Archive for June, 2011

George Chinnery: from Chennai to Macau

June 30, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)


Arriving in Chennai I found myself thinking of the great English painter George Chinnery (1774-1852). Madras (today’s Chennai) was where he first lived on arriving in India in 1802. From Madras he moved to Calcutta, where he was hugely successful: it was there too that he had two sons with a local woman.

So far as I know, neither Chennai nor Kolkata preserve any trace of the great artist’s presence. The Victoria Memorial in Kolkata


is rumoured to posess two Chinnery paintings, but no one seems to have actually set eyes on them. Needless to add they would be of great value if they were ever to be found.







From Calcutta Chinnery moved to Macau












in 1825 (reportedly to escape his wife, the luckless Marianne) and it was there that he died. His grave










is in the Old Protestant Cemetary












which adjoins a charming little church.









A street has also been named after Chinnery








but it is not the street on which he lived (and painted), which was, as his gravestone says, No 8, Rua de Ignacio Baptista.









There is still a number 8 on that street.










Although it bears little resemblance to an artist’s studio it struck me that Chinnery might have enjoyed painting it.

from a reader in Haryana

June 29, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (1)


Dear Amitav

The wait for River of Smoke was long and frustrating and i could not
delay reading it once i could lay my hands on it.

There are a lot of things that i wish to give back to you and i don’t
have a mastery over structure and language like you have but i am sure
my mail will communicate my intentions to you.

First of all i thank you to make me aware about my own past, about the
history of my nation and giving us a so well fictionalized
reconstruction of my past. I consider myself a well read man and feel
that i am an aware citizen who understands the intricacies of
postcolonial life. But i feel no shame in confessing that i had no
idea about the China link between the colonial rulers and
pre-Independence India till River Of Smoke opened this realm to me.
For the first time in my life there existed a new world to me- a new
East. First time in my life i was looking at China’s map in my Google
Map, i realized China had a long southern coast and for me China had
some places on map that were neither Jammu and Kashmir and nor
Arunachal Pradesh. You gave me a new meaning to words like East,
Oriental, Occidental and so on… I never felt any sympathies for
China, it was always the other, but you have opened a new window.

What a wonderful situation you created in the recreation of Fanqui
Town in Canton. A Parsi, who is a descendant of people migrated from
Persia and who had his Childhood in Gujrat, youth in Mumbai travels to
Canton and has a society from all races and nationalities and becomes
a stakeholder in the historical turmoil of Opium trade in 1838-89… i
may sound making a sweeping statement but honestly i feel there isnt a
more historically rich fiction available in whatever i have read till
date. I do understand that these are  nuances of understanding Empire-
then and neo-imperialism now. There is a lot of talk about
Globalization and fear to nativity in present world but you have
opened our eyes that how almost two centuries back there was already a
fight going on with this same issue. Free trade, open market,
corruption in native territory are not new issues but at least two
hundred years old.

I have been a student of language and literature for around 20 years
now. I never felt that novel can be such a strong knowledge source
that River Of Smoke made me feel. I have been reading, speaking,
listening and writing English but never realized how conveniently it
turns “lies into legalisms”. The language efforts in the novel has
been so beautifully done that i am sure this work will stand out and
marks a new milestone. I have been an ardent AG fan but even I know
that this Christomathy will herald a new era in writing and your works
will be analyzed from angles of linguistic studies as well.

I am a small man. I teach literature at a small place called Sirsa,
Some 250 km North West of Delhi. I am almost half way in working
towards my Doctoral research studying “Recreation and Representation
of History in the Fiction of AG”. The last time i communicated to you
was in June-July 2009, when i was in USA on a personal trip to my
brother living in Connecticut, and wanted to meet you there but could
not since you had undergone a surgery those days.

Now i wish to stand in front of your house to pay respect to you in
the same Japaneses way that you wanted to do to Satyajit Ray as you
have written in one of your tributes to him.  I really mean it but I
got to have knowledge about your place of residence for that. I hope i
don’t need to explain that i mean no inconvenience to you and i know
no other way to tell you how much loved and respected you are. But as
you yourself said in “Shadow Lines” that love is not transitive and i
do understand that a luminary like you have a huge fan following but
Sir i only intend to Thank you for being what you are and for writing
what you have written. From the core of my heart I salute you and
while i do it the feeling is same that one has while saluting one’s
National flag.

Thanks a lot for your patience and time. A confirmation that AG read
this mail will mean a lot to me.

Pankaj Sharma
Assitant Professor
Department of English
Ch. Devi Lal University SIRSA

From Dayanita Singh, in Calcutta

June 27, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (1)



note: prints from her book ‘Privacy’ on the wall.

Book tour journals: Mumbai; June 21-22

June 26, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (3)




Monsoon on Malabar Hill


In Bahram Modi’s time, Malabar Hill (with Walkeshwar) was an island, separated from Colaba by a broad channel.


Looking in the direction of Cuffe Parade, Colaba and the long-ago site of the Mistrie mansion on the now-vanished Apollo Street, I saw this:




The little boat-harbour in the foreground is adjacent to Machimar Nagar where the terrorists landed on 26th November, (the room from which the picture was taken was on the 34th floor of one the attacked buildings, the Trident Hotel).


It was in that room that I spoke with journalists  Bijoy Venugopal and  Regi John











Bijoy wrote later to say:  

It was a great pleasure to speak to you in Mumbai. I thought I’d leave you with a link to peruse when you have a spare moment. This is about the conversation we had about dolphins in 2008, just after I had interviewed you about Sea of Poppies. I published in in my blog The Green Ogre, which I write with three fellow-travellers. Here’s the link:
Also, to remind you of our conversation about Kochi, the harbour as we know it today would not have existed but for a great flood in 1341, when the Periyar breached its right bank and deposited so much silt that it created the present harbour and the island of Vypin, which is very close to the Fort. You must, at some time, also visit Kodungallur, the site of an interesting temple where devotees propitiate the goddess with obscenities during the Bharani festival. Formerly the Portuguese fort of Cranganore, it was also a medieval commercial center associated with the port of Muziris.



Regi John is a Special Correspondent of the Financial Chronicle.

He told me that two professors at IIT Mumbai had written a paper on dolphins and the The Hungry Tide. I was glad to learn that one of them, Prof. Milind Malshe, is an accomplished exponent of Hindustani classical vocal music. Later Regi sent me the article which is called ‘Chronotopes of Places and Non-Places; Ecopoetics of Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide‘ (Asiatic, Vol 4, No 2., Dec 2010).

And it was there too that Shreya Badola of DNA

said to me, memorably: ‘When my editor gave me River of Smoke I was so not expecting to read the book, just going by the looks of it. But once I started I couldn’t put it down.’








On the 22nd I discovered that one of the many ways in which Mumbai is a ‘maximum city’ (to use Suketu Mehta’s evocative phrase) is in its enthusiasm for reading:

At the Crosswords Bookstore on Kemp’s Corner












As for the Crosswords’ sales team they bring to their jobs the enthusiasm of a football team.






They are all lucky to live in a city that can boast of this:

Malabar Hill & Marine Drive




Goa, Festa of São João (St. John), June 24

June 25, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (1)

Well jumping, Naikavaddo










The tradition of well jumping is explained here by well-known Goan columnist and blogger, Cecil Pinto:









River-jumping, Teen Manos Bridge:









The jumpers are not daunted by the fact that crocodiles (like those in ‘The Hungry Tide’) have been seen near this bridge:










Social theorist and translator, Lucano Alvares


speculates that the tradition of well-jumping may be a remnant of pre-Christian practices.






But Cecil Pinto dismisses this on the grounds that Lucano cannot speak with authority about Goan customs since his family is from Mangalore – they are thought to have fled there from Goa in the 16th century to escape the Inquisition (for more on Mangalore see ‘In An Antique Land’, where I write at length about that ancient and beguiling city, and about Abraham ben Yiju, the North African-Jewish trader, who went there four centuries before Lucano’s ancestors].





São João

Exodus from Burma, 1941: A Personal Account, Parts 1, 2 & 3

June 21, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (176)


Book tours are punctuated by all kinds of unforeseen encounters: most are pleasant, some are disconcerting, and a few are rewarding beyond all expectation. Thus it happened for example that the Asia House event for ‘River of Smoke’, on June 8, in London, led to a meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi’s brother- and sister-in-law (cf. my June 9 post).

At the same event I also met, very briefly, Dr. Krishnan Gurumurthy, who told me that he had read ‘The Glass Palace’ and that he was himself a survivor of the exodus from Burma that figures in the book. I have often urged people to record the memories of those who lived through that epic trek over the mountains of the India-Burma border. The last survivors are now in their seventies and eighties and their memories constitute an invaluable living archive. Very few published accounts of the march exist and most were written by Europeans; Asian accounts are exceedingly rare (this is one of the reasons why the historian Hugh Tinker described it as ‘The Forgotten Long March’[1]).

First a few elements of the background: In 1941, when the 2nd World War spread to Asia, Rangoon was predominantly an ‘Indian’ city in that the majority of its population consisted of people of subcontinental origin or descent. According to the 1931 census, there were slightly more than a million Indians in Burma at the time; of these some sixty per cent (617,521) were born in India. The consequences of Indian migration into Burma were too complex to go into here. Suffice it to say that the through the 1920s and 30s, there were some powerful currents of hostility to the Indian presence in Burma. In 1930 bloody anti-Indian riots broke out in Rangoon and many thousands were killed. As a result of these developments, there was an increasing nervousness within the Indian population in Burma.

Japan entered the 2nd World War with simultaneous attacks on Pearl Harbour and northern Malaya. On December 23 came the first Japanese air attacks on Rangoon.

This attack created absolute panic in the city. It is important to remember perhaps that generally speaking, very few civilians had expected the war to spread to Asia. The survivors I spoke to were almost unanimous on this. The attitude is hard to account for because in military circles, Indian as well as British, it was well-known that the Japanese were preparing for war. Similarly, the British municipal authorities had made preparations for air-raids: trenches had been dug, an Air Raid Precautions authority was set up in Rangoon and other cities, on the model of similar bodies in London. Yet, psychologically, the civilian population of the British territories in Asia appear to have been completely unprepared for the coming war (Dr. Gurumurthy’s father was by no means unusual in this).

The first Japanese air raid on Rangoon, was on December 23, 1941. The air raid of Dec 23 was followed by another on Dec 25. The air raids created chaos in the city. There was a general breakdown of law and order and the Indians, already wary after the riots of the past decade, began to panic.The perception was that the British were about to withdraw from Burma, and that in their absence, Burmese mobs would have free reign to terrorise the Indian population. Suddenly, the Indians began to move northwards. But without the Indians the city simply could not function: they made up almost the entire working class of Rangoon. The dockworkers were the first to abandon their jobs. This meant that essential supplies could not be unloaded from the ships in the Rangoon docks. Many of these vessels became sitting targets for Japanese bombers.

In January it became clear that the Japanese were advancing rapidly and that the British forces would not be able to hold them. Leslie Glass, a British civil servant, was present in the city; this is how he describes the atmosphere: “Every Japanese air raid increased the steady stream northwards of the city population, and more and more institutions ground to a standstill. One afternoon, I joined in a bizarre and melancholy foray to shoot all dangerous animals in the zoo, as all their keepers had decamped. Tigers, panthers and poisonous snakes were killed and the deer released in the park, except for one which we shot for fresh meat. When we had gutted the poor beast, we threw its entrails into the lake and great fish thrashed and swirled in the course of their unusual meal.’

At this point the British began preparations for evacuating their government: the civilians were left largely to fend for themselves. The Indians began to stream out of Rangoon and central Burma, and soon vast crowds clogged the principal roads. As to why so many Indians took the decision to leave Burma, at such great personal cost – this remains something of a mystery to this day. Some of them certainly saw themselves not as a group separate from the British but also as colonists, extensions of their master’s house. Some evidently believed that they would be a hostage population in the hands of the Japanese; others thought that the Burmese would turn upon them once the protective hand of the British had been removed. But these apprehensions were unfounded: in fact well over half the Indian population chose to remain in Burma. They were not singled out after the British withdrawal and were spared the suffering of the exodus.

Whatever the reasons, a great number of Indians decided that the difficulties of the road were preferable to the uncertainties of remaining where they were and the march quickly developed an unstoppable momentum. In the initial stages, the exodus moved in two directions. One took the easterly route, over the Arakan Hills into Chittagong. This was a relatively short route, though also very dangerous. It is estimated that one to two hundred thousand Indians crossed to India over this route.[2]

The other route was the northerly route, essentially following the course of the Irrawaddy and then the Chindwin river. This route was several hundred miles long (depending on the starting point). The final crossover into India lay through uncharted terrain – over the mountains that separate Manipur from Burma.

All the while, a certain number of planes and boats stayed in operation, but they were used mainly for the evacuation of ‘European’ personnel. There are innumerable stories of how these fleeing officials sometimes used their transportation privileges to carry away pianos and dinner sets, while their subordinates had to make their way on foot, abandoning everything.

In the early phases of the air evacuation, according to Hugh Tinker, ‘Europeans and Eurasians were in the overwhelming majority’. Then, ‘after protest by Indian leaders, the proportions were reviewed.’ But on May 9 the air route was shut down all together and now only the mountain route remained. This was the route taken by Dr. Gurumurthy’s family.

On meeting Dr. Gurumurthy I immediately urged him to record his memories on paper. A few days ago he sent me a short memoir of the march; I am posting it here with his permission (in three parts: the accompanying pictures are mine and were taken in 1996).

Here is Dr. Gurumurthy’s account of the march.



My wife and I met you at the Asia House and you mentioned that you might be interested to hear from me about my experience trekking as a war evacuee from  Burma during   Feb/April 1942.

Before that  a brief preamble.

My grandfather migrated to Burma to make a living and my father was born in Rangoon in 1902.

My father grew up in Burma and in due course married my mother who was from a small village near Madras ( Chennai ).In time they had 7 children, 6 boys and a girl.

I am third in the pecking order and was born in 1933. I was 9 in 1942.

My father was an employee in the Burma Railways and we lived in a place  called Toungoo, which , if I recall right was a railway town. It seemed to be always sunlit and with my brothers always playtime. So at least I imagine.

My father, I felt was a practical and responsible person.  I therefore cannot fathom his apparent failure to apprehend the imminent menace of  a Japanese conquest of Burma, and leave for the safety of india, especially with a large brood.

Toungoo is a medium-sized town about 200 miles north of Rangoon. It is the District Headquarters of Toungoo Dist. I do not know when my father moved to Toungoo but life was largely easy and  delightful.

All this was to vanish.

The Japanese were advancing  towards Burma after their conquest of malaysia. The full impact could be felt only in the year 1942.  There was panic all round in Toungoo. Many of them were making attempts to flee. My father at last decided in January 1942 to send us to India and he wanted to stay behind.

Our next step would be to catch a steamer at Rangoon for our journey to Madras.


Steamers, Rangoon


We left for Rangoon sometime in the  end of January 1942. With great difficulty, my father managed to get steamer tickets to Madras. On the appointed date, we went to the Rangoon port to board the steamer and at the last moment fate again played its tricks. Just as everything was seemingly going well, we were denied entry into the steamer. By that time, the Japanese had advanced to the outskirts of Rangoon City, and the then British government thought that only the lives of the British, and Anglo-Indians were worth saving and allowed only them to board the steamer. The rest of us were thrown out to fend for themselves.[1]

Immediately thereafter the Government declared an emergency and handed over the city to the army. They directed all the inhabitants to leave the city within 48 hours. [2]All hell broke loose. All exit points were closed.

My father decided to go back to Toungoo. But there were no trains or buses or any other transport available.  Since my father was in the Burma railways, he sought the help of the local railway station master of a suburban station and managed to board us into a coal compartment of a goods train. The whole night we travelled without water or sleep, perched precariously atop the coal heaps to reach Toungoo.

We did reach Toungoo in the morning tired and hungry. But our erstwhile house was a sight to see. Instead of the house we left behind we could see only a big crater and the house destroyed. The locality must have been bombed in our absence. But, had we stayed behind in Toungoo the entire family might  have perished.

The only alternative was to go to India through the land route.

The land  bridges were bombed, travel by train to North Burma was out of question. My father’s  contacts came to our rescue. One of them  lent his car and driver and asked us to go to a place called Maymyo in the north  and from there proceed on our onward journey.

On reaching Maymyo  we were lodged in a Dharamsala on  the banks of the river Chin Win. We stayed there for a few days. Like us, there were others who were trying to go to India. Maymyo was the starting point for our journey. To reach the 2nd stage of our journey, viz., the Naga Mountains, we had to travel another 100 miles partly by boat/ferry and partly on foot and bullock cart.

We  managed to hire a large boat called “Anda boat” (egg shaped). The boatman  agreed to ferry us to a specified spot delineated in a map given to us, from where we could continue our trek, at a fare of Rs 20 per person. To facilitate our journey, pamphlets and maps were distributed showing the places of halt, evacuee camps, availability of free rations etc. No monetary aid was given. The maps were however useful. This particular travel by boat was enjoyable in parts. The boat wended its way smoothly through the river. The weather, I remember,  was clear and fine. The boat used to ply during day time and in the evening anchor at some place near a village. Near the river bank, several fruit and vegetable gardens were laid out. Our co-passengers and ourselves simply helped ourselves to this produce and with wood gathered from the neighbourhood, we would cook our meals. We had a small stock of dhal, rice and salt available with us. These events at the time  affected me very little. God knows what kind of mental agony my parents must have been undergoing, their main concern being our safety. Thus, we travelled for 7 days and 7 nights and reached another stop  (I do not remember the name) from where we were to travel by foot to reach  a small town called Tamu, at the foothills of the Naga Mountains.

This stage of the journey was nothing but real agony. This stage covered about 50 miles by foot through dense forests. My father engaged a bullock cart for my grandmother, mother,  my  three younger brothers and my sister.

I and my older brothers and father  had to walk. We were told that this particular route was hazardous both from the danger of wild animals. There were warning signboards in some places that one had to walk non-stop to escape death by inhaling poisonous air. One may wonder as to how we could go through these forests safely. This was possible because about 5000 evacuees were moving at a time together for mutual safety. In our group there were many Sikhs carrying weapons. Those who had no weapons made noise through drums to scare the animals. Once, we encountered a large python. Thanks to the cover provided by these able bodied youth, we were able to cover the route without fear and danger, from dacoits and wild animals. After an arduous travel for seven days, sometimes without food or sleep, we reached  Tamu.




Tamu, now,  is a very important transit point at the foothills of the Naga mountains. Lot of commercial activity, both legal and illegal (Peddling of drugs and contraband goods) takes place in Tamu.  But in 1942  it was a small place perhaps not exposed to present day nefarious activities. But it was an important place from where one has to cross the Naga Mountains to reach India. At that time, in 1942, it was over-crowded with thousands of desperate Indians, classified as Burma evacuees, all eager to reach India. One has to obtain a permit from the Camp In-charge to start our trek over the mountains. My father obtained this permit and we began the trek over the mountains.[1]

When one is struck between a rock and a hard place and is faced with no alternative one gets enormous strength to fight to survive. The very thought of climbing the mountains bare-foot is mind boggling. My father engaged three Manipuri coolies to carry the three young siblings. We discarded the remaining small items at this place and started trekking literally with just our clothes on. The first day was the most arduous  with unbearable strain as the mountain was steep with no down hills throughout. My mother and grand-mother were the worst sufferers. Many unfortunate evacuees perished on the way side. There was no one who cared to remove the corpses of the dead. One’s mental attitude at that point of time was such that even if your own child or near or dear ones perished you would just walk on to save yourself. Quite a few did just that. No one even bothered to remove the small gold ornaments still on the body. I can vividly remember holding my father’s hand and asking how far still  to go . He used to point at some flickering light and say that was it. I, of course believed him. My feet were heavy out of tiredness and I could hardly lift them; often I hit the  stones in the path and bled from the nail beds.

We travelled throughout the day and rested at night at some convenient place in the mountains. Over 5000 evacuees were moving together. Thanks to our able bodied Sikh and North Indian friends, we were able to sleep peacefully at night. They kept guard over us throughout our journey through the mountains. It was an ordeal. Perhaps, the very noise and the human crowd appeared to have scared the animals. We sustained ourselves from the small quantities of rations, consisting of rice, dhal and salt provided by the transit camp authorities. After seven days of trekking, half-dead physically, one fine morning we descended and set  foot on Imphal. I  still can recall that moment. My mother and grand-mother were in a state of acute mental and physical collapse due to exhaustion.

My parents were overjoyed to set foot on Indian soil. Only those who underwent the trauma of fleeing from their homes could fathom the ordeal we went through to arrive in India alive.  Many perished and hardly any family escaped without a loss. The transit evacuee camps at Imphal were big bamboo thatched sheds and were being used to house thousands of evacuees. This was the first transit camp provided to us  since we fled Toungoo. Free food and medical facilities were provided. Notwithstanding the medical attention, many evacuees were dying of cholera due to contaminated water, inadequate food and exhaustion. The magnitude of the problem was such that nothing better could be done. During a week’s stay at Imphal, we could somewhat recoup from our trauma, but the condition of our grand-mother began to deteriorate due to old age, fatigue and weakness.

Our reception in India was in sharp contrast to our journey through Burma. Spontaneous relief and assistance was forthcoming from various non-Government organisations like the  Indian National Congress, Marwari Relief Society etc. to make our life as comfortable as possible. There was an air of sympathy and fellow-feeling all-round. They arranged free food, accommodation, travel and medical care. In short, our Indian people regardless of caste, community or language welcomed us with open arms. From Imphal, we were taken to Dimapur (then in North-East Frontier Agency) by bus. The travel took the whole day through the Naga Mountains and was very tiring. My mother was vomiting throughout the journey.

After being fed and housed for two days, we were put on the train bound for Sealdah (Calcutta). On reaching Sealdah, we were taken to a guest house managed by volunteers.  We really had a tough time at this guest house as it was over-crowded with a large number of evacuees. Within two days, we managed to get out of the guest house and could catch a train bound for Madras at Howrah station. However, in the midst of adverse conditions, we found some time and energy to go round Calcutta and visited Victoria Memorial and New Market.

The train to Madras was unusually a long one with a large number of compartments. It took about ten days for us to reach Madras. The train wended its way slowly, partly because of the over-load and partly because it stopped frequently in all major stations. At every major station, people from the villages flocked to the train and showered us with delicacies, fruits and beverages. The affection shown to us by Bengalees, Oriyas and Andhras en-route was touching. At that time in the year 1942, the fervour of patriotism and freedom from British Rule was such, everyone was vying with each other to do their bit for their fellowmen. Slowly, the evacuees were trying to recover from the trauma of fear and anxiety. Sometime during the first week of April, 1942, we reached Madras Central Station. A big feast was arranged by the local philanthropic organisations on the platform of the Station itself for about 2000 people. All the evacuees thanked the Almighty for getting us safely against very heavy odds. But, in the midst of our happiness, tragedy struck the family. The condition of our grandmother worsened and she died at the General Hospital opposite the Central Station. Perhaps, it was the price we had to pay for an otherwise safe but hazardous journey.

We started sometime in February 1942 on our trek to India and reached Madras in the 1st week of April, 1942 – a period of two months.

All this mostly from memory. I could not swear to its exact details. Obviously,during the years there was much reminiscing in the family which kept the memory alive and  partly coloured the memory.

I have stuck to the old names for the places. To me Madras is still Madras; for Yangon I would need a map!

I hope this is of some interest.


Krishnan Gurumurthy

[1] These permits, and the routes they provided access to, were also racially coded. The ‘White’ routes were generally shorter and easier and were largely reserved for retreating soldiers and European and Eurasian civilians; the ‘Black’ routes were longer and much more arduous – Asians were generally allowed to use only these routes. Another account in my possession, written by an Indian, provides a harrowing account of the writer’s attempts to acquire ‘White route’ permits for his wife and young children.

[1] The racial hierarchies of the British Empire seem to have become all the more stringent in this moment of crisis. Instances of exclusion and discrimination, such as this, are often foregrounded in Indian accounts of the march. For many Asians the closing of the escape routes would mean death.


[2] Here I think Dr. Gurumurthy may be misremembering, which would hardly be surprising since he was only 9 at the time. Contemporary accounts suggest that the British administration did everything it could to discourage the Indian migration. They sealed off some of the exit roads from the city and they sent prominent Indians out to cajole the migrants to return, promising them safety in govt. organized camps. It was at this point that administrative action turned race and class into tickets for survival. For example, orders were issued that no adult Indian would be allowed to leave Rangoon by ship as a deck passenger. This meant that the working class was trapped in Rangoon, for only the wealthiest Indians could afford to travel other than on deck. But soon, these routes were cut off too because the major steampship company, British India Steam Navigation Co. confined its allocations mainly to ‘Europeans’.


[1] Hugh Tinker, A Forgotten Long March: The Indian Exodus from Burma,1941, Journal of South East Asian Studies, 7/1, March 1975.

[2] Tinker, ibid. p.6





Anjali Ghosh, b. 1931

June 19, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (2)


My mother in 1952 shortly after her wedding:










And a few years later:





And in 1992, with my daughter Lila:










And yesterday, in Kolkata, at the Indian release of ‘River of Smoke’ which is dedicated to her, as a gift for her 80th birthday:






Letter from a historian

June 17, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (4)

[posted with the writer’s permission]


From: Sunil Amrith
Subject: re: River of Smoke
Date: Thursday, 16 June, 2011, 9:52 AM

re: River of Smoke


Dear Amitav Ghosh,

I just wanted to say how very much I enjoyed River of Smoke: it brought me the greatest pleasure and illumination.

I am currently trying to write a history of the Bay of Bengal, for Harvard University Press, and I am coming to realise just how much my imagination of the region has been shaped by characters and episodes from your writing. As it happened I was just writing a chapter on the early Indian migrants to Singapore when I read those magnificent scenes in River of Smoke set there – I found them most evocative.

I was sorry to miss your recent talks in London, I was travelling at the time, it would have been wonderful to hear you read from River of Smoke.

With all good wishes



Dr Sunil Amrith

Department of History, Classics & Archaeology

Birkbeck College, University of London

30 Russell Square

London WC1B 5DQ


Hitchhiking journals: Oxford to Worcester and Aberystwyth, 1979

June 16, 2011 in Hitchhiking journals | Comments (0)


March 30, 1979

Left Oxford this morning with £ 31- 60 in my pocket. Caught a bus from the Queen’s Lane stop to Woodstock (left my gloves on it) and walked a little way to start hitching. First lift was in a big van, heading towards the north, Manchester and Birmingham. Took me as far as the junction of the A44, where it goes on to Chipping Norton. Waited there about 15 min and got a lift from a young man – a computer analyst who’d studied at Birmingham. Said he’d returned from a holiday in India about three weeks ago. Talked about India, politics in England etc. He was staunchly Labour and left-wing and wanted England to get out of Ireland. We drove through beautiful Cotswold country and lovely villages – esp Broadway. Dropped me at a village called Pershore.

Middle-aged, ruddy faced teacher in an old jalopy picked me up next (without my even putting out a thumb), and took me to Worcester.



Spent a long time looking around the Cathedral.









The caretaker came up and showed me all over, without my asking.











Took many pictures.

Nave, Worcester Cathedral


Had trouble getting out of Worcester. Finally took a bus a little way out of town. Picked up by a lady with a forceful manner. Said she had a son at Lancaster Univ. and another who works as a village policeman. Said about India: ‘We get to hear so much about the very poorest Indians, we never realize that there is a middle range too’. This was accompanied by a meaningful look. Didn’t take me far though and I had to wait a long while until an elderly chartered accountant picked me up and took me to Bromyard. There I was given a lift by a battered old lorry. Driver Welsh, with wonderful accent. Very friendly; home and family in Knighton. Dropped me outside Leominster and was picked up by another truck – driver in his 40s, pleasant but reserved. Drove through beautiful half-timbered villages – crooked little houses on crooked little streets – unbelievably picturesque. Dropped me at Crossgates and was picked up there by a sports car, driven by a distinguished-looking man with white hair. Said he was a radiologist and had been taught by Chris Simon’s father. We stopped for a drink at a pub and he offered to put me up for the night at his cottage (he was on his way there when he stopped for me). I’m at the cottage now – it’s a long way off the main road and has a wonderful view. Can see the sea.



He’s won an M.C. [Military Cross]; sails a lot; is obviously prosperous. Has two children – a son in Birmingham U. studying medicine; daughter in Cardiff, studying optics. Cottage charming – 14 miles from Aberystwyth. Will drive me out to the main road tomorrow.

He won the MC in Suez, rescuing trapped soldiers. Objects to war, was doing this for medical reasons. Very nice man; told stories about the Indian doctors in his area and how Indian they are.

Weather dull and grey in the morning, but no rain. Almost bright in the evening.


[Left with: £28 – 86 ½ : 1.50 on film; 40 p. on Cathedral booklet; 52 p. on bus tickets]


Aberystwyth, Wales

[to be continued…]



Vienna (I think) 1973

June 15, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (1)




Came upon this picture in a family album in Kolkata andwas reminded of a story: ‘When it was proposed to the Habsurb Emperor Joseph II to build licensed brothels in Vienna, he said: ‘The expense would be ruinous, for it would be necessary to put a roof over the whole city.’’




ucuz ukash