A lot of wars were initiated [by the British] from Kolkata… it is a history of mutual destruction, from which they (India and China) are only beginning to emerge,” said author Amitav Ghosh, introducing his latest book, Flood Of Fire, while on a visit to the city.
Even though the novel’s predecessors, Sea Of Poppies (2008) and River Of Smoke (2011), set the historical stage for the First Opium War (1839-42), the New York-based writer’s newest book dives right into the thick of it. Here, Ghosh talks about his past decade, and more.
The Ibis Trilogy is over. But, is it really the end of the series?
Yes, the trilogy is certainly over. But, at some point, I may return to these characters. I don’t feel I have parted from the characters yet.
What has gone into writing this last book in terms of research?
It took an enormous amount of research. It’s taken me 10 years to finish this [series]. It’s been a very intense process. But it’s also been a fulfilling journey.
Could you talk about the theme of water in your series?
Water is an important theme in all these books, and it’s also an important theme in my life. I’m from West Bengal. Water, rivers etc., are an important aspect of life there, even in Bengali art and cinema. Personally, water is an essential part of my imaginative landscape.
Why do you think the Opium Wars are not mentioned in our history textbooks?
It’s true, we’ve completely lost all track of it, which is very unfortunate. But, it is in the textbooks. Today, a young man told me that he had read about the Opium Wars in his ninth standard textbooks. It’s not that it’s not touched upon. But, the reality of what happened is something that we don’t really confront. However, it has changed since my books have released. I noticed that, nowadays, there is more talk about the story of opium in India. In the textbooks, the references to it are very slight and glancing.
Is there anything that you would want to change about the books?
No, I think the books are pretty complete in themselves.
One of your early works, The Shadow Lines, was not written in a linear format. Nor does this series follow a linear progression. Is that a conscious decision to not follow a straight timeline?
Yes, I think linearity is not particularly interesting to me. But, the books are linear in themselves. It’s just that their relationship with each other is not linear. I think the form is modelled on the Rubik’s Cube. It is that type of relationship between the three of them. Each of them is related to the other, but it’s not like there is a linear relationship. I think the non-linear style of writing is more interesting.