Book Tour Journals: Kochi/Cochin, June 23, 2011

July 8, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (1)


Kochi (Cochin); June 23

Cochin is one of my favourite  cities – not only because of its rich history

Dutch church

wonderful food and magnificent harbour views –

but also because it is the only Indian city that truly embraces the water.


The lost culture of lighters, ferries and bumboats is still alive and well in Cochin – the variety of boats in the harbour is astonishing.

The sight of the  harbour reminded me of my last visit to the city. That was in 2001, almost exactly ten years ago. My children were with me on that visit (Debbie caught up with us somewhere else in Kerala).

Lila was almost ten

and Nayan was eight.

It seems so very long ago now. But I was reminded of a time earlier still when I walked into my first meeting on June 23, 2011, and found that it was with Cherian Punnathara, an old friend friend from my Trivandrum days (1982-3). Iit was on Cherian’s typewriter that I typed the first draft of my first novel (The Circle of Reason – published in 1986). I was seeing Cherian after twenty-eight years, and my gratitude to him remains undiminished. A typewriter was completely out of my reach in those days – I don’t know what I would have done if he hadn’t lent me his.

Cherian sent me this picture with the comment: ‘They say that you look exactly like E K Nayanar, the former Chief Minister of Kerala in this photo. He was one of the most loved CPM Chief Ministers of the state, liked for his simplicity and buffoonery in public. Yet he had razor sharp intellect and acumen. So it is a compliment.’

Well, I will take it as such…

Cherian has always been a nature-lover and is intimately familiar with the mountains of Kerala. Back in 1982 he had taken me and another friend on a walk to one of the most idyllic places I’ve ever visited – a mountain waterfall. I have for years been trying to remember what it was called. He remembered it well and told me that it was: ‘the Bonaccad waterfall which we get to after crossing the Bonaccad tea estate, which had gone through some bad times during global tea production glut and tumbling prices couple of decades back. From there it  was couple of hours walk away.’ (Anyone visiting Kerala has it on my assurance that this is a magnificent sight, well worth searching out).

Cherian is a journalist now, working with the Kochi edition of the Hindu. He later published this article about our meeting.

That evening, after my reading from River of Smoke, somebody in the audience said something about this year being the ‘Golden Jubilee’ of the publication of The Circle of Reason – it had not occurred to me till then that it was exactly 25 years ago that the book was published, but such is indeed the case. The New York Times Book Review ran a wonderful review by Anthony Burgess (bless his generous soul!). They needed a picture to accompany the review, and at some point a photographer came to see me (in New Delhi, where I was then living). He took this picture (which did not run).

The day after the reading in Cochin I received this from a member of the audience:

Dear Amitav Ghosh,

You gave a gripping reading at the Taj Vivanta Malabar yesterday. Thank you for coming. In our reading group we have a special affection for your work, and I am sure we will soon be reading ‘River of Smoke’ communally. My wife, KumKum, shares a Rangoon background with you, and I have often heard her narrate the sequestered life Bengalis led there in the old days.

You may be interested to read a full account of your reading yesterday, June 23, at the Taj Vivanta Malabar. There are a few pics too and you could link it to your site or send it to others who are interested to know about your time during these travels:

We read your novel The Glass Palace two years ago and the account of our discussions can be found at:

We hope you are NOT worn out by your travels, and still find time to write during this busy schedule. Doesn’t it seem as if you have to read for your supper? !

All the best,

joe cleetus

Reading this letter I recalled that the writer had told me, the night before, that he and his wife had spent years of their life teaching at the University of West Virginia in Morgantown.  They are happily retired in Cochin now – and small wonder, since they get to feast their eyes on this:


Sunset, Cochin Harbour

One Response to “Book Tour Journals: Kochi/Cochin, June 23, 2011”

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  1. Comment by Faris ArakkalAugust 2, 2014 at 4:45 pm   Reply

    Sir, It was with immense pleasure to read that you finished your first manuscript of ‘Circle of Reasons’ with a type writer! I am indeed fascinated by that but the flamboyance of using a type writer still exists here, at least for me. Being a hardcore fan of your writing, i would like to see your handwriting. May be I am bit ambitious, I really plead you to publish any of handwritten articles here on the blog. Hope this will not offend you, in case avoid it . Again thanking you for creating a wonderful world of fiction.

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