Literary Shelf

Amitav Ghosh: The Post Modern Novelist

of Indian English Literature

Both modern and postmodern literature represents a break from 19th century realism. But basically Post modernism is a reaction against modernism. It gives voice to insecurities, disorientation and fragmentation. In character development, both modern and postmodern literature explore subjectivism, turning from external reality to examine inner states of consciousness, in many cases drawing on modernist examples in the "stream of consciousness" styles of Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, or explorative poems like The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot.

Post modernism is a reaction against the modernist and the ‘Anti-modernist’ tendencies which have psychological and intellectual impact. In America and France post-modern literature emerged as a genre. Post-modernist writers break away from all the rules and seek alternative principles of composition conforming to their content of existentialist thought.

Postmodern in Indian English literature explores fragmentariness in narrative - and character -construction in a different way from its British or American counterpart. In post modernism, there is a preoccupation with insecurities in the existence of humanity. The picture of life delineated by them accommodates meaninglessness, purposelessness and absurdity of human existence through the employment of devices such as Contradiction, Permutation, Discontinuity, Randomness, Excess, Short Circuit and so on. Post-modernist literature manifests chaotic condition of the world. Post modernism of Indian English literature is, however, different from that of England or Europe which rejects western values and beliefs as only a small part of the human experience and rejects such ideas, beliefs, culture and norms of the western.

Amitav Ghosh as a practitioner of post modernism in novels focuses entirely on the colonialism’s impoverished, and usually non-white, victims. They are given the central position, not the white masters. Amitav Ghosh took nearly three and a half years to write the second book of his Ibis trilogy.

In Amitav Ghosh’s novels, there is a colorful array of seamen, convicts and laborers sailing forth in the hope of transforming their lives. Apparently it seems that the characters are his targets. The Brits whom he depicts are basically scheming, perverse and ruthless to a man, but Ghosh has portrayed them not as round characters who grow. They are largely caricatures.

At the end of The Sea of Poppies, the clouds of war were seen looming, as British opium interests in India pressed for the use of force to compel the Chinese mandarins to keep open their ports, in the name of free trade. Symbolically, the novel thus ends amidst a raging storm, rocking the triple-masted schooner, the Ibis. In The Glass Palace, Amitav Ghosh narrates the havoc caused by Japanese invasion in Burma and its effect on the Army officers and people. He creates a sense of dejection that deals with so much human tragedy, wars, deaths, devastation and dislocation. Ghosh penned the story of sacrifice in The Shadow Lines, The rescue of May from Muslim mobs in the communal riots of 1963-64 in Dhaka is indeed a great sacrifice.

Amitav Ghosh expressed a developing awareness of the aspirations, defeats and disappointments of the colonized people. In The Hungry Tide, Ghosh routes the debate on eco-environment and cultural issues through the intrusion of the West into East. The destruction of traditional village life in The Circle of Reason is an allegory about the modernizing influx of western culture and the subsequent displacement of non-European peoples by imperialism. In An Antique Land, contemporary political tensions and communal rifts were delineated with the post-modernist approach.

Postcolonial migration is yet another trait of postmodernism and it is a theme in The Hungry Tide, - the ruthless suppression and massacre of East Pakistani refugees who had run away from the Dandakaranya refugee camps to Marichjhampi as they felt that the latter region would provide them with familiar environs and therefore a better life. In Sea of Poppies, the indentured laborers and convicts are transported to the island of Mauritius on the ship Ibis where they suffer a lot.

In The Glass Palace, Burmese Royal family, after the exile, lives an uncomfortable life in India. Rajkumar who piles heap of amount in Burma is forced to leave his home and business due to Japanese invasion. He spent several weeks in Guangzhou and learnt some Cantonese to depict the background of the novel which is set in Fanquit town. Most of the action occurs in Guangzhou. Like the Sea of Poppies, the novel which deals with opium trade in China is also not a single linear. Like Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, the relationship between Sea of Poppies and River of Smoke is a ‘tangential one’ as Amitav Ghosh himself describes it. The mash-up of fact and fiction works, coalescing into a narrative shaped by cataclysmic historical events but inflected with small-scale personal drama beautifully works here in the novel.

Reading List

Primary Sources

1. The Shadow Lines: A Novel (New York: Mariner Books, 2005)
2. In An Antique Land: History in the Guise of a Traveller’s Tale (New Delhi: Permanent Black/Ravi Dayal)
3. The Calcutta Chromosome: A Novel of Fevers, Delirium and Discovery (New York: Harper Perennial, 2001)
4. The Glass Palace: A Novel (New York: Random House, 2002)
5. The Hungry Tide: A Novel (New York: Mariner Books, 2006)
6. Sea of Poppies (New York: Picador, 2009)

Secondary Sources

1.Hoagland, Ericka; and Sarwal, Reema, eds. Science Fiction, Imperialism and the Third World: Essays on Postcolonial Literature and Film. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2010.
2. Bannerjee, Dhrubajyoti. Violent Cartography of Violence: A Study of the Shadow Lines. Journal of the Department of English 33 (1-2) 2006.
3.Ain, Sandip ,ed.. Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines: A Critical Anthology. Delhi: Worldview Publications. 2011



More by :  Dr. Ratan Bhattacharjee

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Views: 4178      Comments: 3

Comment Thank you for all the information about Amitav Ghosh.

Shivani Rai
09-Apr-2023 21:33 PM

Comment Thank you Sir for the enlightening note on Amitav Gosh.

Theresa Phawa
01-Mar-2016 10:30 AM

Comment Thank u sir, it was a beneficial note. Got 2 know d basic info on Amitav Ghosh as a novelist.

ronan parvez
17-Feb-2014 09:40 AM

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