Whipping up a high tide
ANJANA RAJAN meets Amitav Ghosh the prolific author whose new novel, "The Hungry Tide" hit bookstands this past week.
Pen over ladle: Famous writer Amitav Ghosh enjoying lunch while discussing his new novel, `The Hungry Tide'
AS AMITAV Ghosh grows old in the world of the written word, his boyish looks seem to glow more cheerfully with each release. Never mind the prematurely white hair, the author, whose latest novel, "The Hungry Tide" has just been launched by Orient Longman, is full of beans.
Elaborating on his new novel Amitav says, "The book is the story of two people who go to the Sunderbans and are caught up in a series of cataclysmic events."
Descriptive promos of the book refer to the arrival of these two characters - the Delhi businessman Kanai Dutt and the "stubbornly American" Piyali Roy, of Indian parentage - as an event "that disturbs the delicate balance of settlement life" in this region that is as stunningly beautiful as it is starkly difficult to live in. Nature's power and fury, people out of sync with the ordered set-up, is there a metaphor to be unravelled here?
"No. It's not metaphorical at all," explains Amitav of his story set in the archipelago off the Eastern coast of India, a region of colourful folklore and ominous legends. "It is a very catastrophe-prone area."
Cooking on water
That's not just hearsay as far as this writer is concerned. "I used to travel with the fishermen to catch fish," he recalls. Crabs and fish are a major source of protein in that area, he points out, as the Fire staff serves him salmon tikkas. "You can't cook on land, or the tiger will come, so they cook out in the middle of the water. At the back of the boat they have a little chulha. It has to be done very, very quickly as they don't have much firewood. They just put a little oil, chhaunk (seeds for tempering) and a little masala." Judging from his expression, the taste is scrumptious.
"I love to cook," he admits. "I learnt to cook as most Indian men do, when you are studying abroad and having to eat some horrible food somewhere."
Bread as life
But food is as much a part of culture as the songs and dances, the literature and oral history of a country. "Yes," agrees Amitav, "In Arabic, the word for bread and life is the same: Aaish." It was while living in an Egyptian village that he "learnt to make all kinds of complicated dals" combining them with the greens that were plentifully available. Amitav still cooks for his family. It is no longer a question of physical survival. "If you are a writer and you spend your day writing, it really helps to get away."
And in the process, if he cooks up a new book, we will be more than happy to dig in.
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