My week-long voyage to Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh was full of excitement,adventure, learning and joy. Set in the historical backdrop of mid-nineteenth century the novel’s canvas is as wide as an ocean, carrying in its womb multitudes of stories, characters, themes, locations, languages…… yet remaining placid, cool and calm.
I became interested in the book after reading a reference to the opium factories in Gazipur and Patna in one of the book’s reviews. I already knew that the main building of Patna College, much before the college was started in 1863, had been used as an opium factory earlier. This led me to embark on the journey of Sea of Poppies with the expectation to sail through the history, language and culture of the places, I thought, were known to me. Flipping through the pages of the book was an exhilarating experience. I got an opportunity to observe the places like Patna, Bakhtiarpur, Monghyr, Teghra, Barauni or objects like Barh ka Lai etc through the prism of a master story teller like Amitav Ghosh.
However these are only a few of the many items available on the plate of the novel. Just as the white Ganga merges with the Hoogly and finally disappears in the Black Water of the Ocean at Gangasagar, the story continues through the regions of Bhojpur, Bengal, India, China, England, Europe(the list is long); creating in its wake the conflicts of culture, language, politics and economics, evoking in the reader sympathy, love, hate, humour and nostalgia for a bygone era.
Reading the novel is like having a smooth sail in a dinghy over the surface of a deep sea.
By the way what happened to Jodu, Kalua, Serang Ali, Neel and Ah Fatt after they escaped in the lifeboat and what was in store for the rest of the characters on the ship named Ibis? I must find out in the next novel of Amitav Ghosh, River of Smoke. My next voyage has already begun.