WHAT MAKES IN­DIA’S GREAT­EST WRITER AMITAV GHOSH SO DARNED AN­GRY?

IN A RARE IN­TER­VIEW, IN­DIA’S GREAT­EST WRITER TELLS HT BRUNCH WHAT GETS HIS GOAT

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - Breakfast of Champions - By Ananya Ghosh Il­lus­tra­tion cre­ated ex­clu­sively for HT Brunch by Sau­rabh Tu­rakhia

I T’S 2017, and Amitav Ghosh is en­ter­ing his 31st year as a pub­lished au­thor – quite a mile­stone in the life of a non-pulp writer. (His first book, The Cir­cle of Rea­son, was pub­lished in 1986.) Per­haps that’s why he was re­cently hon­oured with a Life­time Achieve­ment Award at the Tata Lit­er­a­ture Live! fes­ti­val. His mil­lions of fans in In­dia and around the world, how­ever, point out that they’re ex­pect­ing many more books from their favourite au­thor, thank you, so per­haps a life­time award might have been a bit pre­ma­ture. Yet, at this junc­ture of his lit­er­ary ca­reer – one that in the bar­ren, pre-lib­er­al­i­sa­tion days of 1986, he’d never thought he’d have – he’s a bit mys­ti­fied by what’s hap­pen­ing in the world of the arts. Specif­i­cally, Ghosh is won­der­ing why, de­spite the clear and present dan­ger of cli­mate change, few writ­ers are fo­cus­ing on the sub­ject at all.

AL­WAYS TAKE THE WEATHER WITH YOU

Ghosh’s own non-fic­tion work on the is­sue, The Great Derange­ment: Cli­mate Change and the Un­think

able, pub­lished last year, is still a best­seller. But as he points out, though there are quite a few books avail­able on na­ture, very few say much about the big­gest dan­ger the earth has been in since the di­nosaurs were wiped out sev­eral mil­len­nia ago.

“Cli­mate change is the great­est cri­sis that hu­man be­ings, as a species, have ever faced,” says Ghosh. “Yet it is largely ab­sent from the arts. I think this raises many se­ri­ous ques­tions.” The Great Derange­ment was his at­tempt to answer th­ese ques­tions. His 2004 novel, The Hun­gry Tide, set in the fast-de­plet­ing Sun­dar­bans, had dealt with the sub­ject fic­tion­ally.

The hu­man-en­vi­ron­ment in­ter­ac­tion has long been a sub­ject for books, in all the lan­guages of the world. Ghosh names sev­eral In­dian lo­cal lan­guage writ­ers too: Ben­gal’s Ad­waita Mal­labar­man ( Ti­tash Ekti Nadir Naam), Odisha’s Gopinath Mo­hanty ( Paraja), and Ma­ha­rash­tra’s Vish­was Patil. “But we should note that there is a big dif­fer­ence be­tween ‘na­ture’ and ‘cli­mate change’, which rep­re­sents a pro­found rup­ture in our ecosys­tem,” says Ghosh.

Ghosh is an award-win­ning au­thor, travel writer, an­thro­pol­o­gist and cli­mate change ac­tivist, writ­ing both fic­tion and non-fic­tion. His books range from his­tor­i­cal nov­els to straight out trav­el­ogues to nov­els set in present-day cir­cum­stances, to, well, ev­ery­thing that in­ter­ests him. Which means that his fans are

“CLI­MATE CHANGE IS THE GREAT­EST CRI­SIS THAT HU­MAN BE­INGS HAVE EVER FACED. YET, IT IS LARGELY AB­SENT FROM THE ARTS.”

in­ter­ested in ev­ery­thing that in­ter­ests him too, be­cause genre has no place in his works. Only the writ­ing mat­ters.

THE WRITE STUFF

It’s hard for his fans, just emerg­ing dream­ily from his Ibis Tril­ogy, a se­ries of his­tor­i­cal nov­els set in In­dia, China and the In­dian Ocean at the time of the coloni­sa­tion, to be­lieve that Ghosh never imag­ined he could have a lit­er­ary ca­reer. But frankly, any­one rea­son­ably adult in 1986 and rea­son­ably book­ish felt the same way. There were only a few pub­lish­ers for English­language writ­ers (aside from those pub­lish­ing text­books), so any­one burn­ing to write just had to do it in their spare time – or be­come an ad­ver­tis­ing copy­writer or jour­nal­ist.

Ghosh chose the lat­ter. “I took a job with the In­dian Ex­press, be­cause it seemed to me that this was the clos­est thing to a lit­er­ary ca­reer that was avail­able to me then,” he says. “And I did in­deed learn a great deal from my time as a jour­nal­ist.”

His jour­nal­is­tic back­ground, com­bined with his Mas­ter’s de­gree and Ph.D. in so­cial an­thro­pol­ogy, comes across clearly in all

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