Amitav Ghosh took the audience sailing at the book launch of his latest novel River Of Smoke on Friday at the Aman Hotel in New Delhi.
Unlike other book launches, the seats were already taken half an hour before the scheduled start of the launch. With an audience comprising celebrities -- Rahul Bose and Mira Nair and Delhi's literati - the venue was packed with literary aficionados.
The dais was set in Chinese splendour, with wooden chairs and a Chinese handicraft wall piece to recreate Canton - the setting of the second volume in the Ibis trilogy.
After the official unveiling of the book Ghosh, who has admitted that he can't talk about his work, left the audience in guffaws when he created Sea Of Smoke by mixing up Sea Of Poppies and River Of Smoke. Much like the mishmash of languages in both the volumes.
Amidst a star-stuck audience, he introduced the novel (published by Hamish Hamilton) as the journey of Bahram Modi, from Bombay to Canton, on the Anahita in the 19th century. The story traces the time period which led to China's Opium's Wars.
The launch settled in a comfortable mood, as the audience, with wine glasses in hands, swayed to Ghosh's rhythmic voice while he read out a passage about two characters from the novel meeting with Napolean Bonaparte.
As the evening progressed, the author conversed animatedly about his work with historian Mukul Kesavan.
Kesavan asked about the peculiar fusing of various dialects (his household was as chuck-muck as any in the city, with paltans of nokar-logue doing chukkers in the hallways) with English, Ghosh remained unapologetic.
He flicked back his snow-white hair, and answered with a laugh, "Well, that's okay. You're not supposed to understand everything, are you?"
After that witty repartee with Kesavan, Ghosh was inundated with requests to sign copies of his book.
With a queue snaking till the exit gate, the author had his hands full for the rest of the evening.