Opium Wars though planned, funded, and fought by the Indian community remains ever secluded from our history largely due to our own ignorance and the fact that our past has been replaced with the victor’s history.
1) Here is a summary of what Mr Ghosh spoke while previewing the book:
Opium Wars though planned, funded, and fought by the Indian community remains ever secluded from our history largely due to our own ignorance and the fact that our past has been replaced with the victor’s history. Flood of Fire by Amitav Ghosh illuminates this era, tearing open the veils of our own illusions, enlightening us with the many Indian experiences of the 19th century. It is a canvas of war that is thrown open, a reinvention of wars that changed the course of history, bringing alive a time when the single most isolated conflicts of individuals decided the fate of civilizations.
Our past is replaced with history, Amitav warns. Not all we know is true. Our history books are inaccurate. It was only with years of research and with the help of precise details from various sources that Amitav tied the many twines of this story. Flood of Fire, however, did not start with the Opium Wars. It was Amitav’s desire to tell a story of Indians who had left India that led him to this era and eventually to the Opium War. The research involved does not make this novel a historical fiction. Though one could argue this. This is a story, he said, and what research details included in it are what I thought was interesting, what I hope every reader will find interesting.’
Reading an extract from the book Amitav explained how the then military was, how drummers and pipers were as important to the war as the soldiers themselves. They, he explained, was the music to which this giant snake of men moved. The drum beats kept them moving, the pipes deciding their direction.
Sepoys are depicted as heroes here, as they should rightly be. The wars of the world had seen their impeccable presence. Though one is led to believe that they were mostly North Indians, it isn’t the case. They had men – willing volunteers – from all sectors of the society. Caste system, he said, was as aspirational idea. If there were castes in India then, there were two – military and camp followers, and others. By joining the army, commoners which included Muslims and other sectors of the caste adapted the Rajput way of life, inventing their lives. Though India is generally considered to be a static state, what really was is a churning pot with infightings, invasions, pilgrimage, and military reformations.
The cultural fear of westernization is an unfounded one, he said. India was the centre of the Old World. Every sailor then must have stopped at Calcutta at least once. The technologies that we had then were in par with those of the West. The India we know is not the India that was.
2)About the book:
Releasing early JUNE 2015
It is 1839. The British whose opium trade to China has been blockaded by Beijing the previous year are planning an invasion to force their hand. Their demands—an island base in the Pearl Delta from which to continue their trade and a princely sum in
compensation for their losses. In Calcutta, Zachary Reid, an impoverished young sailor, dreams of his lost love and of a way to make his fortunes. Heading towards Calcutta is Havaldar Kesri with his captain, Neville Mee, to lead a regiment of Indian volunteers in the upcoming war.
In Mumbai, Shireen Modi waits anxiously for news of her opium-trader husband, only to discover that he has died mysteriously in Hong Kong and lost all his fortune in the opium blockade. In Canton, Neel becomes an aide and translator to a senior Chinese
official as Beijing begins to prepare for war with Britain. The more he sees, the more worried he becomes.
Fusing a profound understanding of history with page-turning narration, Flood of Fire—the final part of the Ibis Trilogy—is nothing short of a masterpiece.
Amitav Ghosh was born in Calcutta and grew up in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India. He studied at the university of Delhi and Oxford, and hence sought at the number of institutions. A River of Smoke is the second in the Ibis Trilogy which was shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize and The Hindu Literary Prize in 2011. The first of the trilogy, the best-selling Sea of Poppies, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2008. Ghosh other works include The Circle of Reason (prix Medicis Etranger Award), The Shadow Lines (Sahitya Akademi Award), In An Antique Land, The Calcutta Chromosome (Arthur C Clarke Award), Dancing in Combodia and Other Essays, The Countdown, The Glass Place (Grand Prize for the Frankfurt International E-Books Awards),The Imam and the Indian and The Hungry Tide (Best Work in English Fiction, Hutch Crossword Book Award). In 2007 he was awarded the Grizance Cavour Prize and in 2010 the Dan David Prize.