Chatterjee:After working on an epic like The Glass Palace, which had a backdrop stretching through large areas of south Asia spanning several decades, was it somewhat limiting to work on a storyline confined to the Sunderbans in Bengal?
Amitav Ghosh:The Hungry Tide has been described as an epic too. There's nothing limiting about a vast wilderness like the Sundarbans.
Why the Sunderbans? This is not a typical setting, nor are Rangoon or Ratnagiri that feature in your earlier book The Glass Palace. What triggers this interest in atypical places? How do these ideas originate?
I have always been drawn to places that are off the beaten track. 'Typical settings’ don’t interest me.
Writing nonfiction cloaked as fiction must involve a lot of groundwork? Did this involve frequent trips to the Sunderbans?
I did indeed spend a lot of time in the Sundarbans.
Although the life of displaced people is a recurrent theme in your works, you introduced their plight in a completely different manner in this book. Also the use of the local language and Bangla in italics throughout the text was a delightful thing.
What is your underlying message? How can one balance human needs with that of nature? Clearly the dispossessed in these areas are extremely poor, on the other hand their very existence on forest land is a source of severe threat to the dwindling wild life of India.
If people recognize the urgency of the predicament, that's all I ask.
Has this book been translated into Bangla, the language of the inhabitants of the Sunderbans? Is it possible to know their response to the book?
The book is currently being translated into Bangla.
This mini genre, of Indians writing in English, is gradually making readers worldwide familiar with the real India - its customs, language and, to an extent, its geography. And yet, there is the common thread in their use of Indian-born Westerners as lead characters who return to India to do various things, in addition to discovering their roots. Could Piya in The Hungry Tide have been the product of an Indian milieu?
Piya is very much an American. But there are many Indian women who are interested in zoology and marine biology.
Contributing reviewer Shampa Chatterjee
conducted her interview with Amitav Ghosh via email for curledup.com.
Click here to read her review of The Hungry Tide.