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Sea of Poppies: History on sail

June 21, 2008 23:27 IST

Author Amitav Ghosh launched his latest novel Sea of Poppies at a special event hosted by Penguin India and Oberoi Hotels at the Trident Hotel in Mumbai on Saturday.

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Sea Of Poppies, the new novel from the master storyteller and the first of a trilogy he is writing, is set against the opium wars of the early 19th century.

Locales switch colourfully and excitingly between the swaying poppy fields, white-like 'twin glaciers', along the Ganga, the furtive backstreets of China and voyages across the seas.

Set mostly aboard the Ibis, 'a vessel into which (the author) poured his ideas', the book has a vast multicultural cast of characters and speaks several tongues -- the unique patois of the lascars -- a unique breed of multiethnic seafarers -- and ancient curses straight out of Hobson-Dobson.

Actor Rahul Bose read a selection of passages from Poppies with characteristic animation and drama to a distinguished and attentive audience -- filmmakers Shyam Benegal and Pahlaj Nihalani, publisher Anuradha Mahindra and author Jerry Pinto were spotted.

Welcoming the audience, Ghosh thanked his publishers and remarked that while launching the book in India -- for the first time through Penguin -- he was especially impressed with the international standards with which the production was achieved.

A tete-a-tete with Naresh Fernandes, editor of Time Out Mumbai followed the book reading. Ghosh highlighted the interesting historical fact that the money earned by the British rulers of India in the poppy fields of Bihar sustained the high costs of maintaining the city of Mumbai (then Bombay), which at the time was becoming a huge economic burden for the British Empire.

Ghosh, whose books have frequently focused on the migration of Indian communities, expressed the belief that Indians have always found migration incredibly more difficult than other groups of people. Leaving their soil, food and culture has always been a torturous exercise for them.

To a laughing audience, Ghosh recalled that when he left his home in Bengal for boarding school his grandmother was distraught. The cause of her anguish was not their parting but that his food may not be cooked in mustard oil.  

Also read: What to read in 2008

Image: Amitav Ghose launches his latest novel Sea Of Poppies. (Inset) Actor Rahul Bose reads from a selection of passages from the book. 
Reportage: Vaihayasi Pande Daniel | Photograph: Rajesh Karkera