Tag Archives: Amitav Ghosh

Amitav Ghosh, Sundarbans and capital

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from: outlookindia.comIt appears to me that Mr. Capital is sometimes rendered incapacitated. The plans to turn Sundarbans into a money spinner perhaps met with this fate. In 2004 Amitav Ghosh, whose The Hungry Tide is located in this region, wrote a piece on the issue.

The Ganges-Brahmaputra river system carries eight times as much silt as the Amazon and the waters of this region are thick with suspended particulate matter. This is not an environment that is appropriate for snorkeling or scuba diving. In the water visibility is so low that snorkelers and scuba divers would scarcely be able to see beyond their masks. What is more, these waters are populated by estuarine sharks and marine crocodiles. A substantial number of villagers and fishermen fall prey to these animals every year. Snorkelers and divers would face many dangers.

Even swimming is extremely hazardous in the Sundarbans. The collision of river and sea in this region creates powerful currents, undertows and whirlpools. Drownings are commonplace and boats are often swamped by the swirling water.

Swimmers who accidentally ingest water would face another kind of hazard. Consider for example the experience of an American woman who visited the Sundarbans in the 1970s: she dipped her finger in a river and touched it briefly to her tongue, to test its salinity. Within a short while she developed crippling intestinal convulsions and had to be rushed to hospital. Bacteria and parasites are not least among the many life forms that flourish in the waters of the Sundarbans.

Read more here.

Amitav Ghosh on imperialism

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from: amitavghosh.com

from: amitavghosh.com

Amitav Ghosh has written so much on imperial relations and imperial transactions in his fictions that he seems to have concentrated almost entirely on this aspect of our historical experience. Therefore it is always interesting to read him on the subject. Readers who have read In an Antique Land will remember his comments on imperialism over there. Another book that frequently examines issues of empire is Imam and the Indian. He has written several journalistic pieces on current affairs which also take up the question of imperial tendencies. Below I quote from an article that  appeared in The Newyorker on 7.4.2003 and is available at his homepage here.

Empire cannot be the object of universal human aspirations. In a world run by empires, some people are rulers and some are the ruled: It is impossible to think of a situation where all peoples possess an empire. On the other hand, the idea of the nation-state, for all its failings, holds the great advantage that it can indeed be generalized to all peoples everywhere. The proposition that every human being should belong to a nation and that all nations should be equal is not a contradiction in terms, although it may well be utterly unfounded as a description of the real world.

It is precisely the exclusivism of empire that makes it a program for ever-increasing conflict. If the mark of success for a nation consists of the possession of an empire, then it follows that every nation that wants to achieve success must aspire to an empire. That is why the twentieth century was a period of such cataclysmic conflict: emergent powers like Germany and Japan wanted empires as proof of their success. Those who embrace the idea of empire frequently cite the advantages of an imperial peace over the disorder of the current world situation. This disregards the fact that the peace of the British, French and Austro-Hungarian empires was purchased at the cost of a destabiliza-tion so radical as to generate the two greatest conflicts in human history: the world wars. Because of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, there can be no doubt that a twenty-first-century empire would have consequences graver still.

An imperium also generates an unstoppable push toward overreach, which is one of the reasons it is a charter for destabilization. This is not only because of an empire’s inherent tendency to expand; there is another reason, so simple as often to go unnoticed. The knowledge that an imperial center can be induced to intervene in local disputes, at a certain price, is itself an incentive for lesser players to provoke intervention. I remember an occasion a few years ago when one of the leaders of a minor and utterly hopeless insurgency asked me: What kind of death toll do you think we need to get the United States to intervene here?

from: amitavghosh.com

from: amitavghosh.com

There can be no doubt that political catastrophes can often be prevented by multilateral intervention, and clearly such actions are sometimes necessary. But it is also true that in certain circumstances the very prospect of intervention can, as it were, become an incentive for the escalation of violence. The reason the idea of empire appeals to many liberals is that it appears to offer a means of bettering the world’s predicament. History shows us, unfortunately, that the road to empire is all too often paved with good intentions.