Indifference and ignorance plague India’s relations with China but that could change with increasing people-to-people exchanges between the two countries, Indian author Amitav Ghosh has said.
Ghosh, whose acclaimed Ibis Trilogy novels focus on the East India Company-led opium trade between India and China, finds the unfamiliarity surprising.
“What is really strange is not the suspicion but rather the indifference and ignorance that has long existed on both sides of the long border between India and China. But I think this is changing now, with more and more Indians and Chinese visiting and even studying in each others’ countries,” Ghosh told HT over email.
“When two very large countries share a long border, it is inevitable that there should be differences and difficulties. This is not surprising; what is surprising is the mutual ignorance,” said the Kolkata-born author.
Ghosh is on a month-long whirlwind China tour since early August, delivering a dozen talks on China-India relations and climate change in six cities.
The author, 60, said the “legacy of colonialism” has influenced how the two countries look at each other – or looks away from the other.
The 1962 war was a symptom of that legacy, Ghosh felt.
“The 1962 war has indeed bedeviled Sino-Indian relations, but perhaps the war was itself also a symptom of the lack of mutual understanding between the two countries. And this atmosphere of mutual ignorance was certainly a part of the legacy of colonialism,” he said.
That in turn was reflected even in academia.
“When I think of the history books that I read in school, there was so much on Britain, Europe and the West: there was almost nothing on China, which is indisputably one of the world's great civilizations.”
Maybe an indicator of China’s changing attitude was the response to Ghosh’s talks in Kunming, Chengdu, Hong Kong and Shanghai.
“The response to the talks has been amazing. Enormous interest, engaged audiences, lots of questions. What has particularly surprised me is the warmth of the response in certain places. At the Shanghai book fair there were huge lines, and so many families wanting to take pictures of me with their children and so on,” Ghosh said.
It helped that a few of his books are now available in Mandarin.
“Sections of the 'The Great Derangement' have already been translated (they are available on my website). 'Sea of Poppies' and 'River of Smoke' have also been translated (my tour is linked to the release of 'River of Smoke'). In addition 'In An Antique Land' has just appeared as well. 'Flood of Fire' will appear next year,” Ghosh said.
There’s more to come -- his non-fiction book on India-China relations in the 19th century.
What will it be on? “I will mainly be looking at art, crafts, and other such influences,” Ghosh said.
That’s likely to be a plank of curiosity in the sea of ignorance that divides India and China.