I picked up Amitav Ghosh’s works in second year of my college. The first book that I read was “The shadow lines” which was a story of Indian and English cousins.
The book talked of creating a web of one’s memories and after reading the book I was awestruck by his command over details. I was studying mechanical engineering then, and it was surprising to find the use of “lost wax method” in his writing. One of the relatives in the book was wearing a kurta which had buttons made by lost wax method.
Then I picked “Glass palace” which was a story of an empire, a boy who becomes the king of teak trade in Burma. The book had an extensive details of Burma, its last king, Thibaw who spent rest of his life in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra. As the destiny would have it, last Mughal king, Bahadur Shah Zafar was exiled to Myanmar while Burma’s last king was exiled to Myanmar.
Amitav Ghosh devoted five years of his life to the travel, research, and writing required to tell this story. It follows the mingled fates of three families and three countries—Burma, India, and Malaya, from 1885 through the mid-1990s. It startled me to find the precise intricacies mentioned by him about the teak business. This shows the tremendous amount of effort he puts into his writing.
After years, I read his “The Great derangement” which is on one of my favorite topics, climate change and the unthinkable. He explained the entire phenomenon with stories, hypothesis and his own personal narrations. I can count the book as one of the starting books related to climate change. The book also contains an attention drawing note to fellow authors to use climate change as a theme.
I have written this post to give a few reasons Amitav Ghosh has to be on the to-be-read list. I will share a few of my arguments why I picked him as my “author of the month” for December where I will read, review and post important excerpts from his books.
I will start with the Ibis trilogy, which comprises sea of poppies, river of smoke and flood of fire, in that order. The books belong to the genre of historical fiction and narrate the tale of opium wars between India and China. In the words of Amitav Ghosh, he wanted to write about a war, long forgotten in the memories of both India and China and for him, opium wars are no less than French Revolution.
While reading sea of poppies, I realized that Ghosh has paid a huge amount of attention to small details, which ranges from using Bhojpuri in one of his character while using “laskari” dialect for another. He has even included the names of all parts of the ship and he considers ships as a walking dictionary. His research has taken him from the National Maritime Museum in London to the Harbour Master’s offices in Sydney, where he studied passenger and crew lists from ships travelling between England and Australia over 200 years ago.
Such is his desire for detailing and perfection.
I am yet to read River of smoke and Flood of fire which I will read in the December month. The fourth book for the last week of 2018 will “The Great derangement” and I will reread the book to understand and explain climate change better. It is on our doorstep and we do not realize enough. The menace posed by climate change risks has already showed its true colors but, we have no time to pay attention.
Read Amitav Ghosh for historical fiction, read him for details, read him to know some lesser known or unknown secrets of India’s past. He presents the beauty of Calcutta in almost everything he writes, to smell that, read Amitav Ghosh. Witness his love for waters, ships, Burma, India.
He is an “unputdownable storyteller”