Sunday, April 12, 2015

A booklover’s tryst with Amitav Ghosh and all writers Indian….

I feel drenched. This is perhaps the second time after Vairamuthu’s “Thaneer Desam” that I read a book on troubled Indian waters.  “The Hungry Tide” is penned by Amitav Ghosh, Indian by birth and going by his writings, Indian- rather Bengali- by thought.  

Nostalgia affects everything. Our desires, interests, pursuits…It spares nothing. I love Ilaiyaraja’s compositions. His songs from the 1980’s give me solace whenever I feel alone and restless but I cannot equal the fervor with which my appa listens to his tunes. Some songs never fail to moisten his eyes. He has lived through an era in which Ilaiyaraja ruled over people’s senses.  His admiration for the Maestro therefore will always be greater than mine.

And nostalgia is the same reason why the British classic “Jane Eyre” will remain my favourite book and I am reluctant to let any book replace it. I cannot sum up with words the kind of emotions that welled up in me when I first read it as a pre-teen. When Jane grew up, I grew up with her. Words fail me again when I recount how I felt as a girl late into her teens rereading it for the nth time. Now in my twenties, I feel not an iota of change in my stance. I am simply content with Jane. But the same cannot be said of my favourite author.

As a child, I loved the works of J.K.Rowling, Enid Blyton, Charles Dickens, the Bronte Sisters and a host of other famous writers but I couldn’t find anyone to label as the “author I admire the most” probably because  most of their writings failed to  touch my native chords. In simple words, they weren’t “Made In India”. I wanted the author to write prose with a kiss of poetry; fiction based on actual facts; narrative that included well grounded research; action and romance in equal measures; elaborate writing backed by a rich vocabulary and most of all, the indigenousness I earnestly craved for.  So the search for the favourite author seemed to continue for all eternity until my eyes met Ghosh’s…name on the cover.(wink,wink)

A few years back, Ghosh’s “Sea of Poppies” set me up for a journey I wasn’t prepared for. The book offered me an eclectic mix of history and fiction, a genre I wasn’t familiar with until then.  The Sea of Poppies was the first of the Ibis Trilogy. Set in the Nineteenth century, it had an ensemble of characters whose lives were intertwined with one another and whose livelihood were deeply rooted in the Opium trade rampant across the Indo-Chinese border.  As I reached the end of the 533 odd pages, I knew I was in love.

The sequel “River of Smoke” was a bit disappointing, perhaps I expected way too much. The book was filled with anecdotes and well researched content from page to page which I enjoyed but to my dismay, it left little space for the drama to unfold in full measure.  It was more smoke and less fire which I believe Ghosh will compensate with his aptly titled “Flood of Fire” set to release this summer.  I can’t wait to read it. (The last time I anticipated a book launch was when “The Deathly Hallows” was released.  The wait!)                                                                                                                                            

Amitav Ghosh was the first of Indian/diasporic writers whose works I started reading. Jhumpa Lahiri (The Namesake, Interpreter of Maladies), Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni (The Palace of Illusions, Mistress of Spices), Aravind Adiga(The White Tiger), Gregory David Roberts(Shantaram), Willian Dalrymple (The Last Mughal) and even Hussain Zaidi (Dongri to Dubai) are the latest entrants to my author list whom I count on to satiate my hunger for all books “Indian” and I vouch for each one of them. I plan to add Vikram Seth, Ramachandra Guha and Anita Nair to this list soon.

 Eventually I felt guilty for boycotting foreign goods that I read a “Love in the Time of Cholera” (Gabriel Garcia Marquez) to make up for it. It is a lovely book in terms of language but the theme seemed quite disturbing.

 My love affair with Amitav Ghosh grew deeper as I read more of his works. The Glass Palace is an exquisite piece of work set across Bengal and Burma- the story extends over three generations and is laden with historical snippets.  The Shadow Lines won Ghosh his Sahitya Akademi award.  In fact I was disappointed as the book ran short of pages. It was slim (246 pages) compared to his other novels. Sigh!

The book I finished today is The Hungry Tide. Ghosh mostly centers his books around Calcutta . His Bengali roots run deep as seen by his works because of which- I have to admit- I have this new found fixation towards all things Bengali. I loved reading the book. It was a deeply engaging and a surreal experience for me. It gave me an urge to travel, to explore and to learn the ways of the world. I felt I was living in the Tide country(the Sunderbans) and my journey came to a saddening halt as the story ended.   My perspective towards people living in territories of endangered species took a whole new turn and I ended up feeling extremely sorry for them.  But the book comes with a warning as with all other books of Amitav Ghosh. His books are not for everybody. It takes patience and enormous zeal to learn about a culture/scenario in-depth. He has meticulously researched each and every tiny detail that goes into the story and it even requires you to read between the lines. You cannot just skim through his descriptive accounts. That amounts to doing injustice as a reader.

It is of course cool to read about California’s Gold Rush, Chicago’s Scarface, Churchill’s Biography, Che Guevara’s revolutionary ideas but it is equally important to equip ourselves with our country’s history and be aware of well documented but little known accounts of great Indian men and women. Historical Fiction is one of the most plausible ways of achieving that. Indian writers other than those best selling candy floss, fantasy or romance laden sort of writers need an audience among youngsters too. Try reading an Amitav Ghosh or a Jhumpa Lahiri  between your John Green and Veronica Roth, you will find  the experience truly exhilarating!


  1. Good one! Hope I too read it soon! :)

  2. Very interesting blog. A lot of blogs I see these days don't really provide anything that attract others, but I'm most definitely interested in this one. Just thought that I would post and let you know.