I’m surrounded by the cadences of Bangla in the wordy wonderful world of writer Amitava Ghosh. In the middle of a finally-arrived Delhi monsoon, I’ve emerged from the cyclonic chaos of the Sunderbans in The Hungry Tide, with names like Moyna and Rakhal humming along with places like Gorjontola and Morichhjhapi. It’s pouring outside my concrete home, but I am still sitting inside the thatched hut in Lalpukur in The Circle of Reason. And somehow I feel at home. More…It reminds me of my childhood holidays in my grandfather’s grand 100-room, two-well haveli along the ghats of the Yamuna in Vrindavan, listening to him tell all us kids of a grand migration from Murshidabad which led this Bania family to set up an appropriately grand home in Vrindavan. Of Badi-Ma’s and Chhoti-Ma’s, of food cooked inexplicably in mustard oil, of chorchori being served with rice. Then, of course, of my mother’s remarkable fluency with the language, having grown up in Calcutta, of us calling all her friends “Mashi” and not “Auntie” as would have been more appropriate given our technically north Indian, Delhi setting. Bengal was never too far away, just pushed back a bit, and dug into now and then, like sticking a finger into a pickle bottle. The pickle bottle is open and all poured out, sitting on my bedside in the form of all that I can lay my hands on that has been penned by this remarkable writer who has such a gift with entering a geography, a mindscape. Top of my agenda is to corner him somehow, somewhere, and ask: how do you do it?
First published on September 3, 2006