Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Ibis Trilogy

The Ibis Trilogy written by Amitav Ghosh consists of the novels Sea of Poppies (2008), River of Smoke (2011) and Flood of Fire (2015). Constructed on an epic scale, this trilogy shows the interconnected lives of people across India, China and Mauritius, all united by the factor that they were colonies of the British empire. The fates of these people are connected to the trade of opium, which was produced in India as a commercial crop much to the ruin of the Indian economy and extensively sold in China causing addiction among the Chinese population.

The first book of the trilogy,  Sea of Poppies begins with the life of Deeti or Kabutri-ki-ma, whose husband works in an opium factory and is addicted to opium. When her husband dies and she is tormented by her husband’s brother (who happens to be Kabutri’s father), she runs away with Kalua, a man from a lower caste. To escape from persecution, they join a group of people who are transported to Mauritius as girmitiyas on the ship Ibis. The other people whose lives become interlinked during the journey are  Zachary Reid, Miss Paulette Lambert, Jodu, Ah Fatt and Neel. The first book criticises the British introduction of opium as a compulsory crop in the place of food crops ruining the Indian farmers. 

The second book River of Smoke describes the girmitayas’ life on the island of Mauritius and their adventures. The British and the Indian traders earn fortunes by bringing opium to China until the Chinese government takes steps to prevent the large-scale influx of opium. The government takes preventive steps against opium addiction and they seize and burn the imported opium. The traders become discontented at this and have to flee for their lives. Neel and Ah Fatt escapes from the ship Ibis along with a few lascars. Mr. Bahram, the Parsi trader who happens to be Ah Fatt’s father appoints him as his munshi. This book is set mostly in Canton against the background of the First Opium War and shows how the Chinese cannot live without opium. 

The third book Flood of Fire spans across British India, China and Mauritius, where Deeti and her descendants have established themselves as settlers in the plantation. In the midst of the First Opium War,a  ship Hind sails from India to China with Zachary Reid in search of Paulette and with Shireen Modi who wants to get back her dead husband’s wealth. However, Zachary Reid forgets Pauline and has an affair with Mrs. Burnham, who becomes a likeable character as opposed to the first book where she creates all kinds of problems for Pauline. This book depicts Zachary’s initiation into the ways of the world. 

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