Mar 092016

Words! It took only a little verbal cunning in India to acquire the copy of the River of Smoke (Amitav Ghosh’s 2nd volume of his ‘Ibis’ trilogy) from the beloved. She had already started the book, but her visual cortex was so filled with the colours and patterns of cloth and textiles which are to be found everywhere as we were travelling in Rajahstan over the last three weeks, that she had little time and energy for reading and so she gave it up easily to me. I hardly had to plead.

Being in India for three weeks and falling into the colours and patterns of their words, I had raced through the 1st volume Sea of Poppies and was eager for more, my desire being roused further by the multiple languages which Ghosh employs in the service, as Indian people constantly are, of ‘a continuing exchange of words between generations’. He marks out the place of this exchange in The Chrestomathy, being a lexicon to be found as a pdf on his website  (

Then there is the not insignificant matter of the lecture series at Chicago University which Ghosh delivered in 2015 (akin to the ‘Reith Lectures’, a speaker is invited to develop a theme in a series of four lectures). Ghosh’s title was “The Great Derangement: Fiction, History, and Politics in the Age of Global Warming” and the four lectures can be watched on line via the above link. While this celestial decentering manifests itself, Ghosh seems to be saying, words are also not to be wasted…

…And so finally there is the economy of the ’Chrestomather’, which is the Ghosh blog. Posts are infrequent, and in them words and languages are transgressed (not infrequently over fabulous meals involving the cooking of dishes from different cultures and regionalities). There is also a complexity of named categories, and then a large number of ‘Uncategorised’ posts, which may feel familiar to us as we likewise consider our place in countries such as Italy or Ukania, or localities such as Tuscania or Dorset or Devon, or cities such as Firenze or Exeter. And the meals we consume there. As well as our place in Europe of course.

Ghosh comes from Calcutta, and as well as his fiction, he writes critical essays on India as a place from a social science perspective. He will be 60 years old this year. It seems that an ancestor of his was called Neel, and he happens to fall into the narrative of the ‘Ibis’ trilogy. Neel was also the founder of The Chrestomathy in his later life according to the claim of his descendant, who is described as the family’s present ‘wordy-major’.