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A typical Bengali nerd!

One doesn’t come to meet Amitav Ghosh empty-handed.

Content writer Priyanka came armed with a photograph she found discarded on the streets of Calcutta. English student Suparna came armed with her entire Amitav Ghosh collection. And author Amish came with a bagful of questions.

The Google Dome was buzzing with bookworms when Ghosh took the KLM stage on Saturday evening to discuss his writing with academician Sukanta Chaudhuri.

Titled The Ibis in Mid-voyage, the session had stoked hopes that Ghosh would reveal something about the third book following Sea of Poppies and River of Smoke. But no such luck. “I feel it’s bad luck to talk about a book that I haven’t written yet. And I’m very superstitious,” smiled Ghosh, keeping the saga of suspense alive.

“I find myself fascinated with the early part of 19th-century Calcutta, its maritime ties and its deep connection with China… ties of opium. We need to exhume this history and put it on its feet,” he said.

Chaudhuri hailed his meticulous research but wondered, “Are your books over-researched?” The author of The Glass Palace was quick to respond. “A historical novel is no different from any other novel. No one will read it for the history. The story drives the novel, not the research.”

Ghosh rued that the opium-powered rise of Calcutta, Bombay or Singapore had completely gone missing from academia. The East India Company was the biggest drug-running cartel in the world, he said to loud applause. “Historians haven’t done the research, so I’m having to do it,” he added and quipped that being a “typical Bengali nerd”, he enjoyed his time in the library.

When questions were invited, one of the first was a young lady called Priyanka. “I am an amateur clicker and my entire approach to photography is inspired by your The Shadow Lines,” she said and proceeded to show her favourite author a photograph of a man and a child that reminded her of the book.

Author Amish asked two questions. “China calls it their century of shame but the opium years are totally forgotten in India. Do you think it’s because many powerful families of India made their wealth through opium trade?”

Ghosh, clearly happy to see Amish, agreed. “Even the Tagore family made its money through opium and Rabindranath had vehemently opposed his grandfather Dwarkanath Tagore on this.”

“I thought no one can top a character like Deeti in Sea of Poppies. But I was moved to tears by Bahram Modi in River of Smoke. Is he based on a real character?” Amish asked next. “Well, he’s based on a number of people from that time, but no one in particular,” smiled Ghosh.

Soon the time for talk was up and it was time for the fans to flock to Amitav and Amish.