April 27, 2011 in Letters | Comments (1)



I am not very good with the Internet, and have only recently figured out how to put up my own posts (and that too with a great deal of help from my Webmaster). Yet I have to admit that my website, www.amitavghosh.com, has, over the years, evolved into an enormously valuable resource. Countless film-makers, writers, researchers, translators and others have contacted me through the site and many of them have since become regular correspondents and good friends.

Through the site I also receive many interesting, entertaining and surprising letters. One such is a letter I received a couple of weeks ago (I have changed certain details to protect the writer’s identity):

My correspondent writes: “I was greatly impressed by Sea of Poppies because I was manager of the (Ghazipur) opium factory from 196- to 196- and then Asst. Commissioner Narcotics U.P. ( commissioner is based in Gwalior). Your writings on the factory and opium growing in U.P. are realistic and reminded me of the days spent in factory and opium fields. Earlier I was Asst Commissioner of Customs Calcutta and it was touching to read of the Hoogly…”

I had never imagined that my description of the Ghazipur Opium Factory would be confirmed by someone who had actually served as its manager, and that too only a few decades ago! My description of the factory in Sea of Poppies is based partly on an account published by J.W.S. MacArthur, who was one of my correspondent’s predecessors as manager, more than a century before (MacArthur’s book Notes On An Opium Factory was published by  Thacker, Spink, in Calcutta in 1865.)

My description was based also on a volume of etchings of the opium factories of Patna and Ghazipur, made by a British artist in the 1860s. These sources presented a pretty complete picture of the factory as it was in the 19th century. In more recent times the factory has been inaccessible to visitors, but the American historian Peter Ward Fay was able to visit it in the 1950s and left a detailed account of it in his book The Opium War: 1840-42.

Only after the publication of Sea of Poppies was I to discover that the factory had been visited and photographed even more recently, in the 1970s, by Pablo Bartholomew. Looking at his pictures I discovered, to my astonishment, that the processes of production today are not much different from those described by MacArthur.

The interested reader will find some of Pablo Bartholomew’s pictures at: http://www.ieo.org/opm_proc.html.

In the meanwhile my correspondent has also sent me some accounts of his adventures as Asst. Commissioner of Narcotics. I look forward to reading them!


Amitav Ghosh

April 27, 2011

One Response to “Letters”

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  1. Comment by Murali IyengarJuly 17, 2011 at 9:24 am   Reply

    Dear Dr Ghosh: It was a chance encounter that I came across your finest work Sea of Poppies in a local public library and I can’t believe (I am still extremely embarrassed by the fact that I spent my entire 3+ decades of adult life never touching a single work of Dr Ghosh despite a brief journey through Harvard) I never knew of such a great writer, author and individual in Dr Ghosh with a gift for writing so simple but extremely powerful bringing vividly the picture of contemporary India woven beautifully with the old and sometime painful memories going back by centuries. Currently working on Glass Palace and enjoy every word of it. This is my 4th – Sea of Poppies, Hungry Tide (possibly the best of the three I have read so far) and then Calcutta Chromosome (still not sure why you wrote this book and I just can’t seem to comprehend the style nor the plot) being the others. I feel so blessed that I found you Sir, and thank you for giving us the immense contentment with your witty, well researched, thought provoking and often times emotional writing experience. I consider myself a reasonably a good reader but may I say that you are simply the best I have ever read in my life and can’t wait to continue to enjoy the works. Now, back to Glass Palace….


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