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Amitav Ghosh weaves China-India history into tale

30 November 2012

Dr Ghosh sharing about the impact of Chinese opium trade on India

(From left) Assoc Prof Sankaran, Prof Duara, Dr Ghosh and Assoc Prof Sen during the lively panel discussion

Photos: Asia Research Institute
Renowned writer Dr Amitav Ghosh, who was on the shortlist for Man Booker Prize for Sea of Poppies in 2008, gave an insight into the research he conducted for his novel at the Asia Research Institute (ARI) Asia Trends 2012 Series on 27 November. The NUS Institute and the Nalanda Sriwijaya Centre at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies jointly presented the annual public lecture series, which gathers leading speakers to present academic findings on major trends in Asia to the Singapore community.

Dr Ghosh, one of India's best-known authors, shared with more than 200 participants on the theme "China and the making of modern India: a story of fantasy, abuse and recovered memory". Setting the stage for examining how the opium trade brought the two countries together, Sea of Poppies documented the journey of individuals on board the Ibis - a ship on the seas of Southeast Asia carrying indentured labourers and opium.

Part of The Ibis Trilogy, the book traced how the opium trade and its monumental impact on China have influenced India, the world's leading opium-producing country under the British Raj. The economic and social impact in the 19th century can still be seen today in the daily rituals of tea and sugar consumption to pop culture and the arts.

Dr Ghosh also shared about the Parsis' presence in Canton, China for trade and cited the example of Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy, a prominent Parsi merchant, who traded in cotton and opium in China.

The audience was able to find out more about Dr Ghosh's views during a panel discussion with Professor Prasenjit Duara, ARI Director and Raffles Professor of Humanities; and Associate Professor Tansen Sen from Baruch College at The City University of New York. Facilitated by Associate Professor Chitra Sankaran of the NUS Department of English Language and Literature, topics covered included how the writer balanced historical research and fiction in his novels, and his views on current ties between China and India.

Among the past trends examined in the Asia Trends Series were "Green Urbanism: How does Singapore compare?", "Families, Children, and Domestic Workers in Contemporary Asia" and "Waxing Korean Wave in East Asia".