private beneficiaries of this model. The Indian government has never been fair or just in its dealings with Indian tribes, a result of the strings of power lying with upper castes and privileged groups throughout the history of modern India. But the process has worsened after liberalisation, and now vulnerable communities are even more at risk than they had ever been in their history. The government has enormous amounts of resources and power, which it consistently uses to prey on these communities in the name of a flawed model of development. Of course the tribes don’t stand a chance. They never did.

 

What’s next – a sequel to the lives of Korok and Anchita? Or do you see yourself working on a book with new characters?

My next book, a non-fiction work titled Carpenters and Kings, has recently been released. It is for general readers and is a history of Western Christianity in India. I am not working on a sequel to Year of the Weeds and do not have any plans for it in future.

About the Interviewee:

Siddhartha Sarma is an author and journalist based in Delhi. His first teen novel The Grasshopper's Run won the Crossword Book Award and the Sahitya Akademi Award for Children's Literature. His other books include the travelogue East Of The Sun and two works of non-fiction: 103 Journeys, Voyages, Trips and Stuff and 103 Historical Mysteries, Puzzles, Conundrums and Stuff. He hopes to have a garden of his own someday.