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Amitav Ghosh's Writings: A Critical Analysis

By Staff

A work of fiction is invariably a quest, for an identity and meaning, most of all for personal significance in a living world. In In an Antique Land Amitav Ghosh imposes a pattern on his own experiences in Lataifa and Nashawy, subsuming himself into a larger pattern- the twelfth century lives of a Jewish merchant and his slave in India.

But The Calcutta Chromosome is its deliberate inversion. It is almost as if Ghosh is exorcising the gloom, which had crept upon him in the writing of In an Antique Land. In both the works, the chance discovery of marginal figures, lost in time, becomes the occasion for researching the historical past of ancient civilizations with their richness and complexities and also for tracing their inevitable destruction at the hands of the European conquerors.

The two worlds of science and counter-science, European rationality and Indian mythos are brought together against the backdrop of Calcutta's streets and monuments.

In so doing, he is also attempting to read reality. In The Circle of Reason, science becomes an attempt to arrange the world into meaningful patterns. Balaram, the school teacher, equally obsessed with theories of phrenology as with the life of Louis Pasteur, is merely demonstrating what Tridib in The Shadow Lines describes as a desire to know all, indeed to be all, and finally to efface the border between oneself and one"s image in the mirror. Both Alu and the narrator in The Shadow Lines must travel in order to discover themselves— Alu through a series of disasters, while the latter passes through a process of reinforcement. He thinks himself in love with Ila, but he is in fact a mould for Tridib"s experiences, ending his journey through Tridib in Tridib"s girl friend"s arms, when he finally comprehends the details of Tridib"s death.

The Calcutta Chromosome documents a series of interrelated moments wherein each character feverishly attempts to reach the core of his quest, his mission. While Antar, the Egyptian computer clerk struggles to trace the adventures and disappearance of L. Murugan, the latter"s search is centered around the missing links of malaria research conducted by Ross between 1895-99 and Ross becomes a symbol of scientific research that happily culminates in a discovery.

Ghosh"s concept of history colours all his writing. The Circle of Reason presents history as a collective memory, which gathers, in a symbiotic fashion all that existed in the past into all that happens in the present. His narrative method combined with his treatment of history weaves delicate connections between different phenomena, so that no event becomes absolutely autonomous. This generates the mobility with which history traverses past and present creating an acceptable fluid pattern of time. In The Shadow Lines, the world of war torn London is overlaid by the memories of Calcutta and Dhaka. Letting his stories interplay with time, Ghosh achieves an unusual synthesis of time. If his first two novels move from present to past to present again and achieve a symbiotic narrative structure, In an Antique Land blends fiction, fact and history competently.

Ghosh writes on two parallel planes of time: one recounting his visit to Lataifa and Nashway the other reconstructing the life of Bomma, the Indian slave. The two narratives initially seem arbitrarily connected, but they gradually illumine and complement each other. In The Calcutta Chromosome the mystery of the novel accentuated by the use of magic realism dissolves the boundaries between the physical and spiritual truths and explores the possibilities of existence of various levels of consciousness.

The unmistakable impression that finally emerges after a careful examination of Amitav Ghosh"s creative oeuvre" centers in his cultural preoccupations which provide a matrix to his potentiality. He has been persistently trying to imaginatively reconstruct the past throughout his novels with the central concern of devising the invisible threads that links humanity. Amitav Ghosh"s novels implicitly suggest the need for coexistence and strong humanitarian ties across cultures overlooking personal, regional and political considerations. His novels evidence his commitment to a broadly defined, secular –humanist frame of values.

The trauma of an uprooted protagonist has received an unusual treatment in his novels since he struggles hard to adjust himself to new surroundings. Be it thematic magnitude or technical competence to exploit linguistic resources, Amitav Ghosh has assured for himself an enviable position in the galaxy of contemporary novelists like Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth and Rohinton Mistry among others.