Letter from a Reader

July 17, 2019 in Uncategorized | Comments (2)

Dear Sir,
A decade and a half back, my elder brother (a voracious reader) gave me (an occasional reader, at best) The Hungry Tide and told me in an offhand way, “ney, pore dekhte parish“. He had an impish smile on his face and a glint in his eye. I started reading the book somewhat reluctantly. At that time, I barely knew anything about you. By the time I finished The Hungry Tide, I was spellbound, captivated. I made a couple of decisions. First, I would read whatever you wrote. Second, I would not read everything at once. Your writing is like the finest of wines – to be taken in small sips with every sip meant to be savoured.

With the exception of The Great Derangement, I have now read all your books.I finished reading Gun Island a couple of days back. All I have to say you is: Thank You. This comes from the very depths of my heart. Your books have opened my eyes to a myriad of things – language, history, folklore, trade, nuclear armaments – and, good heavens – even horticulture! And it is not just books. Of others, I recall an article you wrote in The Outlook about Spice Trade. That was such an eye-opener!

Gun Island, to me, was not just a story about Bonduki Sadagar’s journey. Throughout this book, I could hear echoes of the books you have written so far. The sense of a voyage from Circle of Reason, the references to Misr and Jews from Imam and Antique Land, two Bengals from Shadow Lines, Sunderbans from Hungry Tide, the ‘magical mystery tour’ from Calcutta Chromosome, migration and shipping from the Ibis books, climate from Derangement – they are all there. To me, Gun Island is also about your own journey – as the thinly disguised Deen – through your own creations back in time.

I had been wanting to write to you to thank you for a very long time, but nervousness held me back. Gun Island felt like a culmination of all that you have written. That is why I felt that now is the most appropriate time to write to you.

The only book of which I could not find a reference was, incidentally, my favourite book – Glass Palace. Maybe it is there, lurking somewhere where I cannot see it yet!And the only regret I had after reading Gun Island was that – and I hope I misunderstood – I felt a shift in your writing, an ever so mild but nonetheless, a perceptible movement to an ism of your comfort, just a few millimeters away from that solidly neutral perspective of yore.

In both Calcutta Chromosome and Gun Island, I felt that your blending of fact and imagination was outstanding. Indeed, who knows what where the circumstances that led to a tale like Manasa Mangal. I am so glad that you have been mining the folklore of Bengal for some of your books. Bengal’s folklore is interesting as it is curious. I recall that many years back, I happened to read a book named Bangalar Puranari, a compilation of (now) lost epics by Dinesh Chandra Sen. The beauty of the old verses and the mystery behind the incidents described in them left me in a trance for many days. Reading about Bon Bibi and Bonduki Sadagar in your books took me back to those days of wonder. As an aside, I hope Bon Bibi remains Bon Bibi, I heard reports that Bibi is morphing into Debi faster than we can imagine.

A curious question to you – as somebody who is a genre-defying author – would you fancy yourself as a ghost story writer too? I find it astonishing that while talking about your fiction, nobody talks of this dimension of yours. I say this because each of the three ghost stories that you wrote – whether it is the elephant episode in Glass Palace, or the Phulboni train incident, or the translation of Kshudita Pashan – were terrific. I would like to specially mention the Phulboni train incident. That was an extraordinary piece of writing. It is only an author of supreme ability who can make every single hair on the body of a fully grown adult like me stand on its end. Probably the only other ghost story which nearly gave me as cold a chill as yours was Sharadindu Bandopadhyay’s Oshoriri. I sincerely hope that in the coming books, we can get one more peek of you as a ghost-story writer.

And coming back to magic and mystery, indeed it seems unlikely that the coincidences and connections what you described in Gun IslandCalcutta Chromosome or Glass Palace can happen in real life. However, strange things do happen. The way certain words kept recurring in Deen’s life reminded me of an incident in my life. At the risk of sounding like a bore, let me share it. A few years back, I had started reading the Ibis Trilogy. The very next day that I started that book, my manager in my office informed me that I needed to switch to a new project code named – Ibis. A day or two from thence, a mail was circulated in our office that owing to construction works, our parking lot would be unavailable. We were asked to keep our cars in the basement parking of a hotel across the street, named – Ibis. A few days later, I took my family for our maiden phoren trip to Singapore. At the Jurong bird park, of all the birds, my wife and I were most captivated by a beautiful white bird with a slender black neck and beak. As I leaned over to read the name of the bird in the board, I got a mild jolt when I saw that it was nothing but Ibis! This incident is absolutely true and I have not made up anything at all. The string of coincidences of utterly unrelated objects named Ibis was beyond my explanation. After all, Ibis is not such a common word that one comes across everyday.  

Let me also take this opportunity to let you know another point which I simply loved in Gun Island. Just two little phrases – “Buzla” and “Shomoshya Nai“. I could hear them being spoken in my head, with the correct intonation, and I could even get a feel of what kind of social background the speaker had. There are many Bengalis who have and will read Gun Island. But I wonder how many will realise how beautifully you hit home with these two little phrases.

I had meant to write just a Thank You note to you. Unfortunately, I could not hold myself back in writing such a big mail to you. I know you are a voracious reader as well, and so, I apologise for taking your time. I look forward eagerly to many many more fascinating books from you in the coming days. 

Satyajit Dutta


El arroyo de la sierra
Me complace más que el mar

2 Responses to “Letter from a Reader”

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  1. Comment by Andrew BlackmanAugust 1, 2019 at 4:08 pm   Reply

    What a wonderful letter to receive! It must be so gratifying to hear from someone who has not only read all your books, but read them with such care, attention and appreciation.

  2. Comment by S.C.Lahiry — June 30, 2020 at 3:34 am   Reply

    Dr Amitav Ghosh,
    1 I have been reading your books with great interest.Recently I watched your TV interviews regarding super cyclones e.g. Amphan and Nisharg.Your apprehension of occurrence of cyclone in and around Mumbai because of global warming was spot on.Luckily the damage due to Nisharg in Mumbai was not much unlike the massive devastation caused in Kolkata and 24 Parganas due to Amphan.The cyclones in Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean have been occurring almost frequently.Of late the Arabian sea is also recording cyclones.India is having a long coastline around 7500 km and the Govt of India is implementing a flagship scheme viz Sagarmala scheme which encompasses modernisation and expansion of port infrastructure,setting up industrial zones in coastal areas and related infrastructures.Industrial set up near coastal areas is being propagated for quick movement of goods both for export and inland traffic.
    My submission to you is in view of frequent occurences of cyclones in Indian ocean,Arabian sea and Bay of Bengal due to global warming whether there is a need to redraw our development strategies in the country’s vast coastline.
    2. I wish to convey that huge infrastructure development is taking place near the creek areas of Thane,Vasai and other places by the corporate houses in the country.In view of increasing cyclonic activities due to global warming whether there is a need to rethink the development strategy being pursued.What would be your considered views.
    I had sent the aforementioned letters to your contact mail on 9th June and 12th June’20 respectively but yet to get any response.Hope I would be able to reach you through this website.
    Thanking you,
    Warm Regards,

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