By Arsh Behal
Our history texts are nonsensical,” said Amitav Ghosh, at the opening session of the Spring Fest 2015, an annual literary festival organised by Penguin Random House, on Saturday. “There is a problem with the way history is learned and perceived in our country and how it is communicated,” he said. Ghosh read from Flood of Fire, the final novel in his Ibis trilogy, which began with Ibis, a ship that journeys across the Indian Ocean to fight the 19th century Opium Wars in China.
“The Opium Wars were fuelled and manufactured by Indian nationalists under the command of British forces and were funded by the Parsi businessmen, primarily from Bombay,” said Ghosh, who researched military history for a considerable amount of time while writing the trilogy. “I wanted to write a book about the late 1830s when the mass migration from India happened. Internal migration always happening during and after the 12th century,” he said.
Recalling instances from Hermen Melville’s Red Burn and HA Kolff’s Naukar, Rajput and Sepoy — the only books underlining that period — Ghosh talked about his fascination about the adventures of the Indian regiments and how their lives remain largely unknown. “Sitaram Pande’s Sepoy to Subedar is the only voice of how life was for a sepoy,” he said. The difference between writers and historians, he said, is that the two ask different questions about a particular time in history. “The questions that historians don’t ask is what did they wear, what did they eat; it is different from what novelists do. As a novelist, I am trying to create a sense of lived history and inhabit that space. A novel is not reflecting reality, it is creating reality,” he said. Ghosh blatantly refuses to base his characters on real people. “It ties your hand a lot,” he said.
(Arsh Behal is an EXIMS student)