There was a time when Arun Shourie would write and invariably an avalanche-like situation would erupt in the country’s establishment, both political as well as academic. In his typical fact-based analysis, with a tinge of humour and sarcasm, and often Urdu and Hindi couplets, he would be a single-man army taking on a cabal of all sorts, often exposing them mercilessly. But that was a while ago.
He is old now. Seventy-eight years, as he often reminds during the conversation. And he now writes on death. Yes, the title of his latest book is Preparing for Death. His last few books include Two Saints and Does He know a Mother’s Heart?
Is there a pattern? Is he himself preparing for a death, as he advocates his readers to not treat it as a taboo subject and instead take clues from the lives of great men like Gautam Buddha, Ramakrishna Paramhamsa, Ramana Maharshi and Mahatma Gandhi to ensure that we face our ends with equanimity? Or am I reading too much into it?
“I don’t think that’s the case,” Shourie says matter-of-factly as he adds that his last book was on my wife’s “bizarre” court case, Anita Gets Bail. He then reminds how his very first book, Hinduism: Essence & Consequences (1982), was religious in nature. Shourie, however, concedes, “But, yes, there’s no denying that I am getting old. I am 78 now and in a very crowded departure lounge that is fast getting depleted, with my friends and relatives leaving this world, one after another.”
Shourie then tells about his meditative life: “I do meditation for 45 minutes. I do pranayam for 20 minutes. I do asanas for another 45 minutes. In meditation, I focus on the sound of silence with a blank mind.” He adds, “I hope this training will help me in the last moment – when I am wrecked by pain, I can take my attention away from that and focus on the sound of silence in the blank mind.”
The following is an edited excerpt of a freewheeling interview with Arun Shourie on his new book, his life in Pune, and, of course, his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi when the author was admitted in a hospital recently.
Q. Your book once again vindicates that death is a great leveller.
A. Yes, it is. Everyone dies, big or small. Even a pure personality like Buddha found himself suffering because of age-related physical constraints. Like every 80-year-old person, he found difficulties in doing as basic a thing as walking. Even in his own life, he faced several hardships, such as calumny, conspiracies by close associates, with one woman even falsely claiming to be impregnated by him. In Mahatma Gandhi’s case, he was assassinated. All these difficulties can be turned into teachers for our lives and help improve our concept of the self.
Q. You talk in detail about Buddha’s life and struggles. What explains your fascination for him?
A. He was one of the greatest teachers of mankind. All Indic traditions have focused on inner directed search. Buddha and his followers have gone deeper into analysing the mind. In that sense, it’s a great heritage. Other traditions became outward-oriented, with an excessive focus on rituals. Even in Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism became obsessed with rituals. Rituals were originally made for helping our mind focus on the ultimate reality through idols and mantras. But over time, rituals became all in all. So, all reformers in our traditions have repeatedly reminded us not to waste our time on external rituals and instead go inward. Buddha’s life is a constant reminder of that.
Q. Ramakrishna too is analysed deeply, here and in one of the previous books, Two Saints. Tell us about the relevance of Ramakrishna.
A. Ramakrishna had a great gift of conveying the most esoteric things with small parables. His humility and detachment were remarkable. Even when he was just a small priest in a temple, his fame reached far beyond Calcutta and, in fact, he could reverse the trend of conversion in Bengal at that time. At that time, Christianity was associated with a dominant power, many people were getting attracted towards it. If you read Max Mueller’s letters to his wife, they seem to suggest that they had found a key in the form of Keshav Chandra Sen, leader of the Brahmo Samaj, in converting India. But Keshav himself fell under the spell of Ramakrishna. Similarly, our own practices like idol worship were looked down upon at that time, but this simple man’s devotion to the image of Mother Kali reversed that phenomenon. Similarly, in the case of sannyasins, they were all factionalised and had turned into warring camps. It was Ramakrishna who brought about reconciliation among them by telling them to rise above their little tribalism.
Q. Ramakrishna refused to ask Mother Kali to cure him of his cancer and yet he was often found requesting doctors to do so. Why?
A. In his mind, it wasn’t a dichotomy. And his mood—like the mood of most Bengalis (laughs)—would often swing. But as far as asking Mother to cure him of his illness, he said he couldn’t do that. He said he had already received a great gift from her, that was, his spiritual insight. So, he couldn’t ask for a profane thing like looking after his body. But with physicians, he had no such constraints. He would sometimes scold them; he would call one Dr Sarkar a “villain”, at other times, he would urge them to cure the pain in his throat. He would do all this with his child-like innocence.
Q. You mention in the book Gandhi and his premonitions regarding death. And yet, he was also seen making future plans, such as a visit to Pakistan or Wardha. How do you explain this?
A. That’s why I would not read too much into his premonitions regarding death, but the devotees of Gandhi would say he had a premonition. I had met a remarkable person called Manibhai Desai who was doing constructive work in a village near Pune. He told me how he went to surrender to Gandhi after being involved in violent activities in 1942. He wanted to become Gandhi’s follower. The Mahatma told him not to rush. Instead, he gave him four vows and told him to think about it for a year. “If you are prepared to follow these four vows even after a year, then come back,” Gandhi said. While they were talking, Gandhi realised that he had to go to a meeting 15 minutes later and wanted to sleep before that. Exactly 15 minutes later, Gandhi woke up and resumed the conversation before going for the meeting. The young Desai asked Gandhi how he could get up in 15 minutes. To this, Gandhi said that it was a very important indication: “When I start losing control over my sleep, then I would know that I am close to my death.” And towards the end of his life, Gandhi started saying that he was getting irritable, losing control over sleep, etc. Yet, these could also be due to the situation he was in. After all, he was torn by India’s catastrophic Partition, Hindu-Muslim violence, et al. He felt that his entire experiment had failed.
Q. You also mention that Gandhi believed in the idea of honourable death. In 1944, he asked his followers not to medically treat Kasturba.
A. Gandhi always had immense faith in “Ram naam”. For any disease he would tell people to recite “Ram naam”. This was to the extent that one of his children was near death and he refused to give him medicine and instead wanted everyone to recite “Ram naam”. But in the case of Kasturba, one of the reasons why I mentioned the penicillin injection issue is because it’s a preview of how death has been so medicalised these days. I saw a survey that said that in the US and Europe, one third of medical expenditure during a lifetime is actually spent in the last three months of a person’s life.
I remember when my mother had a brain haemorrhage and the doctor told me on the fifth day in the ICU that her condition won’t improve. He asked me to decide if we should terminate the medicine, after which she would die in 2-3 hours. I immediately told the doctor to go ahead and, only after giving my consent, I rang up my brother and sister to come to the hospital.
Q. Vinoba Bhave called Gandhi’s death “a perfect end”. Why?
A. He believed that you should be engaged in doing work till death knocks at your door. And that’s how Gandhi died. Just before going for the prayer meeting, he had a meeting with Sardar Patel discussing his differences with Nehru and trying to find a way out. Ironically, however, Vinoba himself withdrew from public work systematically over many years. And then he died. But he died voluntarily. He died the Santhara death.
Q. You have always admired Gandhi despite knowing his weaknesses, especially dealing with Muslim leaders during the Khilafat movement and after. Why?
A. As far as Gandhi being used by the Mohammed brothers during the Khilafat movement is concerned, one needs to look at the explanation of Ramchandra Gandhi, his grandson. Ramchandra Gandhi said that, just after the Mahatma came back from South Africa, he realised that the British would try to divide the national movement along three fault lines: Harijans and caste Hindus, Hindus and Muslims, and state princes and the rest of India. His endeavours through his life have been to not let the British exploit these fault lines. So, I don’t think one can fault him there.
I, as a very small person, however, find his explanations to be constrained by his fundamental belief in God—for instance, with regard to human suffering. If everything happens with God’s will, then why did He give Hitler free will to kill 6 million Jews? Even Jews would ask questions and Gandhi’s answers to them were very inadequate. For me, either God doesn’t know what is happening here, or he is unable to alter it, or is not suffused with compassion.
Q. Also, we often make the mistake of judging a person from contemporary parameters…
A. Absolutely. For instance, if Gandhi used the word “Negro”, he is called racist today. But the fact is that was the conventional word even in the 1960s. Even when I went to the US to study, that’s how the blacks were called then. Arundhati (Roy) and others will see that as racism.
Q. You have a huge admiration for Vinoba, but his ideas often sounded too simplistic…
A. See, Vinoba and Gandhi’s ideas may seem very different from today’s worldview but it would be difficult to sit in judgement on them and we should see what we can learn from them. For instance, this consumerist, fossil fuel-dependent, energy-intensive society will lead to climate disasters. And this was something Gandhi was saying almost a century ago but, at that time, the idea seemed very primitive. Today, they seem so modern. Look at how khadi has now become a cool fabric. Also, the idea of localised production and consumption so that we spend less on transportation, fuel. Khadi, for Gandhi, was also a particular way of thinking about life and economy.
Q. PM Modi visited you when you were hospitalised in a Pune hospital. How was the meeting?
A. It was very nice of him to take the trouble to come but I didn’t read anything more into that. We had good moments and we tried to make each other laugh. In the end, I told him that by coming he had upped my market cap. To this, the PM laughed and said, “Bhaiyya, tumhara market cap to ucha hi hai!”
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BOOKS TO LOOK OUT FOR THIS WEEK
Watershed: How We Destroyed India’s Water and How We Can Save It
In this fascinating, deeply researched book Mridula Ramesh takes us through 4,000 years of history to track how India’s water has reached this critical point. From stories of ancient water-engineering marvels in the Indus Valley and Tamil Nadu to how water shaped medieval Delhi; from the burning fields of the country’s north-west to the hilsa’s curtailed journey; and from the forests of Kanha and dams in Arunachal to Kanpur’s tanneries, Watershed uncovers how India’s fate is gradually being sealed by the extremes of drought and floods. This book is an urgent call to action to every Indian citizen to value a life-giving commodity and do what it takes to ensure a secure future.
Vipassana: Timeless Secret to Meditate and Be Calm
Penguin Random House India, Rs 399
Bestselling author Shonali Sabherwal’s latest book is perfect for anyone looking to start meditating. With a detailed guide and a focus on Vipassna, this book shows you how to control the highs and lows in life and take charge of your happiness. It teaches you how to occupy a state of equanimity and be present in the moment through an ancient technique used by the Buddha for enlightenment. Lift yourself up on this journey from misery to happiness, from defilement to purity, from bondage to liberation and from ignorance to enlightenment with this insightful book. You can read this book to find out how to turn your life around through Vipassana.
Asterix and the Griffin:
Hachette India, Rs 499
Deep in the frozen plains of Barbaricum, the Sarmatians face a terrible threat. The Romans are approaching in huge numbers to capture the Griffin, a sacred and terrifying beast, and they’ve kidnapped the beloved niece of the wise old shaman, Fanciakuppov, to lead them to it. Determined to stop them, Fanciakuppov seeks the help of his Gaulish friends. Follow Asterix and Obelix as they fight alongside the fearless Amazon warrior women to rescue the prisoner and prevent the Romans from reaching this formidable beast! The bestselling series is back with its 39th adventure. Filled with jokes, new characters and bravely fought battles, it will delight fans old and new.
Crafting a Future: Stories of Indian Textiles and Sustainable Practices
Niyogi Books, Rs 1495
This book is a heartfelt celebration of artisans and their vocational skills. Each Indian region has its own distinctive raw materials, craft techniques, textiles, motifs and colour palettes, and through her well-researched narrative enriched with many stories, the author demonstrates the diversity of handcrafted textile processes in this book. She believes handspun, handwoven fabrics will help create a unique identity for handcrafted textiles and suggests ways to repurpose the abundant artisanal talent in India to rejuvenate this sector. This book is broadly divided into three sections based on natural fibres: cotton from plants, silk from insects, and wool from animals.
‘FRIENDS’ STAR MATTHEW PERRY’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY TO BE OUT IN AUTUMN 2022
There’s good news for fans of the immensely popular and hit sitcom Friends. Matthew Perry is all set to share his story in an autobiography. The currently untitled book will be published by Hachette India in Autumn 2022. In his book, Perry takes readers behind the scenes and onto the soundstage of the most successful sitcom of all time while opening up about his private struggles with addiction. Candid, self-aware and told with his trademark humour, Perry vividly details his lifelong battle with the disease and what fueled it, despite seemingly having it all. “Perry’s memoir, the first from a cast member of Friends, is unflinchingly honest, delightfully gossipy, and absolutely hilarious. This is the book that Friends fans have been waiting for but also one that shines a powerful light into the dark for anyone who is in their own battle with addiction, either for themselves or a loved one,” the publisher said in a statement.
Perry said: “There has been so much written about me by others in the past. I thought it was time people heard it directly from the horse’s mouth. In this case, the horse’s mouth being me.” The Canadian-American actor is also an executive producer and comedian best known for his role as Chandler Bing in Friends, the Emmy nominated Quincy Jones from The West Wing, and Dr Nicholas “Oz” Oseransky from The Whole Nine Yards.
There has been so much written about me by others in the past. I thought it was time people heard it directly from the horse’s mouth. In this case, the horse’s mouth being me. — Matthew Perry
Amalgamating science fiction and mythology
The intriguing plot of The Exile of Mukunda by Arpit Bakshi will keep the readers hooked till the end and take them on a journey of never before thrill and adventure.
Arpit Bakshi has launched another intriguing thriller, The Exile of Mukunda, the second part of the Maha Vishnu Trilogy, which gives a mind-boggling twist to the glorious ending of the Manavas’ “apocalyptic” adventure. The second series portrays a subtle blend of science fiction and fantasy, inspired by Indian mythology. In the suspenseful narrative, The Exile of Mukunda exhibits different emotions love, hate, unions, separations, trust, and treachery.
This book is set on a planet called Prithvi that exists in a distant universe, 1408. The story mainly revolves around the character called Mukunda, who happens to be the son of Krishna, the protagonist of Maha Vishnu Trilogy part-1. The young and defiant son of Krishna is desperate to take vengeance from Krishna for abandoning him and his mother in their hour of need. Trapped in a kingdom governed by the evil forces of Prithvi, Mukunda finds himself supporting them in creating weapons capable of wiping out the existence of Manavas. Surrounded by soulless enemies in these dire times, Mukunda only trusts a faceless voice emanating from the dark depth of deep space.
Manavas, who now live peacefully in the well-guarded city of Ksharanpur, governed by Sriram, are unaware of the impending dangers. Will Mukunda ever be able to escape from the clutches of evil? Will Mukunda find Krishna? Seek answers to the grappling questions by entering the mystical world of The Exile of Mukunda.
‘POLITICAL THOUGHT IN INDIC CIVILIZATION’
ANALYSES THE EARLIEST THEORIES OF INDIC POLITICAL PHILOSOPHIES
‘India as the manufacturing and trading hub of the world was always linked to the world. The diverse knowledge traditions of the world were integral parts of Indic society which was receptive to the diverse new ideas required to cater to the diverse needs of different parts of the world”.
The arrival of the Company in the 17th century and the seizure of power in the 18th century was part of the desire to control power and destroy the very basic pillar of society, that is, Indic knowledge system. The intent to rule over this wealth – the labour and the resources – lead to the distortion of Indic history under the planned design. The foundation of the Asiatic Society in 1784 at Calcutta was the beginning of the systematic destruction of Indic history famed for its wealth and wisdom.
Himanshu Roy’s edited book Political Thought in Indic Civilization (published by Sage Publishing) revolves around, how the colonial masters had gathered the knowledge about the Indic system and misguided the information and systematic destruction of the Indian knowledge system as a tool to divide. Indian Pandits and Maulvis were engaged to interpret the Indian texts but were not part of the final decision-making process. In this process Asiatic Society (1784) had played a pivotal role. 38 members were the founder of this society but none of them was Indians, neither it was open for the Indians for the next 40 years.
Indic thought has been in constant flux reflecting the ideas of the times. Roy’s edited book covers two broad themes, one, how the state should better its function in order to strengthen itself, particularly in the structurally divisive society in the post-Rig vedic eras. Rarely, there is a reflection or an argument for its abolition. What we do find is a reflection of an imaginary ideal state or a society, a Ram Rajya or a social desire to return to Satyug-Dwapar-Treta yug which are equated with an ideal society with social bliss.
Political Thought in Indic Civilization retrieves, resurrects, and analyses the earliest theories of Indic political philosophies. The book primarily focuses on Indic civilization’s political thought, emphasising key issues such as rashtra (state), kingship, jurisprudence, and justice. The study shows how ideas, ideologies, frameworks, reference points, and other significant tools of scholarly discussions are so much under the influence of Western thought, failing to appreciate the Indian realities. The book highlights the impact of colonial rule on the ‘construction of knowledge’ from a Western (colonial) perspective and how it ignored the importance of Indian political thought of the pre-colonial period.
Roy’s book has 11 chapters with Preface, Introduction, and Conclusion. In the Balaji Ranganathan chapter, the Trajectory of Rashtra points out the historical journey of rashtra and colonial misinterpretation. The notion of the rashtra does not emanate just from the colonial period but it evolves to the latter stage through a complex interaction of history, materiality, and idea of personal self.
Roy’s chapter on Indic Islam points out the dichotomy of Indian Muslims, which divides them into invaders and converts. The majority of converted Indian Muslims (approximately 95%) were Dalits or OBC who continued with their hereditary caste rules.
The writer is Assistant Professor, University of Delhi.
In the Balaji Ranganathan chapter, the Trajectory of Rashtra points out the historical journey of rashtra and colonial misinterpretation. The notion of the rashtra does not emanate just from the colonial period but it evolves to the latter stage through a complex interaction of history, materiality, and idea of personal self.
8TH KALINGA LITERARY FESTIVAL TO BE HELD IN BHUBANESWAR FROM 10-12 DECEMBER
The Kalinga Literary Festival (KLF) is back with its 8th edition to invigorate, educate, provoke and entertain as well. Around 300 celebrities from the worlds of literature, cinema, media and politics will assemble in the temple city of Odisha to deliberate on the theme of “India at 75: Commemorating the Republic of Letters”, at the KLF in Bhubaneswar, from 10 to 12 December 2021.
After a full year of waiting, KLF 2021 will once again open its arms to literature lovers and audiences in the temple city Bhubaneswar, we will celebrate the 75 years of India’s Independence with literature, debate, discussion, discourse and performance.
KLF is well known for its socially relevant themes and in a way compels all ‘creative’ people to think and articulate ‘the contemporary’. Like its past editions the KLF this year also has a hard-hitting theme for writers, poets and artists to ponder on. The central theme focuses on “India at 75: Commemorating the Republic of Letters”. Several sessions on different themes will connect to the central theme.
CENTRAL THEME: INDIA AT 75: COMMEMORATING THE REPUBLIC OF LETTERS
During the struggle for India’s independence, when we were pitted against the might of the British Empire, and the future appeared to be bleak, Bal Gangadhar Tilak had memorably said: ‘Swaraj is my birthright, and I shall have it’.
75 years down the line, the nation has preserved its hard-earned freedom; its Republican values, based on rights and responsibilities, have been the hallmark of a vibrant nation with its cherished goals of cultural diversity and social equity. An example that is second to none in the entire world, a work-in-progress worthy of admiration and emulation!
Nowhere is the idea of India as a living Being more manifest with greater strength and visibility than in the realm of literature and cultures of the land. The Mahotsav we wish to host will enhance inter-action, and promote mutual understanding, between people of different regions, culinary, costume and dress habits, faiths, persuasions and lifestyles across the length and breadth of the country, through interactions among language and learning, tangible as well as intangible cultures and heritage– paving way for what the critic Patrick J. Hill aptly calls ‘a conversation of respect’ among diverse people.
India writes in many languages and speaks in many more voices. In order to promote deeper inclusivity across the nation, our language, folklore, the ‘Marga’ and the ‘Deshi’ traditions, will be showcased in the festival. The regions will have their pride of place, along with the province and the metropolis.
Over the last 75 years, India has grown exponentially across all sectors. The Mahotsav will build upon our strengths and limitations, challenges and opportunities. These could be explored cogently through the medium of debates and dialogues, the fittest way we could pay a tribute to our motherland, a nation on the move.
KLF has emerged as one of the leading literary platforms in India, attracting both experienced and young litterateurs. Bigger than ever before, the eighth edition of the festival will bring nationally and internationally acclaimed names on one platform to discuss, debate and explore commonalities in the diverse voices in literature. The three-day festival will cover several dimensions of the interconnections between Literature, freedom, Republican values, cultural diversity, and social equity.
The key sessions will be on topics such as democracy, cultural nationalism, Generation Y, Indian Languages, publishing industry, mythology, Media, Market, Children, Women, Transgender, Citizen Engagement, Cinema, Sports, Ethics, Discrimination, Revolutions, Peacebuilding, Conflict Resolution, and Harmony. There will be several one-to-one sessions with leading experts on the subjects. There will be storytelling sessions that promise to add new flavour to the literary spirit of the festival. Three special sessions will be held on textile and literature.
Apart from this, more than 30 new books and monographs will be released during the three-day festival. The delegates and speakers of KLF will have a unique opportunity to participate in Heritage Walk called Mystic Walk and participate in plantation and Mystic Mic. In order to expand the opportunity for the delegates, the KLF team has partnered with local cycle clubs to provide cycles for speakers to roam around the smart city and experience the blend of ancient heritage and modern urban planning. A dedicated platform, Kalinga Art Festival provides a unique platform for artists to showcase their talent and connect their art to the central theme of the festival.
Writers, poets, speakers and performers likely to join the festival are: Arun Kamal, Alka Saraogi, Mamta Kalia, Arunava Sinha, Pratibha Ray, Sitakant Mahapatra, Ramakanta Rath, Santanu Kumar Acharya, Haldhar Nag, Namita Gokhale, Malashri Lal, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, Divya Dutta , Amar Pattnaik, Priyanka Chaturvedi, Gulzar, Sandeep Bamzai, Jairam Ramesh, Basant Chaudhary, Ashutosh Bhardwaj, Jayanta Mohapatra, Tarana Husain Khan, Ashok Kaul, Satish Padmanabhan, Santosh Singh, Yatish Kumar, Vibha Rani, Dr Krishna Mohan Thakur, Priya Sahgal, Gautam Chintamani, Shantanu Datta, Sabin Iqbal, Shirish Khare, Perumal Murugan, Nandini Krishnan, Meena Iyer, Tamal Bandyopadhyay, Zorawar Daulet Singh, Shekhar Pathak, Guru Prakash Paswan, Shafey Kidwai, Yatindra Mishra, Rasheed Kidwai, Ruchira Chaudhary, Ranjit Rae, Prof. Prabhkar Singh, Vyomesh Shukla, Balendu Diwedi, Anushakti Singh, Sekhar Pathak , Arun Maheswari , Abhay Mishra, Rajdeep Saradesai, Rama Pandey, Bishnu N Mohapatra, Sachidananda Mohanty, Priya Kapoor, Swati Chopra, Vaishali Mathur, Aditi Maheshwari,Vikarant Pande, Rishabh Kothari, Trisha De Niyogi, Prof. Banibrata Mahanta, Shobha Shrma, Kaveree Bamzai, Ameya Prabhu, Sai Swaooropa Iyer, Vikram Sampath, Atul Thakur, Anindita Ghose , Meena K Iyer, Puja Changoiwala, Anu Chaudhary, Debasis Samantray, Ranjan Mallick, Rohit Supkar , Shibani Sibal, Yugal Joshi, Neha Sinha, others will tell the story(ies) of life, society and the world and will also provide a future perspective on the topics of discussion.
Four awards in literature will be conferred in the following categories:
i. Kalinga Literary Award (for a distinguished writer in Odia),
ii. Kalinga International Literary Award (for a writer in any global language),
iii. Kalinga Karubaki Literary Award (for women writers) and
iv. Kalinga Literary Youth Award (for a young writer in any global language)
Rashmi Ranjan Parida, the founder-director of KLF said, “KLF 2021 returns with the promise of hope and optimism. Our return emphasises resilience and the spirit of rising. We are delighted to bring back the joy of the literary spirit to the temple city Bhubaneswar. We welcome our delegates and performers and look towards a great festival amidst all safety protocols.”
Kalinga Art Festival, an exclusive art segment has been designed to showcase the best of the creations of contemporary artists. In its fifth year, the Art Festival attracts young male and female artists from Bhubaneswar, Odisha and from the national capital. There will be a cultural program to showcase India’s art, culture and literature on each day of the three-day program.HIGHLIGHTS:
1. Central Theme: India at 75: Commemorating the Republic of Letters
2. More than 300 Speakers, poets, musicians, artists and performers to join
3. Innovative sessions on Ram Katha, poetry recitation, short story, lyrics
4. Kalinga Art Festival to showcase works of 60 artists from Odisha and India
5. Kalinga Literary Festival (KLF) Book Awards to 49 writers
6. Three prestigious awards will be conferred
7. More than 30 national and international books/publications to be released
8. Three sessions on textile and literature
AMITAV GHOSH TRACES CLIMATE CRISIS BACK TO THE DISCOVERY OF NEW WORLD
In The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis, Ghosh connects the origins of our current climate crisis to Western colonialism’s ruthless exploitation of human life and the natural world.
Amitav Ghosh’s latest book traces our contemporary planetary crisis back to the discovery of the New World and the maritime passage to the Indian Ocean and is a remarkable mix of history, essay, testimony, and polemic. The Nutmeg’s Curse argues that today’s climate change dynamics are based on a centuries-old geopolitical system built by Western colonialism. The now-ubiquitous spice ‘nutmeg’ is at the centre of Ghosh’s narrative.
The nutmeg’s history is one of conquest and exploitation, both of human life and the natural environment. The narrative of the nutmeg becomes a fable for our environmental catastrophe in Ghosh’s hands, revealing how earthly materials such as spices, tea, sugarcane, opium, and fossil fuels have always been entangled with human history. Our predicament, he argues, is the outcome of a mechanical view of the world, in which nature is viewed as a resource for humans to exploit for their own interests rather than a living force with agency and meaning.
Author Amitav Ghosh frames these historical stories in a way that connects our shared colonial histories with the deep inequality we see around us today. Written against the backdrop of the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests, and interweaving discussions on everything from climate change, the migrant crisis, and the animist spirituality of indigenous communities around the world, The Nutmeg’s Curse offers a sharp critique of Western society and reveals the profoundly remarkable ways in which human history is shaped by non-human forces.
We also realise that the book The Nutmeg’s Curse reimagines modernity as a centuries-long campaign of omnicide against the spirits of the earth, rivers, trees, and even the humble nutmeg, before making a passionate case for the critical importance of vitalist philosophy and non-human narrative. Climate change is considered a technical problem that can be solved with clean technology in the West. However, it is seen as a geopolitical and inequitable concern in the rest of the globe. Climate change geopolitics are never mentioned in meetings like the COP, which are focused on technocratic and technological solutions. That is, after all, the central idea.
Before the 18th century, every single nutmeg in the world originated around a group of small volcanic islands east of Java, known as the Banda Islands. As the nutmeg made its way across the known world, they became immensely valuable – in 16th century Europe, just a handful could buy a house. It was not long before European traders became conquerors, and the indigenous Bandanese communities – and the islands themselves – would pay a high price for access to this precious commodity. Yet the bloody fate of the Banda Islands forewarns of a threat to our present day.
Ghosh precisely claims in his book that the nutmeg’s traumatic journey from its original islands reveals a wider colonial mindset that justifies the exploitation of human life and the natural environment, and which continues to lead geopolitics today.
According to Ghosh, the Banda Islands were the only site on Earth where nutmeg was farmed prior to the 16th century. The Dutch then invaded the island in order to safeguard its production, killing thousands in the process.
He writes in the book “The Island of Lonthor is shaped like a boomerang, and it adjoins two other islands: Gunung Api and Banda Naira, a tiny islet that was already, in 1621, the seat of two massive Dutch forts. The three islands are themselves the remnants of an exploded volcano, grouped around its now-submerged crater. Between them lies a stretch of sheltered water that is deep enough to accommodate oceangoing ships. Anchored there on the night of April 21 is the fleet that has brought Martijn Sonck to the Banda Islands. On still nights sounds carry easily across this stretch of water. The rattle of agitated musket fire on Lonthor is clearly heard on the Nieuw-Hollandia, the flagship of the commander who has brought this fleet to the Bandas: Governor-General Jan Pieterszoon Coen. An accountant by training, Coen, at the age of thirty-three, has served as the governor-general of the East Indies for three years already. A man of immense energy, competence, and determination, he has risen through the ranks of the Dutch East India Company like a jet of volcanic ash. Known, behind his back, as De Schraale (“Old Skin and Bones”), he is a blunt, ruthless man, not given to mincing his words. In a letter to the Seventeen Gentlemen who preside over the Company, Governor-General Coen once observed: “There is nothing in the world that gives one a better right than power.” Amitav Ghosh’s The Nutmeg’s Curse exposes the reader to a sprawling tale of capitalism and climate change told with excellent historical and cultural context.
We did not know that nutmeg was only found on the Banda islands until the 18th century!
When it was discovered by the rest of the globe, European traders quickly conquered the islands, causing indigenous tribes on the Banda islands to pay exorbitant rates for the product. In his book The Nutmeg’s Curse, Ghosh argues that the nutmeg’s voyage from its native Banda islands reveals a prevalent colonial attitude of exploitation of human life and the environment that persists today.
Amitav Ghosh has struck to the core of the global narrative and our understanding of the climate catastrophe once again. He disproves the concept of modernity, moves the blame away from capitalism, and takes you on a consciousness odyssey across space and time. The aim was to establish a monopoly on these spices, and the Dutch carried it to the next level. In the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, European colonists were totally responsible for the exploitation of the Earth’s resources. These resource curses are destroying countries. Ghosh also addressed climate change in his 2016 book The Great Derangement.
He further writes in the book “But such a right is impossible for the Bandanese to grant. How can they refuse to trade with their accustomed business partners, from shores near and far? The islanders depend on their neighbours for food and much else. Besides, the Bandanese are themselves skilled traders, and many of them have close links with other merchant communities in the Indian Ocean; they can hardly turn their friends away empty-handed. Nor would that make commercial sense, since the Europeans often don’t pay as well as Asian buyers. And the Bandanese, like most Asians, don’t find European goods particularly desirable: what are they, with their warm climate, to do with woollen cloth, for instance?
It would have been easier for the Dutch if the Bandanese had had a powerful ruler, a sultan who could be coerced into compliance, as had happened on other islands in Maluku. But the Banda Islands have no single ruler who can be threatened and bullied into forcing his subjects to obey the foreigners’ demands. “They have neither king nor lord” was the conclusion of the first Portuguese navigators to visit the islands, “and all their government depends on the advice of their elders; and as these are often at variance, they quarrel among themselves.”
This is not the whole truth, of course. The Bandanese have aristocratic lineages, as well as merchant families that possess great wealth and many servitors. It is a combative society, divided into walled settlements that sometimes fight pitched battles against each other. But no single settlement or family has ever subdued the entire archipelago; the islanders seem to have a deep-seated distaste for the centralised, unitary rule.” The book is an engrossing, panoramic history of colonialism’s impact on the globe today, portrayed through the fascinating narrative of the nutmeg.
To fully comprehend the world-devouring logics that drive ecological collapse, Ghosh urges readers to confront war, colonialism, and genocide. Although it is widely acknowledged that the climate issue is multifaceted, American cultural discussions about it are mostly focused on its scientific, technological, and economic aspects.
Ghosh never fails to show us the mirror, whether it’s the glorified traditions of omnicide, the moral vindication sought through religion throughout history, the morbid individualism imbibed as a virtue, the irresistible vanity of racial, classist, and casteist hierarchies, or the human audacity to claim victory over Nature. Ghosh has written a remarkable, visionary appeal to new forms of human life in the ‘Anthropocene’, with wide historical perspective and astonishing insight. This is a timely and compelling work.
Author Amitav Ghosh was born in the city of Calcutta in 1956. He spent his childhood in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and India. He studied at the universities of Delhi and Oxford, and in 1986, he wrote The Circle of Reason, the first of his eight books. Sea of Poppies, the first book in his Ibis trilogy, was a Man Booker Prize finalist. In 2018, he was awarded the prestigious Jnanpith Award. The Circle of Reason, The Shadow Lines, In An Antique Land, Dancing in Cambodia, The Calcutta Chromosome, The Glass Palace, Incendiary Circumstances, and The Hungry Tide are only a few of his works. Gun Island and Junglenama, are his most recent works.
Ashutosh Kumar Thakur is a Bangalore-based Management Consultant, Literary Critic, and Co-director of the Kalinga Literary Festival. You can reach him at email@example.com.
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