24 July, 2021

A Peddler Called John Company

Amitav Ghosh's cosmopolitan-colonial world bursts into life with the fog of war, individual destinies, camp life, victoriana and a rapacious British Empire

A Peddler Called John Company

Amitav Ghosh and Anthony Burgess are two of the reasons why I never had the courage to publish anything until I was fifty. “I could never do that,” I used to tell myself. This remains true. I just became braver in my old age. Amitav Ghosh has influenced me profoundly along the way, particularly a slim little book called Countdown. It assesses, in his usual calm and methodical way, the possibility of nuclear war breaking out on the subcontinent. It would take you an hour to read, and I guarantee that once you’ve done so, you won’t be sleeping much that night. Whenever I see Arnab abusing retired Pakistani generals on TV (“Already we have so many potatoes on our head,” one of them once said, pathetically, “Now you are mongering the war?”) I feel like throwing one of my copies of Countdown at the screen. I have two, just to be on the safe side. The other thing that influenced me strongly was his account of the 1984 riots, sad, clear-eyed and personal, from the edges, afraid to look too closely. That essay, and Rahul...

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