|We are not dealing with nature, we are dealing with humans. Our past actions are coming back to haunt us.
By Staff Reporter, The Hindu
Author Amitav Ghosh at the Indian Museum in Kolkata on Sunday to release his book Flood of Fire. Photo: Sanjoy Ghosh
Calcutta, as it was known then, was more of a military city than one meant for Bengalis, author Amitav Ghosh said here on Sunday.
In the city to unveil Flood of Fire, the final instalment in his Ibis trilogy, which traces the history of the First Opium War (1839-42) with China and is set in 19th century Bengal, Mr. Ghosh said many of the wars that the British fought was planned in the city.
“Kolkata from only southwards is a Bengali city. If you travel towards the other direction, towards Kidderpore [where the port is located], Kolkata was a city for Bhojpuri soldiers, lascars and so on. It was essentially the military part of the city.
These two parts of the city were completely disjointed from each other. The civil society part of the city never recognised the reality that the city was held with military power. Many important formative wars of the 19th century were launched, including the Anglo-Maratha Wars, Anglo-Mysore Wars, which were critical to the establishment of the British Empire,” Mr. Ghosh said.
He said India, under the Raj, was essentially a garrison state and the true heir of colonial power was Pakistan.
Ruing that historians had overlooked the military aspect of the Empire, he said he had to construct military history on the Opium Wars himself. The first book in the Ibis trilogy, Sea of Poppies, was shortlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize.
Expressing concern at the effects of climate change on the Sunderbans region, he said a “catastrophe was waiting to strike”.
“We are not dealing with nature, we are dealing with humans. Our past actions are coming back to haunt us. Kolkata is a profoundly vulnerable city. So many of the poor, who are coming out of rural Bengal and working as labourers in Kolkata, are actually from the Sunderbans.,” Mr. Ghosh said.