AMITAV GHOSH RIVER OF SMOKE PDF
ABSTRACT The 1st book of Ibis Trilogy, Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh helps us to understand the theme of River Of Smoke. Though Ghosh’s book has been called as Fiction but every fiction has its origin from Reality. In the same way few characters and story line in River of Smoke. Postcolonial Text, Vol 10, No 1 () Amitav Ghosh's River of Smoke: Globalisation, Alternative Historiography, and Fictive Possibilities Sanjukta Poddar. Author: Amitav Ghosh River of Smoke (Ibis Trilogy 2) Also by Amitav Ghosh The Circle of Reason The Shadow Lines In An Antique Land The Calcutta.
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Praise for River of Smoke -- 'Ghosh's novel is a tense, compelling account The accumulation of minutiae puts the reader so firmly in the time and place that . AMITAV GHOSH. River of Smoke. See on. Amitar Ghosh. River of Sməke. From the bestselling author of. Sea of Poppies. In September , a storm blows up. River of Smoke HB: TPB: PB: Ebook: In September a storm blows up on the Indian.
River of Smoke
In this section, I examine various episodes culled from parts of the novel alongside historical sources, to understand how Ghosh employs micro-narrative as an alternative historiographical source. In one of the many conversations in the text, Zadig Bey an Armenian-Egyptian clockmaker recounts for Robin Chinnery an Anglo-Indian painter 11 the long history of mutual contact between China and the larger body of foreigners.
The subject-positions of these characters is also worth noting since it is precisely with such creative wanderers, who are without stake in the aggressive trade or military nexus, with whom authorial sympathy seems to lie. Zadig and Robin discuss how this relationship had taken an acrimonious turn in the late eighteenth century, particularly due to the intrusive martial and commercial actions of the Europeans.
The conversation is reproduced by Robin in a letter to Paulette, his childhood friend. But how is it possible, I said, that people from Hindustan and Arabia and Persia were able to build monasteries and mosques in a city that is forbidden to foreigners? It was then that I learnt it has not always been thus: there was a time, said Zadig Bey, when hundreds of thousands of Achhas, Arabs, Persians and Africans had lived in Canton.
Back in the time of the Tang dynasty they of the marvellous horses and paintings! From then on the Chinese knew the Europeans would stop at nothing to seize their land—and one thing you have to say about the Chinese is that unlike others in the East they are a practical people.
When faced with a problem they try to find 9 Postcolonial Text Vol 10, No 1 a solution. And that over there was their answer: Fanqui-town. It was built not because the Chinese wished to keep all aliens at bay, but because the Europeans gave them every reason for suspicion. As such, Ghosh posits fiction as a rectification of prejudiced historiography, by providing an alternative version of events within the fictional matrix.
Hypothetically, direct citations of these sources within the narrative are attempts to indicate an alarming parallel to the globalised trade markets of today. Ghosh himself draws attention to such similarities: And today when people talk about the doctrine of free trade, they do it as though it were this thing without any history, as though it had nothing preceding it.
And yet, this doctrine comes to us soaked in blood and soaked in criminality. Alford, interview with Ghosh This aspect of trade is foregrounded in an episode from the novel wherein in , Bahram Modi, the Parsi opium trader from Bombay, and Zadig Bey have a fortuitous fictional meeting with Napoleon Bonaparte, imprisoned on the island of St. They mention how the initial legitimate trade between China and Britain—mainly in tea, silk and porcelain—was very profitable for the Chinese and skewed the balance of trade in favour of China due to the huge demand for tea in England.
Hanes and Sanello explain that while the Chinese accepted payment only in Spanish taels, all British efforts to expand the export of goods beyond the existent commerce in tin and calico were rejected by the cautious and self-sufficient Chinese nation. In their continued aggressive efforts to capture the Chinese economy, the British started exporting increased amounts of opium to penetrate the resistant market and within about forty years, it became the most valuable overseas commerce for Britain Blue.
Ghosh informs the readers via the same fictive conversation that while opium was not introduced to China by the British its medical usage had long been known there , it was the high amounts of the British export of this product which in turn dangerously expanded the market. Ultimately, these aggressive commercial moves helped opium to percolate down to the commoners and formed a ruinous addiction. For Britain, this resulted in the favourable reversal of the balance of payment but as mentioned already, the consequences for India and China were catastrophic Read simultaneously with historical accounts, the text makes apparent that the conversion of China into a huge market for opium simultaneously involved the greater ruination of parts of India—an exploitative chain informed by imperial hegemony.
Once the monopoly of East India Company over trade with China was abolished in ibid. Some Chinese businessmen, mainly the members of the Co-Hong, were also part of the trade. Ghosh dramatises the debates and negotiations which took place in Canton between the mandarins Chinese bureaucrats and opium traders in the days leading up to the war.
He weaves fictional characters with those drawn from life to depict the Anglo-Sino war as one largely forced by Britain in order to gain from the continuation of the opium trade.
The novel reserves its absolute censure for the leading opium traders of Canton such as Matheson, Jardine and Dent, figures from history who have been re-imagined based on documentary evidence. Ghosh also reproduces extracts of several speeches made by them as well as others such as John Slade, the owner of Canton Register a contemporary English newspaper , to show how they self-righteously defended the smuggling of opium and its illegal trade Also presented are the speeches of the miniscule anti-opium lobby led by Charles King, an American trader who dealt in only legal goods This logic, of course, ignored the fact that it was the ready availability of opium and its addictive nature which led to its extensive use and demand that only increased with time—a fact evinced by the action of the novel.
The dubious standards of Britain in the matter is made apparent again when Bahram narrates the tale of how the British government ruined the ship-building trade of the Mistrys in India through unfair trade limitations, ignoring their own vaunted principle of free trade.
Again, Ghosh attempts to posit the version of events he favours by highlighting the duplicitous standards of the British traders. To draw these events within the fictional matrix, he dramatises them through the use of archival material as well as historical accounts often blurring the limits between fiction and primary sources.
Closely following such sources mentioned earlier , the same British merchants who had advocated governmental non-interference at an earlier point appeal to Charles Elliot the Trade Superintendent and British Resident for help when they are trapped in Canton by the Chinese government.
The latter, represented by Lin Zexu, orders the traders to stop the trade in opium at Canton. Ghosh reproduces the letter sent to Queen Victoria by Zexu, ably translated by Neel, now a munshi and a multilingual translator.
It is not of course either made or sold at your bidding, nor do all the countries you rule produce it, but only certain of them. We have heard that England forbids the smoking of opium within its dominions with the utmost rigour.
This means you are aware of how harmful it is. Since the injury it causes has been averted from England, is it not wrong to send it to another nation? How can these opium-sellers bear to bring to our people an article which does them so much harm for an ever-grasping gain? Suppose those of another nation should go to England and induce its people to buy and smoke the drug—it would be right that You, Honoured Sovereign, should hate and abhor them.
While the English government maintained an overt stance of condemning the trade, it was they who turned a blind eye to its continuation, and even facilitated its production in India under the control of the East India Company. Similarly, Elliot apparently toed the official line and complied with Chinese orders, only to return the next year to lead the war against China.
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Clearly, Ghosh is commenting on the importance of the opium trade to the British as it was their most profitable business and the authorities could not abandon it. There is an implicit isomorphism suggested between the interests of the trading lobby and that of the British government. This view gains credence from the fact that trade pre-empted territorial conquest and colonization as in the case of Opium Wars. As Zadig Bey observes to Bahram, the fact that the conflict is between two strong nations did not justify British action against China.
In the novel, when Charles King calls upon him to agree to the ban on opium, he ignores the ethical for financial safety. Ironically, he falls victim to opium addiction at this desperate stage, implicating himself in the same evil he has promoted for so long. In his opium-induced vision, he confesses to his bursar Vico that he had sold his soul to Ahriman, the embodiment of evil in the Zoroastrian faith he is a practitioner of.
The novel ends at this point but history documents that Jardine, Matheson and others— the largest stakeholders in the opium trade— returned to England and lobbied successfully for military intervention in China, which led to the war and even greater ruin for the Chinese Hanes and Sanello. Deploying authorial discretion, Ghosh envisages a more ethical end for the fictional character of Bahram Mody, which redeems him in the eyes of the readers while allowing facts to speak for historical characters such as Matheson and Jardine.
The last section of the article discusses possible avenues of a constructive and alternative exchange beyond the one controlled and informed by exploitative and authoritative structures. His critique of globalisation reifies these concerns but does so by positing an alternative paradigm of global contact which includes economic and cultural exchange actualised in vastly different conditions, prior to the formation of the hyphenated entity— the modern nation-state.
Referring to the work of Sheldon Pollock on medieval India and travelogues from the fourteenth century, Gupta also argues that an understanding of globalisation and cosmopolitanism as a recent phenomenon Appadurai and Appiah , is a-historical.
Further, he contends that such a stance displays a limited understanding of the history of trade and international contact, which only serves to moor it more firmly within the constrictions of a Eurocentric Enlightenment genealogy that bypasses prior formations.
While it remains a limited attempt since cosmopolitanism is Eurocentric in origin and draws its legitimacy from Enlightenment discourse, particularly Kantian philosophy, it is crucial that novel forms of theorising global contact are proposed, especially at the level of individual actors, to avoid the proverbial risk of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Discussing the Indian Ocean trade network between the seventh and fifteenth centuries before the disruptive arrival of the Portuguese , Gupta comments, Not only did these networks lead to an incredible exchange of ideas, technologies and goods, they also brought people from different lands into contact with each other, often for extended periods of time.
This created centers of cosmopolitanism that, in their extensiveness and reach, were comparable, and perhaps even more intensive, than anything we can observe in the world today—at a very different moment of globalisation.
Its difference from other forms of cosmopolitanism lies in the deft manoeuvre, almost a sleight of hand, that Ghosh is able to manage. On the one hand, he is critical of macro- formulations such as globalisation and cosmopolitanism and on the 14 Postcolonial Text Vol 10, No 1 other, he indicates the possibilities of alternative modes of global contact at the micro-level, particularly at the level of characterisation.
Thus, I argue that Ghosh is presenting the possibility of vibrant networks even within a moment of rupture constituted by the First Opium War that reflects his belief in such instances. Of course, such belief remains open to further questions, such as how broad were the contours of this possibility and how wide the access? In this regard, Ghosh highlights three modes of cross-cultural existence that display a degree of critical self-reflexivity and distance from exploitative trade networks; but these represent a miniscule section within the wide maritime world.
These are: nature, specifically plants of medicinal and aesthetic value, art and creativity, and to an extent, the hybridity of lineages and lives. Here, we notice an important distinction between history writing and historical fiction wherein the former opens up imaginative realms and lives and allows subalterns a degree of agency and succour that history cannot.
When she is orphaned and left penniless, she decides to travel on the Ibis in order to continue her botanical explorations in Mauritius. Through this sub-plot, Ghosh brings within the ambit of discussion the prevalent English obsession with exotic plants and landscape gardening.
It must be kept in mind that the instinct underlying the European interest in extending the knowledge about flora and fauna was also part of the Enlightenment epistemological project. As Ghosh narrates, the Chinese had resisted this European exploratory endeavour too, as they were well aware of its exploitative potential.
The mutuality of the encounter conducted as a consensual barter in the 15 Postcolonial Text Vol 10, No 1 flora of the three continents alters its dynamics from that of a solely material and epistemological plunder or appropriation. Similarly, another avenue of a creative cross-cultural contact which carries the potential for mutual enrichment is the exchange of artistic styles and practices.
The Cantonese school of art was looked down upon by both European artists such as George Chinnery as well as the practitioners of Chinese High Art. When Robin visits a prominent Canton studio, he is surprised to learn that the Cantonese artists, practitioners of a hybrid form, are less condescending than the purists, freely assimilating western techniques as well as indigenous ones. These letters are an enlightening discourse on prevalent artistic styles and how each is unique and creative in its own way.
Robin reflects that while European art deems itself superior in its confidence of more realistic depictions through the deployment of perspective, European artists ignore the potential of miniature painting with its ability to simultaneously depict multi-layered complexity in great detail. Similarly, the Chinese style of scroll painting has a dynamic narrative potential lacked by the other two. Robin Chinnery decides to execute this subject on a scroll, merging his own training in Western art with Chinese traditional practices in the cosmopolitan space of alternative and mutually fruitful interaction between cultures.
Penrose find the rare plant he is looking for? Does Neel manage to evade the long arm of the law? David Davidar writing in Outlook notes "Conventional wisdom has it that in the age of Twitter long striders in the world of fiction are doomed to extinction.
Attention spans have dwindled, the pundits say, brevity is all, and the grand narrative is to be consigned to the trash heap. Generous helpings of humour, adventure the hunt for the golden camellia was a favourite , history, romance, villainy and suspense are expertly blended into the narrative to make for a rich and entertaining read". What is perhaps a pre-condition is an appetite for detail, a taste for complexities, and a love for words and their strange journeys.
Robin Chinnery's conversation transports us to Jane Austen's England. And we are charmed by the sing-song of pidgin as Chi-mei sympathises with Bahram. But Ghosh's novels somehow succeed in taking us back inside the chaos of when "then" was "now". His grasp of the detail of the period is exhaustive — he is so thoroughly submerged in it — that readers can't possibly remember all the things he shows them, or hold on to all the life-stories of all the characters he introduces.
Similarly, another avenue of a creative cross-cultural contact which carries the potential for mutual enrichment is the exchange of artistic styles and practices. The Cantonese school of art was looked down upon by both European artists such as George Chinnery as well as the practitioners of Chinese High Art. When Robin visits a prominent Canton studio, he is surprised to learn that the Cantonese artists, practitioners of a hybrid form, are less condescending than the purists, freely assimilating western techniques as well as indigenous ones.
These letters are an enlightening discourse on prevalent artistic styles and how each is unique and creative in its own way. Robin reflects that while European art deems itself superior in its confidence of more realistic depictions through the deployment of perspective, European artists ignore the potential of miniature painting with its ability to simultaneously depict multi-layered complexity in great detail.
Similarly, the Chinese style of scroll painting has a dynamic narrative potential lacked by the other two. Robin Chinnery decides to execute this subject on a scroll, merging his own training in Western art with Chinese traditional practices in the cosmopolitan space of alternative and mutually fruitful interaction between cultures. To reiterate, while Ghosh is critical of the dynamics of opium trade which led to the two Opium Wars, he is simultaneously projecting the possibility of new modes of transnational interaction which operate on different paradigms.
In fact, Ghosh is more ambiguous about a similar scope in the interpersonal relationships forged by individuals of disparate national or cultural groups in the novel. For example, through the mention of romantic and sexual encounters such as those between Chi-mei and Bahram Mody; Zadig Bey and his Ceylonese wife, and George Chinnery and his Indian mistress, Ghosh indicates an era of pre-Victorian flexible attitudes in Britain and its colonies.
However, the dynamics of such relationships were often informed by a clear hierarchy— the mobile, upper-class men of powerful communities and the lower-class subjugated women of colonised nations. Within the novel, it is only through those characters who have been sensitised to various cultures and accepted the intricacies of both, that there are hints towards the possibility of an alternative cross- cultural practice. Figures such as Zadig Bey, Paulette and Neel, and Baburao and Asha, who have endeavoured towards a plural mode of being beyond ascribed cultural codes or regional affiliations, indicate a redemptive possibility.
Similarly, Baburao and Asha represent an interesting paradigm of heterogeneity as ethnic Chinese who are also comfortable with their Bengali affiliations. Towards the end of the novel, his attempt to compile a Chrestomathy of pidgin takes him deeper into an understanding of the Chinese worldview and indicates an optimistic trend for the future.
It cautions us against the patterns of history as well as indicates the avenues for multicultural contact which can bypass the exploitative transnational financial networks. He writes, If by cosmopolitanism one means the seamless negotiation of difference, and the ability to operate in different cultural and social contexts without any difficulty whatsoever, then it could be argued that this is an utopian ideal which even the high modernist versions of that term could only gesture toward, but not ever possibly fulfill.
Cosmopolitanism always has a shape, a character, an ethos and an ethics 13, my emphasis. Within the enabling space of fiction, fleeting utopian moments of connection at the level of individuals are actualised.
Arguably, Amitav Ghosh, the author, like his female protagonist, perched on a vantage point as a creative visionary, is making a similarly daring prediction about future possibilities, expressing hope for mutuality and equality within the chaos of globalisation and mirages of cosmopolitanism. Subalternity is understood here as a general condition of those disenfranchised from networks of power on the Indian Ocean route. However, this does not preclude particular instances of agency, especially within the fictional framework where such agency propels the narrative and suggests alternative ontologies and possible realities.
These are terms used by Ghosh in the novel. In itself a problematic formulation evincing the Eurocentric bias of history as a discipline. The numbers are available on the National Archives of UK website.
This implies a shortage of work and livelihood opportunities in one place and an excess in other, leading to migration. However, the link of colonialism between the two zones is ignored in using such an explanation for Indian Ocean migration.
A fictional character portrayed as the illegitimate son of George Chinnery who is a historical character and a well-known painter based in India and later, China. Co-hong is the pidgin word for the Chinese merchants who traded with foreigners. The actual text of the letter is widely available accessed through the World History Sourcebook. Indeed, the Indian trading contingent in Canton at the time was led by a Parsi from Bombay Brook and Wakabayashi In her article on cosmopolitanism or the lack thereof in the Andamans, Aparna Vaidik writes: However, the question one could ask is — Does the mere existence of continuous exchange in ideas, material and humans and the co-existence of diverse groups of population in coastal areas or port towns or shared climatic and cultural mores constitute cosmopolitanism?
They followed in the wake of traders or even led them in territorial conquest and also constituted a significant lobby in pressurizing the British government to open up more areas of China for propagating their faith. Some other locales of plurality are also mentioned in the novel which is beyond hierarchies or racial and colonial control. One is the floating clothes market of Singapore, which is geographically located between Mauritius and Canton. In contrast, British clubs in Bengal and Bombay are restricted to Europeans whereas the club in Canton cannot afford such rigidity due to exigencies of trade which involved Hindustanis like Bahram.
The shortcomings that remain are all mine. Works Cited Abu-Lughod, Janet. Before European Hegemony: The World System A. New York: Oxford UP. Alford, Robert. Allingham, Philip V. The Opium Trade Anderson, Claire. Race, Criminality and Colonialism in South Asia.
Oxford and New York: Berg, Appadurai, Arjun.
Appiah, Kwame Anthony. Ethics in a World of Strangers. Penguin, Blue, Gregory. The British Connection. China, Britain and Japan Timothy Brook and Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi. U of California P, Brook, Timothy and Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi.
Burton, Antoinette. History of the Present 2: Commissioner Lin.
Modern History Sourcebook. Das Gupta, Ranajit. Fredric Jameson and Masao Miyoshi. Durham and London: Duke UP, Edwardes, M. Benn, Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things: Archaeology of Human Sciences. Vintage Books, Ghosh, Amitav. River of Smoke. New Delhi: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin India, Sea of Poppies. Gupta, Akhil. Cosmopolitanism before the Nation State.
The Opium Wars: Sourcebook Inc, Jameson, Fredric. Roopnarine, Lomarsh. Beyond the Push and Pull Model. Marchant, Leslie. Mignolo, Walter. Border Thinking and Critical Cosmopolitanism.
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Miyoshi, Masao.Having said that, a note of caution must be included. PB: Ebook: In September a storm blows up on the Indian Ocean and the Ibis, a ship carrying a consignment of convicts and indentured laborers from Calcutta to Mauritius, is caught up in the whirlwind.
Conference Presentation. Bilingual recordings. Modern History Sourcebook. The non-linear narrative of River of Smoke opens several years in the future, about fifty years ahead from where Sea of Poppies had left off, before going back to the events aboard the ship and what follows for some of its characters. China, Britain and Japan